Celebrities, saints and something we can all root for

September 10, 1997

My first reaction to the news that Britain's Princess Diana had been killed in a car fleeing photographers in the streets of Paris was puzzlement. These were photographers, after all, not terrorist gunmen, and if the passengers had merely stopped the car and flipped them off, they would have survived with their heads intact, if not their dignity.

The whole sad incident reminded me again that the country that gave us Shakespeare is now consumed with the doings of a family whose ancestors once had unquestioned power over their subjects, but who've now been reduced to a strange combination of soap opera and tourist attraction.

Sadder still, the older members of the family don't seem to realize what has happened. Like old Confederate generals who believe that the South will rise again, the "royals," as they're calling them now, still attend to their duties as if it were 1850 and they could banish anyone who offended them.


But unless they smile sweetly and make time in between state occasions to commiserate, as Diana did, with those who care for AIDS babies and land-mine victims, they may find their subjects searching for new and more outwardly compassionate celebrities to admire, and to support with their tax dollars.

If the Brits choose to keep buying this act, that is certainly their choice to make. But if someone would like to give me $10 million, a palace and a few limousines, I certainly wouldn't complain about a few photographers snapping my picture. No matter what it used to be, it's show business now, and the spotlight doesn't shine only when you want it to.


Was it coincidence, really, that in the midst of all the hoopla over Diana, God called home a real saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Wire-service stories said she slept on a concrete floor and prayed for hours each day, her 87-year-old knees padded only by a rolled-up burlap bag.

No glamorous restaurants for her, or designer clothes, just the work of caring for the dying and calling attention to the plight of the poor.

Does going to a funeral or the sight of blood make you uncomfortable? Imagine making a life's work out of making the circumstances of those about to die (many in horrible circumstances) a little bit easier. Mother Teresa did.


A number of people have expressed concern to me about the proposal to get Washington County's business community involved in financing pre-production work for "Gods and Generals," the proposed "prequel" to Ron Maxwell's movie "Gettysburg."

Is this going to be another 1st Urban Fiber, they wonder, in which the big talk and the bright promises evaporate?

Maybe so, but as I understand it, the $500,000 will be raised from private business, and if the movie is never made, they (and not the taxpayers) will stand the loss.

If the movie is made, however, the production crew will build a movie set that could become part of the sort of Civil War conference center/theme park of the type recommended in 1988 in a state-funded study of recreational possibilities.

As far as that goes, movie-makers might be persuaded to renovate downtown Hagerstown as a period movie set, which is about as likely to happen as anything else that's been proposed for the center city in recent years.

As consultant John L. Gann Jr. pointed out in a Wall Street Journal column in August 1993, an emphasis on historic preservation only makes sense in two kinds or areas: upper-income neighborhoods, where residents can afford the extra costs preservation rules require, and tourist areas. Right now Hagerstown is in the latter category.

Making a Civil War-movie could do three other things. It would reinforce the county's push to bring in tourists interested in Civil War history. It could inspire some farmers tempted to turn their land into housing developments to preserve it instead, offsetting some of their expenses by renting their land to film companies.

But finally, putting a few bucks into this movie will give local people something to root for, at a time when local success stories (see 1st Urban Fiber) seem to be in short supply.

Think of this movie as a pennant race that will be something more than the recreational distraction that an Orioles vs. Yankees contest is. If this movie gets made, the whole area gets to share in the win.

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