Fit for a queen 

If ghosts exist, why do you suppose they're so damn shy? If I had the chance to diddle with people's heads without them knowing it was me, if I could gaslight the helpless living by making mysterious noises and causing objects to fly across the room unaided, I'd do it all the time. I'd hang around in elevators until there were only two people in them and then make gawdawful fart noises. I'd fake orgasms that sounded like they were coming from grandma's room. I'd play haunting kazoo melodies night and day, day and night, in the homes of those who had offended me. I'd be busier than I am now and would make the other ghosts look, well, dead. In death, as in life, it's important to enjoy one's work.

It's exceptionally surprising that more celebrities don't come back and haunt people. For one thing, the soul probably doesn't fall too far from the body, so if they were attention-hungry in life, it seems like it'd be too tempting not to create a little poltergeist action from beyond. Second, look at what living people do to the work of the dead. The ghost of Hitchcock should have sat on all the people who had anything to do with "Psycho II"and "IV." If there were such a thing as specters, Faye Dunaway would have been killed by Joan Crawford long ago. And if I were Janis Joplin's ghost, I would have mercilessly haunted Faith Hill for doing a twangy, bouncy cover of "Piece of My Heart." Why doesn't Faith just go to the Louvre and draw neck bolts, antennae and a mustache on the Mona Lisa while she's wrecking masterpieces?

Women on the verge

Hill was one of the cadre of divas recently honored as such on VH-1, the channel that dusted off the word, brought it into common use and now seems ready to assign it to anything that will make a noise when you squeeze it. OK, Aretha, Cher, Miss Ross -- bona fide divas all. But Celine? Mariah? And the aforementioned Faith? Some were designated divas-in-training, and sure, any of them could sing like angels, but a diva is supposed to be something special, a breed apart. Calling a woman a diva just because she can sing is like calling your kid a genius because it talks.

Lately everything has to be sold to us as superlative. Every other TV show is "a very special episode," newscasters make every story sound like it's lethal and crawling up your leg and, as Jane magazine pointed out last month, the adjective "extreme" may be getting overused when you've got "extreme pickles." It seems all you have to do to be a diva these days is be born a girl, and you can be ranked right up there with Barbra. Actually, even that isn't a parameter, as VH-1 named Elton John honorary diva the night he performed with Tina Turner.

And Elton I could see more easily than Brandy or Faith Hill. Elton proved he was more of a diva than any of them, not only by having an exceptional body of work (even though his recent stuff sounds like Sting which sounds like Enya which sounds like a Flo-nase ad) but by storming off the stage after a tiff with Tina. Now, that is diva material.

Special delivery

Diva, after all, is Latin for "goddess," a title that ought to require that you have some personality. According to Divas - The Site which provides an exceptional list of exceptional women, a diva is a woman who possesses "extraordinary glamour, mystery, a liberal sprinkling of tragedy and most of all endurance throughout the years. These are women who will never be forgotten." There are some in here, from history to Hollywood, who truly fit the mirror-gazing, foot-stamping, magnetic qualities a real diva is meant to have, like Cleopatra, Bette Davis and Edith Piaf. There's also some real head-scratchers like ... Julia Roberts? The rest of America will disagree, but she's toast ... warm and nice maybe, but certainly not the fit-throwing, upstaging, all-knowing queenly presence the word conjures up.

I better not say that on the site, though -- apparently some of the users are as melodramatic as the women they idolize. One message-board manager says some of the "my diva can beat up your diva" arguments can get nasty enough that dealing with them requires the patience of a flight attendant.

So people have very definite idea about who gets to be, or not to be, a diva. If I had to pick one it might be Salome. Back in biblical times, Salome was a legendarily beautiful dancer, so much so that King Herod offered her anything she wanted, probably thinking she'd ask for money or jewels. She instead requested John the Baptist's head on a platter. Glamorous, clever, controlling ... and it took the advent of Jesus to upstage her. Faith Hill might have some awards, but she probably doesn't have any disembodied noggins on her mantle. After all, as any true diva would wonder, why just turn heads when you can snap them off completely?

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