What follows is a diary, recorded day by day, of the week in 1997 when Britain seemed to go mad. By Sean Matgamna
When Our Lady of the Catwalks died
In the two weeks following the death in a car crash of Princess Diana, the former wife of the heir to the throne, an out-pouring of grief, mourning and fantasy engulfed millions of people in Britain and beyond. Certainly, it was media orchestrated, but it was much more than that. It was one of the strangest, and probably most significant, things seen in British public life in a long time. It has had a small-scale sequel in the media treatment of the case of Louise Woodward, a 19 year old child-killer convicted after due process in an American court: the same taking of sides on civic events and personalities as in a football match, a wrestling contest or a TV soap opera, the same blurring of the line between reality and media fictions and factoids, the same sort of emotion, freed from the shackles of reason.
I made this day-today account of what was happening in Britain in the week after the death of Princess Diana, for a friend temporarily out of the country and for himself.
Sunday 31 August, 1997
Princess Diana has been killed in a crash — with her lover, an Egyptian. All day, two TV channels have done nothing but report and comment on it in reverential tones and show and re-show clips of the gilded princess. The lover was Dodi, son of AL Fayed, the owner of Harrods—the man who publicly confessed to bribing Tory ministers and who, though he owns important parts of the country, has repeatedly been refused British citizenship.
Was it really an accident? Ask the police procedural question, "Who benefits?" and it is almost impossible to believe that. It is so wonderfully convenient for “them." Diana has, in her own way, done more for British Republicanism than anyone since Oliver Cromwell! She stole the "magic'' of the Royals and, increasingly, she used it against them. Or was it the Royal jelly she stole, like the blundering Goldilocks with the bears' porridge?
With Diana roaming the world, King Charles III would not sleep easy on the throne. or anywhere. Did someone in high places mutter: "Who will rid me of this turbulent princess?"
Monday 1 September
Astonishing media-whipped-up brouhaha over Diana, RIP. Little else on TV. Endless reverential talk and clips depicting her as a “carer" visiting the sick, the poor and the afflicted — a glamorous Mother Theresa. Newspapers are equally full of it, with the same tone of uncritical adulation. She is presented as though she was a candidate for sainthood, with not a hint of the case against her, no Devil's Advocate to question the claims for her sanctity. I expect to hear soon of miracles being worked by Saint Diana of the Catwalks, or by some piece of posh clothing she once wore, and of shrines being set up with a cast off tiara in the place of holy relics!
Do you remember the reports in the 1980s that people on some small and isolated South Sea Island had created a religion around the unlikely figure of the Duke of Edinburgh? They did! Socialist Organiser had an article on it. Maybe the Duke had visited the island — a great God-like man flying in, surrounded by pomp and glamour and power, glitter and magic-working wealth — a divine being in the eyes of the 'simple folk'.
Here, it is like a General Election. only a lot more of it. It must have been like this, come to think about it, during the Queen’s coronation — except that then mass TV was in its infancy. The mood is different, but it is curiously like what we saw on 2 May, the day after Labour's landslide victory. Is there a connection?
I guess we have reached saturation level now. It must generate some revulsion and recoil, a backlash maybe. The British people are not fools. Over the last ten years they have stopped forelock-tugging and genuflecting to the Royals. John Bull has ceased to gawp open mouthed. Royalty has been demystified and revealed as a stodgy, troubled collection of upper-class folk who are extraordinary only in their dullness, wealth and position. The more we see of the family — the huntin', fishin’ and ridin’ oldies, and now the younger ones, characters out of a shoppin’ and fuckin' trash novel — the more we see the absurdity of the monarchy. These are Wizard of Oz Royals — nothing there behind the facade: the dim, mean, little folk who live up on the hill, inside an aged and crumbling institution.
The contrast of the last ten years with the attitude to the Royals in the 50s, 60s, and 70s is astonishing, if you remember what it was like then. I do, because when I first came here from Ireland it was in full swing and I simply could not understand it. I couldn't grasp the why of it, or what there was in this family to look up to. What exactly did they do? What was it in them that brought out this mass respect and reverence?
At home you would sometimes see Eammon De Valera walking to Mass on a Sunday morning — Ennis was in his constituency. The tall, dark, almost blind man who had led the country to independence in a terrible war which people still talked about a great deal, walked through the town with no fuss or ceremony, even when he was head of the government. People would be unmistakably respectful, but that was all. I thought of De Valera as a hero. but what had these people done? What were they?
Of course I was more inclined to deride than to understand, but if you thought about it, if you saw it from outside the mystic circle of its devotees, the British monarchy was a mystery. It seemed to indicate something very odd about the British. The question Walter Bagehot had raised — the mystery of the role played in the British constitution by the monarchy, that is, by “a retired widow," Queen Victoria, and, “her unemployed son," the future King Edward Vll — was too much for my small self to fathom.
Tuesday 2 September
It gets stranger and stranger! Britain is in the grip of a psychological convulsion. Newspapers and TV can scarcely find time or interest for anything but Diana. We must be beyond saturation level now. Reaction must come soon.
Thousands and thousands of people queue for hours to sign memorial books for Diana. Pavements outside her palaces are being covered with carpets of flowers — bouquets and wreaths in tens and tens of thousands. Weeping people, of all classes, say to TV cameras things like: "She was one of us."
I do not understand! All the obvious explanations — projection, film-star glamour, "sex appeal" — are inadequate to the scale and scope of it. This is not about Diana; it is about the people reacting to her death.
Certainly the media whip it up and keep it going and growing. But the egg-whisk effect of media agitation had to have something to whip up. The people of Britain, including most of the media pundits, seem to have had their critical faculties and their sense of reality numbed and paralysed. What makes so many people think they knew Diana? It is not even to he taken as known that her ministrations to the sick — cameras and TV in attendance — were the result of her real feelings, and drives rather than the following of expert public-relations advice, and then attachment to causes that had brought praise and acceptance.
Was she genuinely concerned for people, identifying with suffering, and did this somehow. get across? There is a vast amount of footage, and stories with no visual record, of her visiting sick or homeless or troubled outcasts. The “one of us" theme is everywhere in the stories. Maybe there was more than camera courting. Maybe she saw herself as the patron saint of the suffering? Or am I catching the bug? I want to understand! But there is no "genuineness" test. On TV, what seems, is.
She may have felt a real affinity with the damaged and the outcast and the “worthless." The psychology would be obvious. Yet the AIDS stuff was the "film-star" cause of the 80s. The "leper" stuff wasn't. But you can see how encouraged, finding and expanding in, a role, she could be led on from one to the other. The evidence, which is, of course, edited, sifted and selected by advocates for her saintliness, suggests empathy with and concern for children. Her earlier choice of job is, I suppose, hard evidence for that.
It turns out that her driver was drunk, with three times the permitted alcohol level in his blood.... The conspiracy possibilities multiply enormously.
Wednesday 3 September
The Diana-mourning gets weirder and weirder, my sense that I do not understand, stronger and stronger. Mass hysteria seems to be growing, not abating as you'd expect by now. It begins to become dream-like, nightmarish even, a world out of control, whose laws you don't understand, or where the usual laws are suspended while uncanny things happen. It is like the mass psychology of a riot — or a pogrom, or a witch hunt. How much is suspended disbelief and how much delusion—or delusion "for now" — I can't guess. Lots of people — millions, so I've read — think of soap opera characters as real people..
Millions are expected at her funeral next Saturday. What did they see in her, or project on to her? People in the street tell TV cameras: I felt she was the friend I'd not yet met and now never will." Except that they wouldn't have met her anyway.
Sex? She had the essential fiIm-star love Goddess ingredients. Her private life and sexual history were as well known as those of a certain sort of film or soap star. She discussed it all before millions. She bared her wounds like a hero or a martyr — her anorexia, her bulimia her insecurities and her damaged self-esteem. This let it all hang out style was the ethos of the new media age, village-nation, soap-cosmopolitan Britain; it contrasted markedly with the stiff-upper-lip. upper-crust image of the old Britain, congealed like cold suet in the Royal Family.
At the same time she projected an image of "caring,” of motherliness — universal motherliness. That is the central theme of all the media coverage and the film clips. One clip has her saying of her own role something like: "Someone has to go out there and give them love." Is it part of people's innate yearning for a caring, "one-big-family," society?
What we are living through is, I think, a religious phenomenon, or the manifestation of a yearning for religious consolation. Much of Diana's 'charity work" and visiting the sick cast her in a benevolent, quasi-religious role as "healer" — if not by magic, then by means of the magic-working money which the publicity generated. Behind the seeming magic — the magic of gold!
It is a bit like the King's touch for scrofula. For many centuries, until the 18th century, people would come at appointed times to be touched by the healing power of the King of England. Diana, in her own way, revived this old Royal function and adapted it for the TV age. The power of the King's touch was, in Diana, magnified and multiplied by the power of the media, of annexed, mobilised, borrowed, bestowed, multi-headed celebrity, which is here in the final analysis, the power to mobilise money. (Or is that "reductionism"?)
Thursday 4 September
People suspend critical functions and lose themselves in a delirium of make-believe.
How can they? Is it the same thing as projecting themselves onto images of pop stars and footballers? Or is that the point? They want to, need to. I don't understand! Are people so empty?
Like the delirious crowds all over Europe, with no sense of the reality of it, cheering the outbreak of war in 1914 — a break in the monotony of Iife?
It is TV pseudo-religion for the millennium: the beautiful but also mothering sugar-ice fairytale figure off the Christmas cake, living the Iife of a multi-millionaire in a prime US super-rich fantasy soap, and chatting on TV about her bulimia, her rotten marriage, and her lovers—a modern adaptation of, "bathe your hands in the bleeding wounds of Christ." Bathe your sorrows in the tears of Diana! It is all presented naively, on the level of old-fashioned romantic pop-song values, conceptions and standards. And she was a "good Mum"!
One marked note in the generally naive and uncritical comments of people interviewed in the endless TV marathon is a, "them and her," critical attitude to the Royal Family. "Them," and us? People are asked to evaluate the behaviour and 'performance" of the Royal Family as they would a drama or a football match. There is a lot of open criticism. It is evoked, but I think real: there has to be something for the media to tap into.
No one says that Diana's marriage, for example, is simply not something they can know about directly. There is a strong, unformulated, anti-Royalist and maybe anti-Establishment element in the hysteria. Diana was a victim of “them". Like us? She is seen as a rebel — a glamorous fantasy "rebel," and a rebel only in fantasy.
The idea is simply ridiculous of accepting as a rebel the earl's daughter who married the prince and was wronged by him, and by Camilla, one of Cinderella's ugly sisters. (The physical evaluation and abuse of the prince's paramour has been one of the nastier things in public life for a long time.) It sharpens my feeling of history having moved backwards. Rebel anti-monarchs in the 15th century—Jack Cade and Perkin Warbeck, for example—would claim to be the rightful king, the long-lost heir. There is the suggestion of a scene from Shakespeare that keeps half-coming to mind, but I can't drag it into consciousness. Are we back in a framework where you can't say, "Down with the King" without saying, "Long live the other King!"
Diana was the "people's princess," the good Queen that never was. Diana, the charitable super millionaire, one of them who was also, really, one of us. Was she Britain's Eva Peron?
Of course there is pity for one cut down so young, and a potent mix of death and sexuality, of Eros and Thanatos — the fascination of the death of such a one in such a way. But the mixture is strange. The whole business is plainly pathological.
Friday 5 September
I think I'm living in a world gone raving mad! Five or six million are expected to turn out for the funeral tomorrow! Under pressure, the Queen has appeared on TV to say what a wonderful person Diana was! I'll bet it choked her.
Endless TV images continue of Diana with the sick and the diseased. And, getting in on the act of one who muscled in on hers, the Original, Mother Theresa herself, has died in Calcutta. To no avail: she did not succeed in pushing Diana out of the limelight!
The mystical little old lady living for decades in Calcutta's slums cannot compete with the pretty lady who lived in palaces and mixed with pop stars and fashion designers.
Mother Theresa was on some levels a bit of a fake herself. Much of the "healing" element in the operation in Calcutta was spurious. It was a "soul-gathering," rather than a body-healing, enterprise. And Mother Theresa, as we "know" her, was also a media creation. Malcolm Muggeridge, when he got too old to do, or enjoy, the rakish things he had spent his life doing — drinking and polygamous fucking — turned religious and, with geriatric hysteria and self-hypnotising wishfulness, started to denounce worldly things and even Life itself which he somewhere called, "the disease". He "invented" the media Mother Theresa, with a pioneering documentary. He found the opposite of himself and then tried to hide behind it!
But, even so, the lifestyle that went with Mother Theresa's do-gooding contrasted very remarkably with Diana's. The soap-opera saint is glamorous and saintly while living "the good life" of the very rich to the full. That gives the story piquancy. That gives point to, "She was one of us." Mother Theresa was on the dark side of the moon, Diana on the light. Diana's moving in two worlds — coming “down" and "out" from theirs to "ours," and down to the deeper depths beyond "ours," was essential to the tone, the flavour, the tension, and, of course, the glamour.
If Diana had divested herself of the glamour and super-rich lifestyle, wouldn't she have lost all or much of the power to capture people's imaginations? Isn't there a horrible undertaste of deference and forelock-tugging in the response? Like the Cockney patois that says to people: she's a princess, or he's a prince? And calls people ' guv'nor"? Implicit, deep, acceptance of a natural state of hierarchy, and gushing, "roll-over-and maybe she'll-tickle-my-belly" gratitude for a little bit of condescension. Sex appeal plays a massive role in it, I think
Diana was to Mother Theresa what Elvis Presley was to the black music he diluted and bowdlerised and "whitened" to make it widely acceptable. Wasn't she brave to stand out and, "be herself", against the conventions of her role? Yes. But how much of it was media-led?
A diamond necklace worth £120, 000 which Al Fayed had just bought for Diana was found in the crashed car. There is no evidence of this producing a 'distancing effect' but rather speculation: were they getting engaged? Evita, Queen of Hearts and of Argentina's non-class-conscious poor, indulged in immensely vulgar ostentatious consumption. Still. millions of the deprived saw her as their representative, living out vulgar fantasies for them—as their proxy, their vicar at the tables and in the salons and the beds of the lords of the earth. This is displaced religion.
The thing in Shakespeare, a typical "mob" scene of the "cheesy-breathed" multitude fawning on the great, keeps coming to the verge of memory, but no further... Probably because I don't want to think the thought: these people happily let themselves live in a media-orchestrated pseudo-democracy of vulgar obsequiousness towards glamourised nothingness — and they call it freedom! But I don't know where media-fostering ends and real mass feeling begins. And the fantasy of a caring "one of them", and resentment at the others, may be the raw material of something better than this degrading nonsense.
The current of resentment is strong within the fascination and the seeming Royalism (real Royalism too, for Diana's son is first in line to the throne, the "heir apparent".)
However it got going, this is now out-of-control hysteria. It is like nationalism and chauvinism and....home team games, the feeling of enhanced belonging, of communal celebration that simulates the feeling of community when it is weak, or does not exist. "Doing good", "caring", "loving", warmth and maternal concern are the keynotes.
I suppose this hysteria has been primed for a span of over 16 years, since the wedding in 1981. Is the sharp contrast between the image Diana projected and the dominant, brutally Thatcherite, devil-take-the-hindmost ethos of those years important?
We live still in a world of organised and orchestrated hysteria, of belief in astrology and "the stars", where pop stars — the Stones. the Who, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan — over a lifetime accumulate devotees, like religious cultists following an ancient god or a Christian saint.This is the world in which Diana achieved super stardom, a hungry, none too rational world.
In TV interviews "the public" is theatre critic of the Royal vaudeville, evaluating the once-revered Royals for the quality of their shows of emotion. It would be intolerable at a village funeral. Here, it creates the illusion of being involved in such a funeral, the funeral of someone you knew. It is a spin-off from discussing the performance of footballers and the like. Except that here people are evaluating and judging without standards other than the real but inappropriate ones of family and neighbourhood life, and without perspective, and — above all, and this is what troubles me most — without real, sure knowledge. It is "judgment" disarmed, transfixed, hypnotosed and led by the nose after the TV image of the pretty, "caring" lady — "judgment" reduced to gawping in opulent shop windows.
Does TV, and life reported as heightened drama, regress mass intelligence to the superficiality of an imaginary omniscience, which the manipulated, two-dimensional images seemingly bestow? We have the pseudo-democracy of village gossip, with, in the case of TV, less real direct knowledge than villagers would have. There is a pseudo-democratic breaking-down of class barriers, but with the people as spectators, like the peasant peering in the palace window.
It is very far from real democracy. Yet the element of mass critical response to the show, even though it is now a response in the Royals own terms, may grow to criticism of the show as such — just as the demand for freedom of religious opinion grew into the demand for the freedom to be against religion, and into our modern idea of intellectual freedom in general.
Saturday 6 September
The endlessly repeated accounts of Diana visiting the sick and the homeless, on camera and "secretly," are the stuff of a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet, an uplifting account of the life of a Saint, in which there would be much of everyday life to identify with. Or of old tales and modern legend — say, a ballad such as Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd". The 1930s outlaw and Public Enemy to the FBI comes and begs a meal from a poor family, then goes — "and underneath the napkin left a thousand dollar bill." Never mind that such people would probably wind up in jail if they tried to cash it...
Is it that TV and modern communications, making bridges across time, space and social class, generate an effect akin to what ignorance and imagination, and the spooky God-and-the-spirits-are-everywhere feeling, creates in primitive or very religious people? Everything and anything is possible. Much is not known, but everything seems to be. Are we made back into such a million-headed tribe by the illusion of closeness and omniscience created by mass communications?
Such tribes would elect a God-priest-king —and kill him in season... Diana, Queen of Hearts in the global village, whose death stirs (and satisfies) the village's imagination and other faculties.
Isn't it to do with the nature of mass media — vast, intense overdrive and hype? You see it in the mad inflation of pop music and football: a mechanical, structural, in-built characteristic of mass media that quickly gets out of control where lucre-generating interest exists and can be magnified...?
What is most horrible is that people do not stop and remind themselves that they know very little about Diana. It is their open-mouthed willingness and eagerness to be fed images and consolation and sentimental, spurious identifications—even identification with cathartic vicarious "rebellion."
It is the crowd scenes in Julius Caesar that I have been trying to pull out of my memory. The crowd lurches from their old favourite Pompey, defeated and killed by Caesar, to enthusiasm for Caesar, then to vacillation between Brutus, Caesar's assassin, and Anthony, Caesar's avenger. These are helplessly ignorant and essentially powerless people, making mock-wise, foolish, grey-beard-grave comments and evaluations of the Great Ones — as so many have in the last week, on camera in the streets. And the London crowd in Richard 111, the usurping, child-murdering, own-mother-slandering monster has only to walk on his balcony between two priests, making a show of "goodness" and holiness by pretending to read a prayer book, to win the citizens over.
I have this persistent feeling that we have regressed! Is it such an illusion? People are in fact more politically helpless than for a very long time. How, in a world where the political parties say interchangeable things, where politics is increasingly bureaucratised, where the Labour Party has in effect been hijacked by the bourgeoisie, can they express themselves politically? How might they actually go about controlling what happens to them and to their society?
Whatever ends they would strive for, they lack political means of achieving them. The vote, without your own political party, in a political world dominated and structured by way of parties, is a hopelessly debased coin. People who wanted a proper National Health Service voted Labour on I May. What control have they over what the government does? None, unless they get rough on the streets, and maybe not much even then. No wonder "saviours from on high" are fashionable again.
One aspect of it is that Diana, it is reported, is particularly popular with black people, homosexuals, and women. People need more than their own lives give them, need to see themselves projected large and glammed up: that's the point about the popularity of the Australian soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away in which nothing happens but mundane things, common in everybody's Iife — even, at that, in exceptionally dull lives — but most of the actors are pretty and fanciable, and some of them gorgeous. The self projecting, self-worshipping Holy Family, with libido raw and plain, instead of disguised in mystical religious feeling. .
Sunday 7 September
Yesterday was the day the Brits turned into Hibernians! Lots and lots of people weeping openly to the strains, relayed out into streets from Westminster Abbey, of the awful bewigged Elton John singing an old song, recycled for the occasion — the sloppiest, most falsely romantic and sentimental stuff you ever heard. Diana was a "candle in the wind," burned out long before "her legend", "ever w-e-e-i-eill."
Two and a half billion people all over the world saw the funeral! Shakespeare's ghost was there too, writing the script. Diana's lord of a brother made a ringing speech in the Abbey — to applause from those within the Abbey and outside in the streets — implicitly criticising the Royal Family, and promising to bring up Diana's children, one of them a future king, according to her, and not "their," values and priorities. He made an open appeal for people to transfer their feelings for Diana to the future king. If a vote could have been taken then, he would have been proclaimed Regent for young King William, and Charles and the others dispatched to the Tower!
It was Laertes in Hamlet, brother of the dead Ophelia, leading "the mob" to storm the King's palace!
The Queen of Hearts — the star who joined the dowdy, musty, ageing rep company and stole the show — is dead! Long live her son who will one day be king! Will he?
Sean's account is fairly representative of the views of many on the left at the time.Uncomprehending at the scale of the publics reaction .Comparisons to taking sides in a soap opera,footie match,ridiculous sentimentality for a parisitic member of the ruling class,manipulated by the mass media etc etc.
I saw it differently.People don't get much chance to grieve in our society.They were grieving as much for their own loved ones as for Diana.Most people don't get to go to many funerals until they are pretty old and most of the few they go to are very unsatisfactory in human need terms-ie for grieving.(Most don't get to many weddings either-and Diana's was the most watched in the world by far)
Three years before Diana died the movie "Four Weddings and a funeral" came out.It became an unexpected world wide smash-the biggest grossing British movie ever.The movie is pleasantly amusing apart from one poignant scene-the funeral.The WH Auden poem-"Stop all the clocks.."Most people would have never heard it before and yet it summed up what most people want-ie everything and everybody to stop long enough for them to acknowledge that a loved one is dead and that it's more important than anything else that they are doing at that moment to express that collectively.In tribal and village societies throughout the world that is possible but in a complex,mass industrial society it's not possible but increasingly it's usually even more an insignificant event.Factory efficient 30 minute services,poorly attended,quick cremation/burial or scattering a few ashes by close family.( even DVD or internet stream for those who can't take time off work)
For me there has only been 4 fatal events where everyone can remember what they were doing when they heard the news and every thing seemed to stop while millions openly mourned..Kennedy,Lennon,Diana and 9/11. While Stalin,Churchill,Mao-tse Tung,and the Ghandi's in India may have had more at the funeral there wasn't the same sense of shock in the western world as for these 4 events.
Each one had the characteristic that life was cut short,confusion over the cause,possible conspiracy by reactionaries,general feeling of unfairness,spontaneous desire for millions to express human solidarity in a ritualistic way.Whilst politician and media figures tried to exploit each event they had to ride the wave of grief rather than be able to manufacture it.
Whilst the media was repetitive and simplistic in the stories they told most people picked out the thing they found most appealing about the person/event or what they mistrusted about the reactionaries.
In Diana's case the most common were that she held people(the royals always looked like they didn't like to touch their own kids let alone an aids patient!)anti war(landmines campaign compared to royals all being in the military)beautiful,clearly in love with her children,hounded by reactionary press and parts of establishment eg british intelligence service bugged her for sqidgygate.
Even though to Sean it makes no sense to waste flowers,tears,time on such a scale to the individuals the cost of a trip to the town hall to sign a book,or a few flowers is less than they would spend on something like easter eggs,father's day etc which don't have anything like the same feeling that this is a day when I can share my feelings with everyone I meet.
That human desire to come together collectively to express a desire to stop a death can be seen in the recent murder of the 11 year old in Croxteth or Madeliene McCann going missing.
To expect the millions to "not mourn-organise" or "don't weep,don't laugh-understand" as you may do at a socialist's funeral is to misunderstand the situation.
It's more a case of "Don't ask for whom the bell tolls-it tolls for thee"
It doesn't mean all those people are reactionaries, though
Of course the monarchy and its rituals are reactionary but it seems silly and pointless to complain much about the putpouring of grief- I think Tim's post was quite good.
Sure as a militant socialist republican I didn't join in the general pageant of grief- though of course any death (well almost any) is sad, including the 30 000 childreen who die every day through easily preventable diseases. But to condemn the people who did misses the point.
We need to win the working class to militant action- the fact that thousands, may be tens of thousands mourn for Diana, or Madelaine isn't particualrly a block in my opinion. If socialists deride this then that could be a block
Jason: Of course not everyone involved was reactionary. Tom didn't say they were rather that the Diana phenomenon was reactionary - and in that he is certainly right.
Tom: Not sure that the inability to express emotion is a general characteristic of capitalism. Why should it be? I think the stereotype that the British are particularly bad at it has an element of truth in it.
Tim: There is an obvious difference between Croxteth / Madeleine and Diana. In the first case, there is an aspect of solidarity with 'people like us', 'it could have happened to anyone' etc. That obviously wasn't the case with Diana - it was precisely because she wasn't like us but rather an icon, celebrity, whatever you like to call it. Nor do I agree with your identification of her as an anti-establishment figure. Here you're reading in to it what you might have liked to be the case.
Tom-I agree that reinforcing any cult of personality was not a good thing in that week and that was a point well made in Sean's article.Where I think he and you get it wrong is that it alienated people more,that the events were all reactionary.
Bruce-it wasn't me that identified Diana as anti-establishment it was the majority of the public.they also identified her as a nice part-contradictary like most of the reactions!
The dictionary definition of reactionary is "ultra-conservative in politics" and the original meaning was in the French Revolution those who wished a return to the ancien-regime.Diana did not represent either of those ideas to the public.That was personified by the Queen and Charles.During that week the popularity of the Royal family and the Queen fell dramatically to the lowest levels since she became queen in 1953.It wsn't just a trick of how the opinion polls were framed ,it became the easiest I have ever known to openly express anti-royal sentiments and get a hearing and often hear stronger sentiments expressed.Anti royal propaganda wasn't being cynically whipped up by the TV people and the public following like sheep.In fact Blair rushed to assure the public that, even though there was no evidence, the Queen was really upset at the death of the "People's Princess".Jennie Bond ,the BBC's royal correspondent ,was on permanent standby to say that despite people thinking the Queen and Chas had been cold bastards to Diana they really did care-honest!
I think what I disliked most about the article was it seems like all Sean did was watch the telly for 7 days and see the crowds in a condescending and contemptible way- "the cheesy breathed multitude fawning on the great","the horrible undertaste of deference and forelock tugging", "these people let themselves live in a media orchestrated pseudo democracy of vulgar obsequesiosness towards glamourised nothingness".
When watching television coverage of large public demonstrations the first thing a socialist should do is question how representative of the people/event are the media images.Of course the TV will pick out those extreme Diana nuts who already think she is a saint,or the little kid who said she had a nice smile rather than the millions who either were anti royal or had criticisms of royalty.Most people didn't blindly follow the tabloid agenda but were critical of them for their desire to make profits at any cost-even a life.Even now 43% think the crash suspicious and don't see the investigation as transparent-and I don't blame them.It has increased peoples suspicion of the role of the intelligence services.
At the end of the Miners strike in 1985 it was really hard to get even supporters of the strike to call for an amnesty for jailed miners-the power of the misrepresentation by the media on who was responsible for violence was such that those who viewed the strike thru the telly and papers thought the jailed must be guilty and to most you were regarded as a nutter if you talked of the framing by police,the illegality of the courts,the reversal of footage by the BBC,the involvement of Mi5/6-but during the Diana week and after not only could you get a hearing but many agreed.The James Bond image of Mi5/6 was damaged.
I don't think "rebels"like Diana serve the cause of emancipation they are as likely to bolster the ruling class -but it was problematic.Different elements of the ruling class genuinely do come in conflict with other ones.Richard Branson did face dirty tricks from BA,John Lennon's stance on war,religion etc did bring them hatred from the elements of the ruling class even if their love of making miliions did endear them to others.For brief moments the rottenness of the ruling class is allowed to be talked about even if very quickly the discussion will be controlled and led in the direction of "trust us we can reform it and it won't happen again". I think the iconising of anyone is bad news for working class consciousness whether it's Beckham,Ghandi Branson,Mandela,Diana or Kylie,
but Brits crying publicly isn't-nor is it alienation.People don't watch Neighbours cos it's mundane-there's a kidnapping,bomb,baby snatch or something every week on it!
Candle in the Wind isn't "happy" and is a matter of personal taste whether it's better than the "Funeral March",Robbie Williams' "Angel's"(the most popular funeral song) or even a socialist poem by Sean!
When I watched the TV show church services and vicar Blair,people clutching photos I felt as despairing as Sean but when I went to the gathering places I found as many secular,anti royal,questioning,angry ,open to discussion and ideas.Hardly an embryo soviet but neither helplessly "regressing" ,"reactionary" or "alienated"