Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Freedland loses the plot

Princess Dianna died on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. To turn on the TV that Sunday morning was a surreal experience. One would have thought she was a saint and that everyone had always thought so. But she died after the Sunday papers had gone to print, and they contained the usual crop of stories about Di, and these were not so deferential. (Not long before she had taken her kids to see a movie called “Free Willy” and I remember the papers suggesting she would be disappointed when she found out that it was about a dolphin). The next edition of Private Eye compared what various commentators had said on TV on that Sunday (and in the days that followed) with what the same commentators said in that Sunday’s papers. The result was hilarious: many had apparently simultaneously suffered both Saulite conversion and total amnesia. Di had vaulted from slag to saint. Some of the things said by apparently sane and intelligent individuals – Will Hutton, for example – were of unsurpassed idiocy.
These recollections are prompted by a piece in the Guardian by Jonathan Freedland arguing that the so-called grieving for Di was a rare “moment of togetherness”. Freedland argues that the “conventional” view is that the whole thing was media-orchestrated mass hysteria. That is my view but I doubt that it is the conventional one (and – as Freedland concedes – it certainly wasn’t at the time). Don’t misunderstand me: obviously when a young woman is killed that is sad. But, for me, it would be just as sad if it had been the barmaid at the Rose and Crown (at least there is a fair chance I might have a passing acquaintance with the barmaid at the Rose and Crown, whereas to most of those weeping and wailing Di was a complete stranger, known only via the media). The days that followed her death saw scenes of utter madness. Can you imagine queuing for 15 hours – 15 hours – to sign a book of condolence? I wouldn’t do that for Bob Dylan never mind Princess-bloody-Di (what did they do when they needed a pee?) Can you imagine saying, of the death of a complete stranger, that it has affected you more than the death of your own mother? (There were those who said this at the time). The whole thing was bloody ridiculous, and the bullying media consensus was slightly sinister. (Incidentally, Freedland refers to The Queen movie as embodying the new consensus. I haven’t seen the movie and have no intention of going to see it. Why on earth anyone would make or watch a movie about Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg Gotha is beyond me. So far as I can see her only distinguishing feature is unrestrained avarice). I do remember going to the pub around lunch-time that Sunday. Someone asked about the football only to be told it had been cancelled “because that stupid bitch has got herself killed”. A cruel remark, of course; although pretty standard for bar-room humour (dark and irreverent). But at least it reminded me that the image of a “whole nation” grieving was a media artefact. Sure there were many who felt like the dim-wits who queued for 15 hours. But others were more interested in the football. The insanity was widespread but not universal.


Blogger septicisle. said...

Indeed. I believe there was a massive undercurrent of both hostility, bewilderment and anger at what took place that strange, strange week, just that it took the media a few years to decide to recognise it.

Like with many other news stories, such as we're seeing with the Madeleine case, I get the feeling that the reporters and hacks that week went native with the mourners, who were by no means whatsoever representative. Looking back and remembering that most shops closed their doors on the day of her funeral as "a mark of respect" and it seems that something cracked. Freeland might have a point about it being a shared experience and a coming together for those who actually felt like that, but for those left outside it was just as cold and alienating as usual.

6:36 pm  

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