Geert Lovink on Wed, 3 Sep 1997 20:38:47 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Living Marxism on Lady Di

Living Marxism: The Real Meaning of the Di Phenomenon

In the early hours of Sunday 31 August, celebrity royal Princess Diana was
killed, along with her lover Dodi Fayed, in a car crash in Paris. We are
being encouraged by political leaders and media pundits to take part in a
macabre ritual that seeks to conjure up a mythical unity through phoney
grief for an icon of victimhood.

The media-fest that started minutes after Diana's death looks set to
continue for the next week, to be followed by appeals, memorials,
revelations and retrospectives throughout the year ahead. For the media has
become expert at turning tragedy into a spectacle of international

>From dawn until late afternoon on Sunday, both BBC1 and BBC2 were devoted
to Diana. Reporters were stationed outside all the royal palaces describing
the scenes as crowds gathered to 'express their grief for the princess'. As
the day wore on, the strangely gripping TV broadcasts were like church
bells calling the nation to prayer. The people who went to Buckingham or
Kensington Palace must have watched the early reports and gone to join the
growing crowds, thus accepting walk-on parts in the drama being improvised
before our eyes.

Radio 1 axed the Top 40 for the first time ever, other radio stations
played the national anthem every hour, the Football Association cancelled
all fixtures, Blackpool illuminations were extinguished and party leaders
called for a suspension of the dirty game of politics.

At a time when politicians, church leaders and media heads desperately
cling to anything that seems to offer an insight into 'what people really
think', whether through Blair's People's Panels, endless radio phone-ins or
telephone hotlines, tragedies are increasingly drawn upon to make some kind
of connection with 'us'. Last year offered dress rehearsals for the Diana
wake with the murder of headteacher Philip Lawrence and the tragedy of
Dunblane, both of which saw politicians clamouring to get closest to the
victims and to demonstrate their ability to relate to real people and real
problems. Two exceptional, if tragic, incidents became vehicles for
political leaders desperate for legitimacy among a public from which they
feel increasingly alienated and which they lack the confidence to lead.

Tony Blair's lump-in-the-throat speech on Sunday and the sight of his
children being ritually dragged to church set a clear model for our
response: we are to reflect on the significance of Diana's life and death.
A parade of world leaders and celebrities from Mandela to Yeltsin, from
Mother Teresa to Michael Jackson tried to get a piece of the action by
adding their own greeting card sentimentalities to the performance, further
encouraging the media pundits in their pursuit for the 'meaning of this
senseless tragedy'. Luckily, Diana's recent anti-landmine crusade enabled
even the most cynical commentators to find something in her 36 years of
privilege and luxury to take seriously. While the innocent whose 'heart
ruled her head' is held up like an idiot savant as a model to us all,
politics and critical comment are suspended. Like over-emotional teenagers
who mourn the break-up of their favourite pop group, we are encouraged to
suspend disbelief and join in the false community that weeps and hugs
itself in the worship of an icon of victimhood.

The response to Diana's death brings into stark relief a society
desperately in need of a shared sense of itself. The endless refrains of
'the nation mourns' and 'the need for us all to come to terms with our
collective grief' elevates a real tragedy for a real, if peculiar, family
into a distorted symbol of common humanity. The fact that this humanity is
discovered not in the triumphant achievement of a moon landing or a
sporting record, but in a macabre ritual that deifies suffering, reveals a
sick society that struggles to recognise let alone celebrate human
achievement, but excels at revelling in the maudlin.

See also:


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