A Bout of Mourning in the Global Night-Club
by Gwydion M. Williams
[I wrote this in 1997, after the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the extraordinary bout of public mourning that followed in Britain.]
When Marshall McLuhan spoke of a “global village”, he showed a deep lack of understanding. Modern telecommunications do indeed allow people to communicate as easily as fellow villagers used to do. But people in a single village also know each other, care about each other, have mutual expectations and offer mutual support. The modern norm, where you neither known nor care who lives next to you, would have been unthinkable.
The modern telecommunicating world is much more like a night-club than a village. People mostly do not know each other, though a few “big shots” are known to all. People also do not have time to care about each other. They are on the alert for tricksters and fraudsters. By and large, people try to use each other. In particular they try to make use of the “big shots”, since anyone associated with them gets a bit of extra status.
People have been fragmented out of community life, left unprepared for being ordinary. Of necessity, most of them must remain ordinary, and will therefore feel cheated and unhappy. Most of them are no happier if they do get what they were encouraged to want. They push ruthlessly towards a glittering prize
The late Princess of Wales was rather rare, in that she was naive rather than ambitious. She did not realise what she was taking on by joining a royal family no longer protected by deference. She was also rather rare in that she did try to do something generous with her position. One is reliably informed that the Royals are fairly tolerant in private, at least on sexual matters. But none of them except Diana were ready to challenge any of the conventions or taboos. And only Princess Diana would tale a serious stand against abominations like the mass marketing of arms, especially landmines. She showed something of the old ruling class tradition of Public Service, which is not at all the same thing as doing what the government of the day wants you to do.
Lady Diana Spencer would have done better to have married a frog. Not that I blame Prince Charles, he too is a victim of circumstances. Whereas most of his class were able to fade into a decent obscurity, he was constantly kept in the limelight. His least remark was seized upon, even though it was embarrassingly obvious that he had nothing in particular to say. He could have found a role as a “people’s champion” against the ugly pretentious nonsense of Modernist architecture. But the man lacked fighting spirit in the face of noisy but trivial opposition. He has ended up standing for bewildered good intentions, like so much of the old ruling class. Worst, he could not chose his own woman, but was mated with much public ceremony with a nice-looking upper-class virgin who was also a victim of circumstances.
One point Diana did understand, which our “clever” establishment does not. Having globalised our economy, we need also to globalise our morality. She was not the first, nor the first in public life. Remember Live Aid? But she was the first from the core of the British political establishment. So she was deservedly classed as everyone’s favourite royal. She merited attention, if not the absurd media-stalking that harassed her in life and in death.
In the global night-club, the ambitious but dull try to raise their status by associating with “big shots”. In the past, even though Royals were subject to this sort of harassment, it was all done very respectfully. Now it is done rudely and intrusively, but still in a vain and crazy fashion. The media was monopolised for two weekends in succession, including identical non-news on BBC1 and BBC2, just to make sure that there was no private judgement. A considerable minority of the population took Diana’s death personally, indeed, and needed to be catered for. But a majority did not. And even if people felt it was wrong time light entertainment, OK. But why was “Medicine Now” and a whole clutch of serious science and history programs shoved aside for utter vacancy of Royal reportage? Because a lot of utterly vacant characters were not going to miss the chance to associate themselves with a world-class media item. With all of the posturing egos, there was just no room for anything else.
First Person Hysteria is a characteristic of the global night-club. “Success” is seen as mystical force, capable of being acquired by contact and association. That “success” might be trivial and mostly down to chance and excess risk taking is outside of the media’s understanding of the world.
The world has changed, of course. A couple of generations back, a woman in public life who had acted as Diana had acted would have forfeited all public sympathy. Had she then died due to having left off her seat-belt while driven by a seriously drunk driver going at a lunatic speed, she would then have been buried privately and with embarrassment. Not with the vast public grief that was shown, totally wrong-footing the royals. There has been more change in view on sex and on women’s place in four decades than in the previous four centuries. So if |I criticise the global night-club, it is not out of any wish to go back to the old order.
The Royals and their advisors seem not to have noticed how far the “alternative morality” of the 1960s is now the standard morality. Even twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an open bisexual to be associated with Royal occasion. There were plenty about, but not open and not acceptable if they had been open. Nor could a princess have been commemorated with a poor reworking of a song celebrating Marilyn Monroe, whose career included porn films and who associated with some really nasty Mafiosi even when she was far above the need to do so. It is no compliment to Diana to make the link. But both were famous and died suddenly, so I suppose that is good enough.
If anyone thought that Diana’s death would bring things “back to normal” or restore new life to dead values, they were way out of touch. Which means the immediate and widespread suspicions that some bunch of “rogue agents in the Security Services might have done it must be taken quite seriously. Fixing for a little accident by gimmicking the complex controls of a sophisticated luxury car would have been ingenious, wicked and politically stupid – just typical of British Intelligence!
The current idea of elevating Prince William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor to the throne is a thoroughly bad one. No one has any idea what he is like. His current popularity seems to resemble that of the platypus in the 19th century comic poem, who never made a statement that his enemies could hold him to.
The present no-intrusive-photographs rule agreed by the newspapers shows the same concern for Diana’s sons as grouse hunters have for grouse. You have to conserve some for future hunting. Any present good behaviour would not last if poor Prince William did get dumped with all the British people’s complex feelings about Royals. I doubt if any teenager could take on such a role without being destroyed by it. He would be wiser to declare himself a Buddhist, thereby removing himself from all possibility of succession. Monarchs must be Anglicans, that is the law. The rule an odd left-over from the Wars of Religion, but no odder than the monarchy as a whole.
[Oddly enough, Diana died less than a week before the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (31 August and 5 September.) Mother Teresa was duly mourned in Calcutta, where she had indeed done good work. But people in Britain had been trying to build her up as a modern saint. The timing of her death meant that Britain had ‘compassion fatigue’, which was unfortunate for this project. As of April 2015, she is merely Beatified.
[I later put the same ideas in a more general context in another article, Why I Call It a Global Night-Club.]
[What I said about communication seems to me still very true, even though ‘social media’ are now vastly more developed. People can make village-like niches within this global network, but they are generally insecure.]