Coppers indulging in cringe-inducing ‘dad dancing’ at Gay Pride parades or the Notting Hill Carnival; does anybody really want to see that? A dad’s authority extends no further than his family, whereas the police have it over thousands of people. To see them shedding their remaining shreds of dignity on so public a platform could be perceived as an ill-advised attempt to make them approachable; but it has the same effect as seeing Tony Blair saying ‘Am I bovvered?’ on a Comic Relief sketch. A few years prior to starring alongside Catherine Tate, the most media-savvy PM of all time had coined a phrase that has been endlessly exhumed of late.

Having avoided the glut of Diana ‘tributes’ on TV, I’m not sure if there’s been any programme that has examined those events bereft of the fawning ‘People’s Princess’ script; probably not. I doubt any have taken the long view of how our society has significantly altered since – and as a consequence of – August 31 1997. At the time, the coverage of Diana’s death complemented the coverage of Diana’s life; it followed the same narrative and also felt like a media construct. The theory goes that the mass hysteria came not from the media, but from the people; yet the media had created the Diana monster for the people in 1980 and the people had bought it. Therefore, when the public received its lifestyle manual from the media during that week between Paris and Westminster Abbey, it was taught how to react to her death in the same way the media had taught it to be interested in Diana to begin with.

The transformation was remarkably rapid. The way in which Brenda was perceived as being cold and inhuman simply because she wasn’t bursting into tears whenever a camera was pointed in her direction was a good pointer to how a society could change in the space of just a few days. Two decades on, when teenage girls greet their exam results by wafting their tearful faces with a hand acting as a fan to visually articulate their emotional response – just as TV talent contestants do – it chimes with the long-term impact of these changes. That they willingly do so free from any embarrassment, despite knowing they will be transmitted into the nation’s living rooms, isn’t an issue for them when they’ll probably upload videos of themselves doing likewise on social media, anyway. The private is now public – and that extends to every private function, taken even way beyond Diana’s appetite for publicity via ‘I’m A Celebrity Big Brother Island’.

The pernicious trend for television news reporters to persistently ask witnesses to tragedies how what they witnessed has made them feel also reflects this; the triumph of heart over head and the need to seek an emotional rather than intellectual response to upsetting events can be traced back to that first week of September 1997. There’s nothing wrong with sometimes letting one’s heart dictate a response, of course; we are all human, after all. But the heart is not always a reliable organ in a tight spot; handing it life’s steering wheel can often result in reckless actions that provoke regret and a retrospective wish that the head had taken control at the crucial moment.

The cavernous black hole Diana left in our mainstream media was swiftly filled by a series of nominees nominated by Fleet Street in the way Holy Roman Emperors were once selected by the elite Prince-Electors of Vienna. Posh and Becks were the first to be elevated to the obsessive level Diana had occupied for a good seventeen years, eventually followed by the likes of Jordan/Peter Andre and a swift succession of even greater cretins, each more insubstantial than their predecessors and each possessing a shorter lifespan. Not that the excess of coverage has reflected these diminishing returns; advances in technology have intensified it, despite every nominee being akin to a photocopy of the Diana blueprint with the ink cartridge gradually running out as someone from ‘Geordie Shore’ fills the final sheet of paper in the machine.

In her search for something to do with a little substance, Diana may have gradually embraced laudable causes and broken taboos that needed breaking, but her initial appearance in the public spotlight required little more than simply having the right look for the moment. She was the role model for the modern media darlings who are famous for being famous, appearing just as that role was poised to acquire considerable cache. Her successors have regularly viewed the ‘good causes’ clause as surplus to requirements, yet we are still supposed to be interested in them for reasons that appear utterly mystifying other than they prevent the masses contemplating anything with any depth, lest that prompt them into asking awkward questions.

The ground for 1997 had already been laid by the same media that manufactured Diana. Rupert Murdoch’s mission to remake his first adopted country in his own image, to dumb down its population by stealth and reduce it to his own coarse, crude, anti-intellectual level, had been a calculated campaign of creeping corrosion from the moment he installed Kelvin McKenzie as editor of the Sun in the year of the Royal Wedding. By his own admission, McKenzie was a fairly inept journalist, but he was a man with a gift for an eye-catching headline, however ludicrous – a bullish Barnum of bullshit. As editor of Murdoch’s tabloid flagship, McKenzie expanded Murdoch’s philosophy and took it to unprecedented extremes of outrageously gross bad taste and celebratory idiocy. If the chosen paper of the average working man is devoted to telling him what an idiot he is every weekday, chances are he’ll eventually come to believe it and will never know he has the potential to aim a little higher.

Under the stewardship of Kelvin McKenzie, the Sun became ever more reckless in its promotion of stupidity as a virtue; the huge sales figures gave the paper carte-blanche to venture into territory that even the Digger would have initially avoided, and its malignant influence has been immense across the media as well as, it has to be said, the media’s ravenous consumers. The extent to which one of the nation’s windows onto itself – television – has reflected the dumbing down process was highlighted to me when I stumbled upon an edition of ‘Parkinson’ from 1973 on YouTube a couple of nights ago.

When one bears in mind that Michael Parkinson’s long-running chat-show aired on BBC1 and was produced by the light entertainment department, the edition in question seems even more remarkable; it centres around a discussion between Kenneth Williams and union leader Jimmy Reid on the state of the nation. In a pre-‘Question Time’ innovation, it also draws members of the studio audience into the debate and is utterly compelling television that runs for an hour and twelve minutes. The jarring contrast between the level of intelligence from all concerned on the programme and 2017’s equivalent – the inane Hollywood PR charade that is ‘The Graham Norton Show’ – is so stark that it makes ‘Question Time’ resemble ‘Loose Women’. As a barometer of measuring how low we’ve sunk in the space of four decades, it even surpasses disco-dancing constables.

© The Editor

8 thoughts on “DECLINE AND FALL

  1. Evidently blessed with an IQ only in the modest double-digit area, balanced by moderate good-looks, Diana was un-bright enough not to realise that her sole role was as a ‘clean’ brood-mare for the continuity-process of the monarchy – with Chuck’s continuing tampon-infatuation for the used-goods Camilla, they critically needed an unquestioning history-free dupe to pop out at least an heir and a spare from the ‘right’ side of the blanket. Diana fitted the bill, laid back and thought of England (while Chuck was probably thinking of Camilla) and she delivered the goods but then, rather unwisely, got ideas above her station, aided and abetted by a media ever-hungry for copy and images to draw in their advertisers.

    In life, Diana played the media-game because it at least gave her a weapon against the weight of the establishment on the other side – in death, she changed Britain. That phenomenal outpouring of perceived grief which accompanied her death and funeral was quite remarkable, especially as almost all those apparently suffering the profound depths of personal grief had probably never even seen her in the flesh, never mind got to know her as an individual.
    Florists of Britain will, however, remain ever-grateful for how she established the principle of ‘cellotaphs’, those piles of cheap garage-flowers which, since then, have adorned every site of any minor death-event, as if it were now mandatory to empty the Shell-shelves every time you hear that someone’s croaked, whether you knew them or not.

    How much of it is down to the media and how much to the population’s newly-apparent urge to ‘be part of it’ (see ‘X Factor’ etc.) is hard to tell, but it defies my logic-processes and suggests that most of those folk really need to get a life, ideally their own life, rather than living a vicarious existence through the lives of those presented to them on a plate in the tabloid/gutter press. But then, tell them it’s just ‘bread and circuses’ and they’ll look blankly at you – maybe they deserve what they get, but the rest of us would prefer something better.

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    1. As a postscript – two days after Diana’s funeral, I flew to California to spend a month touring the western states. Almost every American I met in hotels, bars, restaurants or Walmart, on discovering I was English, proceeded to ask about Diana, in full expectation that she had been a close friend of mine.

      On hearing my view that she was merely an attractive air-headed incubator, I was immediately labelled as some sort of anti-establishment agitator and guilty of carelessly puncturing their own balloons of mis-placed remote grief. It was not only within these shores that the phenomenon occurred.

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      1. Funnily enough, a friend of mine with family in the States visited there a couple of years before ‘the death’ and was expected to be some ambassador for the Royal Family whenever he was quizzed about them. Then again, I suppose every Englishman visiting the US in the mid-60s could probably have blagged his way into anywhere by pretending he was a close personal pal of John, Paul, George & Ringo. I guess we’re not always up on how we’re perceived on the other side of the pond, however inaccurate it might be.


  2. I always thought that a better memorial and a better use of money spent on cellophane wrapped compost would have some Armco barrier in that French tunnel. Unless they wanted to maintain a connection with their avenues, where the penalty for driver error is death up against an unforgiving trunk.
    Unrelated – I always wonder if there is a subculture competition to be the first to put a cute teddy on a roadside memorial.

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  3. i don’t believe you can explain away Posh and Becks by media attention alone. Surely playing for England’s most successful 1990s club, Manchester United, and being England’s Captain, plus marriage to a member of the decade’s most successful girl group (and a savvy entrepreneur) contributed? Over-achievers, both. And still married, with lots of strangely-named children.

    Certainly the UK media had little or no influence in Japan or Thailand, where Beckham had cult status, and where there is (allegedly) a temple dedicated to him.

    I recall being angry that on the day of her funerals the pubs were supposed to be shut (most were, for a few hours, and some pubs opened regardless) as a “mark of respect” . That pub closure wasn’t at the instigation of the media, that was Tony Blair’s doing.

    So I tend to think the sentiment was genuine, the media just fed off of it: we’ve all been accustomed to the idea that Royals are near-immortal, the first (or second, depending on your view of divorce) to die in my sexagenerian time was the Queen Mum. For many, the shock that a Royal had died was considerable: how could this happen? And the media just fanned the flames.


    1. When I was told of what had happened that Sunday morning, the long prologue referencing the Royals from the girl who told me led to me jumping to the conclusion the Queen Mum had conked out.


  4. There’s no doubt David Beckham was a gifted footballer, also gifted with looks which apparently appeal to women, and thus also to product-marketers. Victoria has been but a lucky passenger, first as a tuneless singer hidden amongst others, then as an attachment to David, always having an eye to the main chance. The outcome has been ‘Brand Beckham’, using her parasitic skills, along with his persona, to maintain media attention.

    I applaud the success of that venture, but would not credit it as anything other than the triumph of cynical marketing to an unthinking audience which increasingly can’t tell the difference, even if it wanted to.


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