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Friday, August 31, 2007 

10 years of turning in the grave.

As tempting as it is to ignore the whole sorry spectacle of today's ostentatious yet banal processions of manufactured grief and remembrance, or dismiss it with a post like "10 years on: Diana still dead", it's hard not to conclude that Diana's death really did change Britain, although not in the way that either the tabloids or most of the more serious pontificating hacks have tried to claim.

Like a decade ago, it's Private Eye's front cover that's provided an alternative narrative to the more mainstream one. Then it punctured the lachrymose, sanctimonious and overbearing mood which most of the press were attempting to enforce on the nation, pointing out the most base hypocrisy of a media which had spent most of its time criticising the Princess, sometimes in the most strident of terms, only then to beatify her once she can no longer actually respond to it, so much so that it was temporarily removed from some shops for daring to speak up for those alienated and appalled by the turn of events. This week it's again both poked fun at and pointed the finger at the media, having exploited her image for their own ill-gotten gains for the last 10 years, with Diana saying she hopes that they haven't just used one of her well-worn photographs to sell more copies.

While it's just a coincidence, it's also intuitive that the latest series of that other tedious behemoth, Big Brother, comes to a close tonight. Just as some celebrate the notion that Diana's death brought us together, made us more comfortable with expressing our emotions and established a new era of understanding and openness which has resurfaced recently with the desperate cases of Madeleine McCann and Rhys Jones, she also did more than anyone else, or rather the media's endless pursuit of her did, to establish the cult of celebrity. While Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, it was Diana that has helped launch thousands of magazines, books and other paraphernalia, an avalanche of low culture which even now shows no signs of abating.

Whether you ascribe to the theory that the media "killed" Diana or not, whether through the paparazzi who chased her through the Paris streets into that fateful tunnel, or just the editors' who demanded the never ending stream of photographs which meant she was followed wherever she went, it's not that far a leap from the cameras stalking one woman to the cameras watching contestants out for a fast buck, both being used as cash cows while pretending to care for their wellbeing. Diana was a real-life soap opera, her Panorama interview the most cathartic episode in its history, only to be overshadowed by a killing off that some doom-mongers may have predicted but was never expected to actually happen. What else is reality television if not the controlled chaos of throwing numerous incompatible people together and seeing what happens? Doom-mongers like myself have long been predicting that this most unethical and distasteful of junk programming will eventually end in a preventable tragedy; while it is yet to happen, judging by how this latest series of BB has been denounced as both the worst and most boring yet, you almost imagine that the producers would actually have liked something similar to happen. They only have themselves to blame: what do you expect when you throw photogenic but completely empty and self-absorbed, mostly young individuals together? Then again, who else would want to go on such shows? It's like flies trying to stop themselves from sitting on shit.

At the very least, Diana occasionally had something of interest to say, or a cause to support that others in her position wouldn't have touched with a bargepole. The very fact that she was far from perfect, a flawed person just like all the rest of us, made her both great friends and great enemies. When her death brought about the biggest reverse ferret in tabloid history, it showed how if there's one thing that riles up the gutter press, it's someone who doesn't always get things right. They hated her because while she indulged them, she also knew when to draw the line, as well as the fact that she was more popular than they could ever possibly be. Only in death could they truly love her, as only then was every little detail about her profitable: while she could object, answer back or tell her side, they couldn't get away with printing the crap they've spent the last ten years selling and producing.

Rather than learning from this model though, today's celebrities have gone the other way entirely; doing everything they possibly can to suck up to the media, even though it holds the key to both their success and their potential destruction. Without Diana, there could have been no Jordan or Kerry Katona, or all the other hideous, talentless morons that have filled the vacuum of the last ten years. Does it saying something about us or about our popular culture that a former glamour model with expandable on command breasts could be worth millions, producing a perfume, lingerie, "writing" novels and have cameras follow her everywhere without anyone suggesting that this is the most facile, vapid, ridiculous and obnoxious of insults to collective intelligence yet seen?

In actuality, the last decade has seen the media learn how to both exploit and even engineer breakdowns and personal problems. While some of this is cynically produced by the women's gossip magazines who are in cahoots with the celebrities themselves, flagging up every slight wobble in a relationship, some of it is voyeurism bordering on the morbid. The recent obsession with Amy Winehouse, a young, somewhat talented woman obviously addicted both to drugs and her husband, with the paparazzi following her every movement, from alleged fights to the beach, has surely been reminiscent how Diana was chased around during her last summer. That some have made reference to "Sid and Nancy" almost makes you wonder whether they'd actually like history to repeat itself so that they can sell some more newspapers and say "I told you so". Something similar has gone on with Pete Doherty and Kate Moss, although both are far less sympathetic figures. Rebekah Wade's blast against her hacks for their failure to get an interview with Doherty, saying that they had "lost any journalistic ability they had ever had" was indicative of just what has happened to tabloid journalism: no longer for the people, but for the rich to tell their sob stories to.

We shouldn't be surprised then that the Daily Express, on today of all days, can't even hold back from splashing its bottomless barrel of conspiracy theories on its front page, while the Daily Mail had a guide to today's service, which if the Grauniad is to be believed, had a hand in making Camilla decide not to attend, having read a "devastating" article by Diana's "close friend" Rosa Monckton in the Mail on Sunday. Monckton was no doubt in attendance today, although Paul Burrell, having apparently offended everyone with his money making through his books wasn't invited. If that same principle had been extended to the press, Monckton herself, who has wrote a children's book associated with Diana, and countless others, no one would have been there. Everyone with as much as a passing acquittance with her has filled their boots, and why not, when that great example the Daily Mail abandoned its pledge to never buy paparazzi pictures again with a matter of days? Quite why both the BBC and ITV had to show the "service of thanksgiving", a classic example of the aristocracy pretending that it cares while still doing its best to stick two fingers up to everyone with a difference of opinion, shows how the broadcasters can't cope with the loss of ratings even on a Friday morning in August.

If there is to be anything gained from bringing up this whole regrettable torrent of sentimentality, it ought to be that from now on we let the poor woman rest in peace. If the media continue to bombard us with her image, if writers continue to produce sordid memoirs revealing nothing new except their abject lack of originality and desire to earn some quick cash and if Mohamed Al-Fayed and friends continue to spout their debunked and discredited theories, all deserve to have mass boycotts imposed upon them. We shouldn't let a media at least partly responsible for her death continue to profit from it, without demanding that they reform themselves so something similar never occurs again. That all of this is a pipe dream, an impossibility, doesn't mean that it isn't true or necessary. After all, who's responsible? You (we) fucking are.

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