Television: It's a state of total Dianarchy
Diana TV; The Dianaphobes are beginning to get tiresome.
Sunday 30 August 1998
Christopher Hitchens, that reliable distributor of cats among pigeons, contended that the death caused nowhere near as much anguish as the media had us believe a year ago, and that those people who did mourn hadn't given a moment's thought to their behaviour. Anyone would agree after "a little reflection and examination", he remarked. In contrast with the wailers and teeth-gnashers who flashed across the screen, he was marvellously phlegmatic, to the extent that he looked and sounded as if he'd had seven or eight glasses of wine to calm his nerves before filming.
If so, his script wasn't affected. Every tasty sentence was stuffed with soundbites - "Our Lady of the Versace", "a photo-album cult" - and he made so many sensible points that you could do him justice only by rewinding your video to mop up what you missed. People don't normally address condolence cards to the deceased, he noted. And no one's ever heard of Jodie Williams, who won a Nobel Peace prize for years and years of anti- landmine work. And those who left flowers for Diana outside Buckingham Palace had got "the wrong address". And Bernie Taupin's lyrics for "Candle in the Wind '97?" "Doggerel."
After the opening third, the camerawork calmed down. But the thesis went the opposite way, as Hitchens slipped from facts to feelings: a risky move, as he'd just proved how untrustworthy these can be. One Diana-sceptic told him that he "rather resented" being informed by the BBC that the nation mourned as one. Pompous enough for you? There's more. He was "shaken" and "worried" by this coercion; then he deemed it the "chilling" work of "a one-party state". And who was this real-life Winston Smith? Someone who had written to the Times with these views last September. His letter was published. So much for one-party state.
We'd already heard from Mark Thomas, a comedian who is normally bang on the mark. He talked of "censorship" enforced by "Blackshirts" because he wasn't allowed to make any Diana jokes in the week after her death. I know it's his job to exaggerate for comic effect, but being asked by a club owner to cut out the carcrash gags hardly equates with living in a "Nazi state". Hitchens wasn't helping his argument here; he was just swapping one hysteria for another. Just as so many people wore their grief as a badge of sensitivity, his interviewees wore their disgust with grief-by-decree as a badge of mature perspicacity. One-upmanship was in the air. "Oh, you only resented Fleet Street's shameful brainwashing, did you? How naive. I was shaken and chilled."
Another commentator in the film pinpointed Funeral Fever as "an opportunity for feeling connected with your society". But Hitchens didn't try to understand the mourners: he was too busy mocking their stupidity. Still, maybe he thought that they'd had enough sympathetic coverage already. Certainly ITV's trailers for its anniversary scheduling nearly had me siding with Mark Thomas. Its DiTV slogan is "One Year, One Sadness". "One Leader/Party/Nation" isn't that big a leap.
For more sanity, we had to stick with Channel 4. The only error in Diana: The Wrong Crusade? was there in its title. John Sweeney suggested that Diana's campaign to ban landmines was a harmful mistake, in that it distracted attention from the more urgent task of digging up the mines already in the ground. But while we were left in no doubt that mine-clearance is drastically, tragically short of money, there was little evidence that if Diana had spent even more time on Dodi's yacht and even less time in Angola, the situation would be any better. She had only a peripheral role in the story.
At the centre were the many young amputees we saw - a terrible image in itself, and doubly upsetting here as a metaphor for the underfunded clearance organisations. One of these groups was equipped with rows of shiny blue Land Rovers, but with no money left over to pay drivers, the jeeps sat idle. I thought of Diana's pounds 17m divorce settlement, as other viewers must have done, but there's no reason to pick on her more than any other frivolous aristocrat. She was just a peg on which to hang the film. Not that many months ago, a flying visit by her to Angola was a media magnet infinitely more powerful than years of campaigning by a non-celebrity. It's sad that now she's dead, a documentary as serious and important as this one needs to give her top billing in order to get the attention it deserves.
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