A very public sense of loss

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never exactly been a royalist. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the queen and her mob of dubious inbreds, and I’m sure they’re a useful attraction for the theme park that is Englandland. But you’ll never catch me manning the barricades with the republican forced when the revolution comes.

That said, the presence of royalty can do funny things to you, as I’ve said before. Back in the 1980s, when I was a kid in North Wales, Princess Diana came to our tiny little town in North Wales. I’ve no idea why she was there to be honest – probably opening a small envelope somewhere, on the way to opening a slightly larger envelope elsewhere in her putative kingdom. All I know is that we somehow knew that her car was going to be driving past our friends’ house on her way through the town, and as a result we gathered alone at the side of the road to watch.

As the tiny motorcade drove by, we waved gleefully at the main car with the royal standard flying from it. We assume she waved back, but to be honest, the windows were blacked out so we couldn’t even see her. She could have been flicking v’s and mooning at us for all we knew, in a desperate attempt to get back at Charles for forcing her come to the middle of nowhere to kiss babies and smile inanely at lascivious local dignitaries.

When I woke up one morning fifteen or so years later to find out that Diana had died, it’s fair to say that while I was shocked (and saddened for her two sons), the death didn’t have any personal impact on me. I seem to remember that some friends and I spent the afternoon at a long-planned barbecue, and that while we stopped to watch the emotional return of her body to the UK, the majority of the day was spent idly talking about football, work and – let’s face it – girls.

For the rest of the week until her funeral the following Saturday, I looked on with confusion as Britain collectively seemed to lose its head. I mean, it’s one matter to mourn – as I have, and will no doubt again – the loss of people close to you, but it’s a whole different thing to wail publicly in the street at the passing of someone you never met, however much good work that person did to raise public awareness of vital issues such as land mines and Duran Duran.

The strange thing is that it’s only in the last couple of years that Americans have stopped asking me how I feel about the death of Princess Diana. I used to feel like saying “oh you know, pretty much the same way that you feel about the issues of fiscal responsibility and escalating inflation in Zambia.” Instead I say something inane about the loss that Britain felt, and let the other person waffle on about how they felt that a shining star in the galaxy flickered out that night.

Coincidentally, given that Diana’s death was twelve years ago this week, America has just lost another member of its own royal family. No, don’t worry, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are both still alive, and all the Baldwins are safe and accounted for. But the Kennedy clan continue to show the importance of investing in a good black suit at an early age, with the passing of Edward Kennedy from brain cancer at 84.

In many ways, the television coverage of Kennedy’s death and funeral was weirdly reminiscent of that of Diana – round the clock and over-the-top at times. To be fair, Kennedy did much more for the world than the People’s Princess, although he had tragically failed to dance publicly with John Travolta before his untimely passing. But I still have to ask whether we need to see live footage of the plane carrying his body from Boston to Arlington.

The fact is that the big winners from these high-profile deaths are the TV networks, who manage to deliver high-yield ad breaks as a result of the demise of such well-loved figures. In years to come, we’ll probably find out that the likes of Fox, ITV, CBS and NBC employ a crack team of international assassins to take out international icons whenever business is looking tough. Poor Michael Jackson never stood a chance when the massed powers of Television Inc decided that his time had come.

If I were Madonna, I’d be looking nervously over my shoulder the next time a guy comes to fix her cable box, I can tell you.

11 thoughts on “A very public sense of loss

  1. Limey

    I was still in the UK when Diana died, but I remember being baffled by the devastation felt in America in particular. And people do ask me about it now and then and I never know what to say – it was a shame for the sons, but that’s life. I don’t want to be callous to people when they ask me about it, but I feel like saying, “Why do you care what I feel about it? And why do you care about it at all?”

  2. Brooklyn

    I share your wonderment, but then I view all such public enthusiasms with wonderment.

    I occasionally watch a sports match (boxing in the heyday of Muhammed Ali) or follow a series of sport matches, but only as entertainment with no more lasting impact than a good action movie. To me, as exciting as it was, the 1986 World Seriew was a great miniseries, and I was happy the good guys (to me) the Mets won, but either way, I wasn’t getting a World Series share and had to go to work the next day no matter who one the deciding game.

    The only really newsworthy aspect of Ted Kennedy’s death was its possible impact on US health care legislation.

    The wall-to-wall coverage of the Ted Kennedy funeral events is attributable to cable news networks’ desire (need?) to fill broadcast time when there is no national election and the national debate on health care debate doesn’t produce “visuals” (with the exception of the “town hall” nutcase outbursts).

  3. Almost American

    One of my friends actually commented on the lack of ads during the coverage of Kennedy’s funeral. I didn’t watch much of it myself (though I listened to part of the service on the radio) so I can’t comment on that.

    I did notice that the Kennedys kept it political to the last with one of the prayers being for the passage of a health care bill.(“Lord hear our prayer!”)

    Diana’s death did hit me personally – but only because we were the same age and I was appalled that she would be so poorly ‘minded’ that an accident like that could have happened. Still, I was bemused by the over the top outpouring of grief in the UK.

    They were both flawed people (aren’t we all though?!) but he lived longer, and I think was more driven to make up for past failings and the deaths of his brothers, so consequently managed to accomplish more.

  4. Brooklyn

    “If I were Madonna, I’d be looking nervously over my shoulder the next time a guy comes to fix her cable box, I can tell you.”

    “Interesting comparison. And yes, watch out Madonna!”

    Maybe Madonna made her respectful visit to the Western Wall (http://blog.beliefnet.com/windowsanddoors/
    2009/08/madonna-visits-holy-land-model.html) because she follows this blog, and took Dylan’s warning seriously enough to cause her to seek Divine protection at a site said to provide a direct line of communication Upstairs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_wall#Prayer_at_the_Wall).

  5. Alasdair

    Dylan – you have aroused my curiosity …

    You say “To be fair, Kennedy did much more for the world than the People’s Princess, …” – ummmm – can you, just off the top of your head, list 2 or three of the things that Senator kennedy did “for the world” ?

    I have been looking, but have yet to find ’em … so, as I said, I’m curious …

    I do know he was a major originator of the techniques of “The Politics of Personal Destruction” … he fund-raised actively for the Irish Republican Army cause … he and his car killed more people than radiation leaks from all of the US’s nuclear power plants combined … and the only people with who I have talked who actually knew him personally thought him to be fun to be around but wouldn’t trust him at all …

    (Now, I duck !)

  6. Expat Mum

    Well, I wasn’t here for the Kennedy coverage but I agree with you anyway. Look at the Michael Jackson stuff – I was horrified (yet watched) when they showed him in a body bag being lifted out of the ambulance. And in all cases, I wish the media would remember that there are other things going on around the world at the same time, possibly more important. Reducing them to a crawler on the bottom of the screen for 48 hours is ludicrous and crap journalism.

  7. fishwithoutbicycle

    Hey Dylan, I completely hear you on this one. Yes it’s all very sad, but does it really warrant blanket news coverage at the expense of other more important things that are no doubt happening in the world. I find CNN to be especially guilty of doing this and will dig up any old nobody for a comment. Tiresome!!

    Congrats on impending fatherhood by the way.

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