The Death of Diana
Its perplexing to find yourself mourning a Princess, though Republican. It may bear similarities to mourning an American president, though communist, or a British pop star, though punk, or a 1950s American 'sex symbol', though feminist. People who have never believed in, or been 'loyal' to Diana's significance have described their cynicism at her cultural omnipresence as giving way to a 'weird' and poignant sadness on her death - to an acknowledgment that she was, nevertheless, significant to them. While all of these figures were made known to us though cultural variants of public office, it was as people whose lives we knew about, (and who died young) that they were mourned. What inevitably figures in this grief then, is how we came to know them personally, if not actually.
Diana's life and death were such that this question became requisite to expressions of anguish and shock. For a few days - until the tabloids deflected culpability onto the royals - people even seemed to want to discard the literal reading of images as truth, to burst apart the formal space of the photograph and visualise photographers and editors into every grainy image of Diana. The production of meaning became itself culturally perceptible and an object of visual fascination as paparazzi and editors were interviewed. It also became an ethical question, as did the complicity of consumer acts, as people declared outside the gates of Kensington palace that they had bought their last tabloid. Yet this was to last only two days.
The anger at the 'remove' and 'distance' of the Royals, spearheaded by guess who, the tabloids (and widely interpreted by self-legitimating media forms as 'public sentiment') has in effect been a demand for more of the same. 'The People' effectively demanded pictures and footage of the royals weeping so as to bear witness to their emotion, to know them personally. The contradiction being played out here is between the fame that Diana embodied after her separation, and royalty, which she then showed as literally having less cultural currency.
If the paparazzi crossed the line dividing royalty and personality with Diana by pursuing her emotional life, this pursuit also lent her the very proximity that hoards of Britons have, in spite of their ire, claimed to represent a kind of democracy, calling Diana 'the People's Princess' because of their visual access to her. But her funeral, along with the demand for shows of royal emotion, resolved the contradiction between media personality and royalty, for the British mourned her as a royal by mourning that she was not being shown royal protocol.
As a woman Diana was encountered in feminised spaces - in supermarket cues, waiting rooms, while cooking and watching the news, while eating breakfast and reading the paper. The exhibition spaces in which she appeared were highly orchestrated and yet were more often experienced as random and incidental. She appeared on the side of coffee mugs, in coffee table books, her image was part of daily rituals and habits of waiting, leisure and consumption. It was difficult to avert your gaze which scanned her life as one does a supermarket eisle, or tourist and leisure spectacle. At times the way we looked at her seemed as trapped by these voyeuristic conventions as she was by the paparazzi.
We made up random and impromptu clusters of audiences which, along with her visual constancy, seemed to collectivise a fragmented perceptual horizon, to give the appearance of being one audience, if nothing else. Perhaps the kiss pictures proved 'our' sense of intimacy with her, while the grief brought a sense of commonality with each other. Ironic, given the necessary remove and distinction from 'the people', with which royalty defines itself. Perhaps the demand that royals be personalities is 'the peoples' form of rebellion and revenge.
If Diana is to be more universally grieved than the British empire itself, it is because twentieth century media fame and visual icon is premised on youth, visual appeal, heterosexual melodrama and the feminine. She was well cast. William could console his father's family and, it seems, the British people no better than by finding himself a girl.