TV Review from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Among all the protracted TV coverage devoted to the death of Princess Diana. (BBC and ITV all day. every day) several important questions remain unanswered. Not just why she should have received countless hours of TV airtime devoted to her work with the poor and needy when millions across Britain— who have done just as much and rather more besides— never get mentioned and probably never will get mentioned.
And not necessarily the type of questions that have been concerning the media either—like whether Dodi Fayed’s bodyguard was drunk, what speed the car was going at when it crashed or whether MI6 are competent enough to kill renegade princesses. No, there are other questions, at least as relevant as any of these, that spring directly to the fore of the inquisitive mind.
One of the most obvious is this. Which person in modern human history has received the most attention from, and been the subject of more media predictions by astrologers, numerologists, spiritualists, soothsayers and other crystal ball gazers, than Princess Diana? And furthermore, why did not a single one of these professional fraudsters prophesy Diana’s fatal accident? And just as bizarrely, why has no-one apparently noticed this? The British media, increasingly including the TV media, feeds the working class a meaty daily diet of tricksters and charlatans who claim to have the future in their hands. And yet when further incontrovertible evidence emerges of their complete inability to do what they claim they can, we don’t hear a peep from their media pimps. How odd.
Shooting from the hip
More questions, and of greater import still. Who or what really killed Diana? Was it the press? Or, as Andrew Neil and others have seemingly implied, the public who actually watched the news and bought the papers? Frankly, neither of these explanations is truly plausible. The media could hardly be described as sole agents in her death as they were merely responding to the competitive impulses engendered by circulation wars and the market (as indeed were the paparazzi). But in that case, were not the buying and watching public themselves to blame?
This idea is even less plausible.There has not been a single UK national newspaper or TV channel which has not pursued Diana at some time or another to sell papers or attract viewers and advertising and thus make more profit. In that situation, where is the choice for those who want genuine news? Wherever people looked, there she was on the most ‘‘serious’’ of TV channels and newspapers commonly available.
Even if it can be argued that the bulk of the working class have tended to gravitate towards those sectors of the media offering the more sensationalist type of coverage of the royal family it is risible to claim that the newspapers were only providing what the "real culprits’’—the general public—wanted. Firstly, this totally ignores the effect the media has in determining what is on offer to the public and the undercurrent of bias and manipulation with which they steer the public towards certain ways of thinking and acting. Secondly, it is little more than pathetic to suggest that the media was just bowing to "popular demand" as if they—or any rational person—think that majority opinion at any one moment in time and on any issue in today’s society must be followed to the letter.
Given the spurious and hopelessly distorted levels of democracy currently in existence in countries like Britain, majority opinion at any time can be taken to be just that and no more because whatever majority opinion exists on a subject is refracted through a distorting prism called the economy where there is no democracy at all. The resulting picture is often mangled and disfigured beyond recognition as a result. It would be ludicrous to take an opinion and defend it on all grounds simply because it is currently that of a majority. The media have certainly not done so in the past so why use this excuse now?
Taking some examples, if the majority of people had been calling for Diana’s imprisonment or worse on grounds of treason would that have been okay and would the media have led the charge simply on the grounds of giving the public what it wanted? Extending this logic further, if the majority of the population was overtly racist would we all have had to start going round killing black people and would the media have campaigned for the setting up of concentration camps? Hitler had majority constitutional backing at one key point in Germany’s history—was that all right too? Of course not, and the media must know it. Democracy is a qualitative not just a crudely quantitative phenomenon.The bottom line is that if you know something is wrong you argue and fight against it, not pander to the worst sort of prejudices going. What the media have been doing is merely using the public to divert attention from their own alleged complicity in the whole affair.
Which brings us back to what really did for the "people’s princess". Avoiding the trap of scapegoating, it was clearly the pressures and conflicts brought about by present-day society itself, not just isolated parts of it. At root we live in a money and status-obsessed society which elevated the wretched girl to the ridiculous and fantastical heights of being a royal princess, stuffed her mind full of some of the most ridiculous notions and "rules" imaginable until she became possibly the world’s most visible neurotic, and it was this same hierarchical and profit- hungry society which hunted her to death in the pursuit of the great god Mammon.
Socialists are unremittingly hostile to hierarchy and privilege (far more so of course than Diana herself— despite the claims of Trevor McDonald and his like) but that does not mean we have no sympathy at all for those outside the working class who are also sometimes victims of a mad. uncontrollable system. For let there be no mistake. Diana the Princess of Wales was not merely killed by “the media", the "paparazzi" or the amorphous "general public". Diana, in truth, was created by capitalism and then killed by it too. But what are the chances of a week's constant TV discussion of that?