Saturday, October 06, 2007


by Arthur King

After the Dead Diana Day #10 blog, there were email exchanges. Of course there were.

Sadly, these exchanges make me realise that my target audience is (i) intelligent, therefore (ii) small, and (iii) civilised, which means it does not like to conduct discussions on an open forum on the Internet, since the forum is always mobbed with idiots who have lost their village and won’t stop shouting.

Arthur King readers – all three of them – prefer the luxury of one-on-one inquiry. The following comments are therefore reproduced anonymously, and with permission.

As I post this, the British government, and more importantly the British tabloid press, are reviewing CCTV stills of Diana Spencer on the night that she died. They are doing this in a bid to answer a vital question: Just how did a blind drunk man speeding in a dark narrow tunnel manage to crash his car?

The following email exchanges do not answer that vexing question. Instead, they discuss hysteria and celebrities, whether Diana had a soul, and how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Okay, they don’t discuss angels and pinheads. To read the original blog, go

On 9/4/07 Crouching Hedgehog wrote:

okay, identifying with Diana: absurd. the people's princess: even more absurd. a great humanitarian: of course not. and i'm no big fan, either. but i do think she could've spent her life ONLY shopping and shooting birds, and instead she loaned her glamorous face to several good causes--particularly AIDS--at a particularly important time. was this the very least she could have done if she had any kind of social conscience? probably, but that doesn't discount it. so yes, for the most part, i agree with you, but I don't think she was a completely useless twat either.

On 9/4/07 Arthur King wrote:

Don't think I said she was "a completely useless twat" did I?

My main thrust is now, and always has been that she was an anachronism, and she did the charity work because she had to, not because of her social conscience (philanthropy was something the royals took on to make themselves more palatable to the public, and she cut her charities back after the divorce).

On 9/4/07 Crouching Hedgehog wrote:

no, you didn't actually say she was "a completely useless twat," but it seemed your implication--or did I get that wrong? what i'm getting at is that when you start with jokes about her sleeping around and the myth of the innocent english rose, it seems to me you take seriously the notion of debunking the illusions surrounding her, which i think most intelligent people didn't take seriously in the first place--but perhaps I'm wrong about that? no one I know ever identified with diana or thought her a saint or thought her anything more than a fashion plate who led a life of privilege and occasionally used that privilege to do a small measure of good. "people's princess" was a phrase I found highly ludicrous. but perhaps the hysteria about diana has to do more with people--like your accountant--who need some sort of fairytale to cling to. after all, the PR machine can dish it out, but people have to be willing to bite for it to work, no? i always find the hysteria surrounding the deaths of celebrities--whether talented or not--fascinating: not just Diana, but James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, the thousands of mourners in the streets of Paris for Dalida and Edith Piaf. i'm fascinated by the intense emotion people pin on perfect strangers, and what it tells us about human aspirations, fantasies, etc.

as for whether she did the charity work because she had to, that's conjecture. just because it was advantageous to her PR image to do it doesn't mean she didn't believe in it. I agree with most of what you say, but I'm willing to grant her a soul. big of me, ain't it?

On 9/4/07 Arthur King wrote:

Yes, the hysteria has more to do with our lives, with our own pain, with the way that people transplant their lives onto the lives of celebrities. I don't, and you don't, but a lot of people do, and at her death it was as though we were living in a one-party state, as though Brezhnev or Mao had died and we all had to assume the correct posture. Those who didn't were often physically assaulted in Britain.

Absurd, but a lot of supposedly intelligent people got caught up in it, and a lot of intelligent people didn't speak out because they felt afraid to. I have received a slew of emails from people telling me they are relieved that someone said this: equally there are those who view me as a pariah, so yes, I take seriously the idea of debunking the myths surrounding her.

This I have to say has a lot to do with growing up with a hereditary monarchy, a dreadful, debilitating anachronism, much like professing that there is a god, he has a beard, and sandals, he made us and he loves us, but he will send us to hell if we masturbate.

I think she had a soul, could care less who she slept with, and used the joke to illustrate the hypocrisy of people. Like all of us she had competing sides. She was against landmines, but worked to raise the profile of this issue in order to raise her own profile.

On 9/4/07, Crouching Hedgehog wrote:

I see what you mean now.

I didn't get this notion of speaking out on the subject of Diana as important, I think because I didn't grow up in England with the kind of awful one-party state feeling you're talking about, in which case I understand it better.

On 9/4/07 Arthur King wrote:

To be honest, the whole thing took me by surprise too: I’d been out of the country too long, so my reaction was “So what?”

But to ask whether her death was important made people furious: you would have thought I had proposed her head be put on a spike on Traitor's Gate, there to turn green in the wind and rain. It was oddly the same in the US.

A few days after her death, I flew to the US for the first time, and got threatened by my brother (for saying among other things that her death was a Eurotrash tragedy). My brother spent several days glued to the TV, openly grieving for what I don't know.

People everywhere offered me their condolences, which was all very sweet but I think they were rather shocked at my indifference. "Oh, she wasn't a relative," I said to one, much to her horror.

On 9/4/07, Crouching Hedgehog wrote:

I love your answer about how she wasn't a relative!

I was in LA and heard it on the news. I immediately thought how sad, merely because she was pretty and young, and I'd grown used to her face, was a teenager when she got married in that fairytale dress. My next thought was, this is annoying, because now everything will be all about Diana's death and this is tiresome. Honestly. Just the tediousness of the media frenzy.

On 9/5/07 Arthur King wrote:

Comment from a friend, based on an essay on Diana by Joan Smith:

OK, in the spirit of honest enquiry I've re-read Joan Smith's excellent essay on Diana. She's not sympathetic at all really. She certainly sees Diana as a case of society rewarding traditionally 'feminine' behaviour, and that her main point is that cultures create myths about women to control them, but that doesn't let Diana off the hook. Some quotes that might amuse you (and which fit remarkably well with yr piece):
On her last US gala appearance: "audiences had responded with that sickly combination of awe, admiration and pity"
"..that her increasing resemblance to one of the most baleful female characters in Victorian fiction has gone unnoticed" ie Miss Havisham
On the BBC Bashir interview:

"the Princess looked and sounded drained, like a crime victim who had been persuaded by police to meet the press and talk about her ordeal"

"her carefully cultivated public persona suggests her awareness that the words "tragic" and "queen" have an ancient affinity which she is happy to exploit"

On her appeal:

"Anyone who has even been jilted or endured an unhappy love affair, which is to say the entire population over 14 with the exception of a handful of cynics and celibates, understood and empathized with her"

she has been able to "re-create herself as the archetypal wronged woman"

Smith's scary prediction for women playing this "role":

"they all wind up young, beautiful and dead".
Diana is a genuinely depressed, disturbed woman (stemming from a troubled childhood) who is "self-deluding in her assessment of her own situation, and that has been astonishingly successful in persuading vast numbers of people to collude in that deception".


"Lonely children frequently console themselves with fantasies" and the "price we would pay for imposing our fantasies [about women] on her slender form was to absorb hers in return, no matter how distorted a version of events they would turn out to represent"

Essentially, Diana represents how "we" reward traditional female behaviour and this is itself an indication of the "backlash' against the progress women have made over the last 50 years in fighting against culturally bound ideas of femininity.

On 9/5/07, Crouching Hedgehog wrote:

I think this passage in particular points to something:

“Anyone who has even been jilted or endured an unhappy love affair, which is to say the entire population over 14 with the exception of a handful of cynics and celibates, understood and empathized with her”

I think THAT'S precisely where you get accountants saying they identified with her: everyone has experienced an unhappy love affair, but most people feel miserable and pathetic about it. Here was someone whose unhappy love affair was splashed all over all known media (both with and without her help) and yet she's still a princess, still glamorous, still wearing bloody expensive frocks: the accountant gets to identify with her pain, but avoid the shame and humiliation. It's like picking and choosing at the opera--only going for the arias, not the boring or convoluted plot points. Never mind that life is made of very often boring and convoluted plot points. Or something like that.

On 9/5/07 Arthur King wrote:

Yes, they want the bloody aria, but sung by Bonnie Tyler, not Maria Callas.

That one particular sentence also struck me: that was the level of the sentiment, and it was all to do with the failure and pain of individual lives. It was a monstrous eruption of agony aunt columns, right there on the street, like a vast collective California therapy session, but it was in Britain and because it was in Britain no one was talking about what it really meant. It was all coded.

Decoded, everyone blamed the queen, because she’s our mum.

Is this too esoteric?