Thursday, August 31, 2017

Remembering the Mass Hysteria Over Princess Diana's Death

Princess Diana died 20 years ago today in a car accident. Unless you were alive at the time, you can't imagine the mass hysteria that swept the British public over her death.
I never understood the adulation she attracted. She seemed rather ordinary to me. A pretty face, but lacking any great accomplishments other than marrying into the royal family at age 19. One of those celebrities who are famous simply for being famous.
It wasn't my imagination. Major newspapers today are recalling the mass hysteria. Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:

It has become an embarrassing memory, like a mawkish, self-pitying teenage entry in a diary. We cringe to think of it. It is our collective moment of madness, a week when somehow we lost our grip. A decade on, we look back and wonder what came over us.
There were some who felt that way at the time, but they were the minority. Indeed, they complained they were a marginalised, even oppressed, group - gagged dissidents in a new totalitarian state of the emotions. Some looked at the mountain of Cellophane-wrapped bouquets that piled up outside Buckingham Palace - a million of them, it was said - and sniffed "floral fascism" in the air. Later, Christopher Hitchens wrote that in the week after Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash, Britain became a "one-party state", such was the coercive nature of the public reaction. He sought out the Britons who had been forced to close their shops or cancel sporting events on the day of the funeral, lest they feel the rage of the tear-stained hordes outside. The writer Carmen Callil was more specific: "It was like the Nuremberg rallies."

Such was the crazy, cultish, worship of Princess Diana, that I wrote an essay at the time, entitled Deification of a Princess.
My predictions mostly failed to come true, apart from foreseeing the explosion in conspiracy theories. Many "murder of Diana" conspiracy books are available on Amazon. One book even attributes her "murder" to a plot involving both the CIA and MI6. But the Diana worship died down. It turned out to be a mere temporary insanity rather than full blown madness.
However, I dug out my old essay (I still have computer files going back 31 years), and reprint it here, as I wrote it 20 years ago.

Deification of a Princess 

Born a Lady. Lived a Princess. Died an Angel. 
So said one of the thousands (millions?) of eulogies to Princess Diana written on posters, uploaded onto web pages or inscribed in registers around the world. Aside from the one in London, the British consul here in Los Angeles provided a register for the public, and I heard of a register sighting in Chicago.
So as we approach the new millennium do we witness the consecration of a new messiah. By contrast, Elvis can only compare to John the Baptist. James Dean and Marilyn were mere prophets. Sure, Diana died before the millennium but Christ was born before Year One. Note the symmetry. New Agers have another term: synchronicity. When seemingly unrelated events coincide it must all mean something.
Diana died at age 36, which is when Mother Teresa, whose rosaries were buried with Diana and in whose shadow she died, founded her mission. Marilyn, too, died at 36. Don't laugh. The First of the Ten Insights in the bestselling New Age book, The Celestine Prophecy, is that coincidences are never merely coincidence.
Not that any of this is necessary. Diana cultists will believe in her divinity because, as UFO buffs candidly admit, I want to believe. The numerological mental gymnastics are rationalizations, not rationale. In New Age terms, everyone has their own truth, and everyone's truth is as true as anyone else's.
Diana's cult will sprout innocently, almost unnoticed. As with so much modern loopiness, it will initially be justified and expressed in psychobabble. People will erect personal shrines to Diana in their homes and offices, maybe a photo and a candle. It will make them "feel better." All part of the "healing process." No one will ask, why the need to heal?
But it won't stop there. Soon people will associate their nicely healed good feelings with whatever good luck comes their way. After reaching-out to Diana at work by meditating (or daydreaming) on the smiling Diana photo on their desks, the boss gives them a raise. Surely, Diana must have interceded for them in some heavenly afterlife.
Eventually, emotional and financial healing will extend to the physical Miracle cures which will be attributed to Diana. Expect to see weeping Diana portraits, busts, and statues. Most Dianas will cry water. The better ones will weep saltwater. A few will go the limit and shed tears of blood.
Diana's likeness will be seen and photographed in cloud formations. Her image will appear in waffles, flapjacks, scrambled eggs, and hash browns. No item on America's roadside café breakfast menu will remain unblessed. Savvy proprietors will keep ready rolls of film and cans of shellac, for no one knows the day or hour of her next appearance. The People's Princess, ever the democrat, won't discriminate. She will appear on barn doors, in crop circles, and even in bathtub water stains.
As though sensing the people want more than her image, Diana sightings shall come to pass. The Princess of Hearts shall visit hospital rooms and bowling alleys, often bathed in white light. People returning from near death will report seeing her at the end of that ubiquitous blue tunnel of light, whereupon she sends them home with a smile and a message. She will appear in deserts and on mountaintops, in Third World slums to comfort the poor and in suburban basements come for a quick game of ping pong.
Confusing matters will be those conspiracy theories claiming Diana and Dodi faked the accident and fled to Egypt to escape the all-powerful Royal Family. Conspiracy buffs and LaRouchites will be intrigued, but Diana cultists will eschew Cairo and instead make their pilgrimages to the weeping statues and pancake houses, some in wheelchairs. They will arrive to find merchants selling Diana talismans, good luck charms, healing crystals carved in her image, and glow-in-the-dark Princess Posters.
Naturally, the New Age will embrace Diana. They need a new sales item. By now, pretty much everyone who wants a crystal has one. Santa Monica's Phoenix Bookstore closed this year. Diana might reverse this trend. She can provide bases for whole new religions, or she can be incorporated into existing neo-pagan belief systems. To the Romans, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and of the moon. That Diana was a bloodthirsty virgin. Nevertheless, revisionist goddess worshipers will strain for a connection. To each her own truth.
Christians shall also claim Diana. Diana may have to share Catholic affection with Mary, but she has the Protestant field to herself. The mainline churches are so empty and squishy that anyone with charisma, especially a woman espousing what sounds like a touchy-feely social gospel, is easily sucked into their vacuum. And even some Catholics will elevate Diana to a manifestation of Mary, just as some Christians interpret Elvis as a second Christ. (I am not making this up; I saw Elvis fans say so on TV).
I suppose this must all mean something. I don't know what. Maybe that post-modern civilization suffers from a great spiritual void, people made desperate and angst-ridden by a ravenous and parched thirst for transcendent meaning that goes unquenched. Or maybe just that people are stupid.