The Royals flee London for Balmoral Castle in Scotland leaving behind the Princess of Wales locked tight in her coffin at St. James’s Palace. Not simply a physical desertion of the body of Diana, but a sign of dead power symbolized by the empty flagpole over Buckingham Palace. But power, particularly symbolic power, will not be abandoned for long. It speaks and whispers and flows and loves and remembers, moving in a subliminal impulse from the deserted body of Diana to the minds and hearts and spirits of the citizens of London’s streets. Royal power is dead, but Diana’s symbolic power is alive and charged and electric and pulsating, an instantly understood legend that blows like a “candle in the wind,” a global heartbeat, that attracts by the fascination and sadness and keening of her memory a revolution of flowers, of myth, of lament. An explosive mixture of grief, anger, sacrificial violence and media voyeurism. Dead Diana as the new Queen of People’s Hearts.
Editors’ Note: Over the last week, CTHEORY has received numerous responses to the death of Diana. We are publishing two of the event-scenes, one from Montreal, the other from London.
Diana, Gender Sacrifice
Maybe there’s a lot of women out there who suffer at the same level, but in a different environment.
– Diana, Princess of Wales, BBC Panorama Interview.
The tragedy of Diana, Princess of Wales embodies the gender drama in the modern West, the death of an individual obscured beneath a cultural veil of sexed identification. Diana’s life and death illustrate the painful search for individuality under the rotting carcass of hegemonic heterosexuality. Metal, glass and concrete engraved the struggle of contemporary women onto her flesh as she died under the glare of photographers’ flashes. The focus of their interest? An uncommon commoner, an arguably unsuspecting nineteen-year old whose life was snatched away by an elite thirsting to renew, “adapt” vanishing mystique, shield itself. The princess who woke up, grew up and tried to move on leaves a cautionary narrative about crossing from the narrow confines of “respectable” heterosexuality to self-discovery and self-acceptance.
The gloomy backdrop to this tragedy is an unhappy, ego-centric clique, obsessively fascinated by its own power, privilege, and the media space that power buys. These cyber-feudal sovereigns <http://www.royal.gov.uk>globally market the symbol of the nation: imprisoned women silently bearing babies to advance the career of their uncaring husbands. When Diana understood the lies, the royally false bill of goods, the monarchical iconographers spit her out. No accounting for preservation of an anachronistic, but “dignified” constitutional arrangement. She was thrown to a media and public craving for self-recognition in images, individuals and relations: “the woman qualifies for sacrificial status by reason of her weakness and relatively marginal social status. That is why she can be viewed as a quasi-sacred figure, both desired and disdained, alternately elevated and abused.”
Neither the first gender sacrifice in human history nor the first woman to suffer a violent end at the hands of men, Diana suffered a stylized sequence of abuse. The hypocritical prince asserted patriarchal prerogatives. His ostracizing family drew in behind him and feudal privilege. Money-crazed and drunken men competed over access to her sexed body, an object of sport: “against women, violence serves as the ultimate control mechanism.” Rather than ensure that crops mature and sperm continues to flow in male bodies, Icon Diana warns against altering the hegemonic balance, calls attention to the safe heterosexual hearth, to the comforts of not rocking the boat and “ending up like her”.
As princess, a constitutional “false Diana” had three “duties”: to bear children to facilitate the transmission of class power, privilege, and property, primly legitimized as symbols of the “nation”; to be a “good” and loyal consort to the future king and so preserve the myth of the monogamous heterosexual family; and, above all, to remain silent, not express individuality, humanity, that would shatter the immutable character of heterosexual constitutional hegemony. Her duties had extra-royal, even extra-British, resonance. Monarchical marketing portrays the clique as somehow representative, perhaps of the reproduction, monogamy and suffering that still guide gender relations in the West. Oddly equal in limited contexts, women cannot “situate themselves as women and not merely as mothers or as equals in their relations with man, with men.” Good and loyal consorts who bear children, bear up, and silently suffer still model women’s lives in the West while men die from stress-related illness. As we cling to parenthood, monogamy, heterosexuality and “respectability”, the death of a princess unveils gendered conventionality. Victimization by drunken macho bravado and male greed for a smutty photo of a naughty girl momentarily sharpen the focus. Camera lights project Diana onto the pyramid, collective agony encapsulates the hopes and pain of a society struggling to recognize itself in its mass-produced images.
Diana in effect said: “I am not these things, I am not these constructions. They are my mediations, I am myself”. By rejecting a marital lie, Diana threatened “the disintegration of distinctions within the community” and suffered the fate of women who leave the warmth of the family foyer. Women without men, in Western iconography, lose the direction dictated by reproduction, r/loyalty and suffering. Poor dear, if she stayed at home silently tending to the constitutional needs of her husband and sons, none of this would have happened. “She was so unhappy”, on thousands of lips, and the myth of the dominated woman is once more validated: “weak, emotional, both needing support and potentially treacherous.” The constitution wasn’t enough for her.
Images whisper, “Domination is good for you. It’s your only choice!” Precious little space for an unattached sacrificable woman; “between these victims and the community a crucial social link is missing, so they can be exposed to violence without fear of reprisal.” Without protection from “her man”, Diana now conjures the spectre of tragic doom living outside the circle of family warmth. Hardly any space at all for the unattached subject. No member of the royal iconographic elite may show empathy for the common people nor concern with public issues without “living on the edge”. Is a wealthy divorced princess who dines at the Ritz with her millionaire boyfriend and drives home in a Mercedes living on the edge in 1997? Efforts to construct identity on the ruins of heterosexual hegemony “illustrate the play of constraint and opportunity, necessity and freedom, power and pleasure… they are not so much about who we really are, what our sex dictates. They are about what we want to be and could be.” If a princess with privilege and material wealth cannot survive outside jaded and hypocritical patriarchal institutions, how can the working woman facing abusive violence find a new life? how can a gay male avoid shame and disease? how can a lesbian avoid alcoholism and the well of loneliness? The lessons of gender sacrifice.
The males compete. The males perform. The car races ahead. The motorcycles swirl and roar. Lights flash. Noise, light, speed. An ancient ritual is played out in its post-modern setting, with an international cast. The males compete. The males perform. The car races ahead. A motorcycle serves in front of it, trying to slow it.
An Italian photographer, Mario Brenna, reportedly made $400,000 from a fuzzy picture of Diana and Fayed embracing. The BBC reported that the British tabloid News of the World said it turned down the offer of a photo of Diana dying in her wrecked car. The reported price tag: $300,000 (US)… Steven Coz, editor of the US tabloid National Enquirer, said photographs of yesterday’s crash were offered to his newspaper for $250,000 (US).
As the metal rolls and then comes to rest, the high-powered lens of industry continue their relentless construction. Not a second of the death agony was lost for posterity as car raced, lights flashed and metal crushed its victims. No sound except for flashing cameras. An ambulance wails in the distance. The lens record, construct, the last moments of the gender sacrifice. Differentiation is smoothed over the body, the individual struggle smothered by rapid, incessant flashes. A photographer steps around a police officer. Another crawls onto the hood of the smashed Mercedes to get a better angle on the interior. A passer-by in taxi, a tourist, uncomprehending, sees a blond head slumping in the rear seat. Polarity reasserts itself, dictating copy to a stunned public.
– Friday, September 5, 1997.
Dying to be Di
I just wonder what all those Di lookalikes are going to do now, mutilate themselves, mass suicide on the off-ramps at 110 kph? Dying to be Di. In all seriousness, she did a great deal more than the rest of the Royals put together – but that doesn’t mean much. She still did inexcusably little considering her position and the resources at her disposal. Most importantly, the fact that she did anything at all reveals the whole Royal institution for the useless chunk of rotting flesh it is.
The UK media is all in agreement and has informed everyone how we should feel – making a right mockery of real mourning and real personal tragedy. More people have never known her so personally, now that nothing can prove them wrong. And the whole thing has this love-in feel of being in a big nightclub where we’re all on e. We all have that feeling that we all have so much in common after all, don’t we? And we do. We’re all going to Di. Isn’t that lovely?
So let’s claim the love in Di thing for our own and milk it for what it is worth. The new government is unapoligetically republican – with Tony trumpeting the “people’s princess” sound byte far and wide, a smack in the face of the Queen every time. Middle England can finger wag (its favourite pastime) at the killer stalkerattzi that in a freakish cocktail of media and politics created the communal art form known as “Di, Princess of the People”. The Royals have fled town, it is almost like a siege is in process. I predict that Buckingham palace will be in ashes by next week. And why not? Unless someone has a perversion for moldy baroque monstrosity. Maybe we’re all royal. Maybe you are the princess you always wanted to be. Maybe it is appropriate after all that they plan to shlep Diana’s remains across town on nothing less military than a gun carriage. Maybe the sound byte was all wrong, maybe she should be respectfully remembered as DIANA THE DESTROYER.
– Thursday, September 4, 1997.
1. Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred (translated by Patrick Gregory). Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1977, pp. 141-2.
2. Mariah Burton Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994, p. 141.
3. In an interview with CBC Newsworld on September 2, 1997, conservative commentator Barbara Amiel struggled with damage control, suggesting Diana “lived on the edge”, but her ideological dentures were showing. What is striking is that this tragedy occurred in a context of great privilege, of not living on the edge. Diana, after all, was not Janis Joplin. Attempts to construct the tragedy as the result of unreasonable or unrespectable behaviour on her part in themselves illustrate the contemporary process of hegemonic gender construction.
4. Luce Irigaray, “Sexual Difference as Universal”, i love to you: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History. New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 46.
5. Girard, p. 114.
6. Nancy Lindisfarne, “Variant masculinities, variant virginities: Rethinking ‘honour and shame'”, in Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies, (Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfare, eds.). London: Routledge, 1994, p. 85.
7. Girard, pp. 12-13.
8. Jeffrey Weeks, Against Nature: Essays on History, Sexuality and Identity. London: Rivers Oram Press, 1991, p. 83.
9. Keith McArthur, “Paparazzi not seen as ‘dangerous'”, The Globe and Mail, September 1, 1997, p. A7.
Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred (translated by Patrick Gregory). Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1977.
Irigaray, Luce. “Sexual Difference as Universal,” in i love to you: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Kinsman, Gary. The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1996.
Lindisfarne, Nancy. “Variant masculinities, variant virginities: Rethinking ‘honour and shame'”, in Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfare, eds.). London: Routledge, 1994.
McArthur, Keith. “Paparazzi not seen as ‘dangerous'”, The Globe and Mail. September 1, 1997, p. A7.
Nelson, Mariah Burton. The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
Week, Jeffrey. Against Nature: Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Oram Press, 1991.