With regard to the Queen Mother, I haven’t much to say. I never met her. She seemed pleasant enough, and I understand she did a lot for national morale during the second world war. She deserves respect, and her immediate family deserves sympathy at a difficult time. No one can prepare you for the death of a parent, grandparent or sibling.
With regard to what’s been going down in the media, I haven’t much to say either. The press is using undignified tactics to frogmarch us towards another Historic Moment in our island story, and we, the people, will doubtless turn out in our millions to create the pageant required. Amateur dramatics is a very popular pastime: this is our chance to put together an epic production for presentation to an international audience.
All am-dram companies need some hectoring obsessive to get the project going and to keep it on course. In this case, if the theatre company is UKOK plc, then the director is the media.
This of course excludes the filthily republican Guardian, with its sick leaders and disloyal letters from communist social workers. Initially, it also excluded the BBC.
People need a call to arms – otherwise, why should they get off their arses and do anything at all? In this case, the plan for the Historic Moment really kicked into gear when the Daily Mail and others had an attack of apoplexy over Peter Sissons’ tie, which symbolised the decline of a once-great institution into a festering gulag of mealy-mouthed lefties, militants and modernisers.
So we were dragged into a debate on due deference, and the full force of the media turned the tide of public opinion towards a fulsome orgy of national mourning, when – perhaps – it would have been altogether more dignified for the family to have been left to mourn the Queen Mother’s death in relative peace and quiet.
Much as it’s distasteful to say, events have been exploited to promote the House of Windsor in a fashion that suits certain media agendas, and provides a welter of copy and photo-opportunities. The very public vigil (I’m sorry to say) is a publicist’s dream. We didn’t need to know it was going to happen. Why were we told?
This is yet another demonstration of the power of the media. Ink implants ideas. TV footage flickers into the subconscious and the radio mantra hypnotically drums. It even provides the script for the day. (But then, what director wouldn’t provide his cast with the right lines?)
How many people “felt like they knew Diana?” before they heard that they felt like they knew her? Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but nobody I know felt like they knew her, even those who’d met the “people’s princess”.
This is the stuff of which Historic Moments are made. Or rather manufactured. History is being written for us, by the mass of the media.
Dissenting voices are drowned out, and in years to come, as the pages of the papers are turned, they will be seen as the crackpot opinions of a tiny minority.
And there is always the sucker punch of a wire story that adds that showbiz flare thanks to an Ali G moment.
It’s an object lesson in the very real power that the media can wield – and the power that PRs (who influence the media) also possess. I don’t want to get overly portentous about it, but here’s a quote from the man regarded as the father of PR, Ed Bernays:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country”.
As church, nobility and government gather to mark the Queen Mother’s passing, it’s worth pausing to consider where the real power lies.
Now – anyone for a war with Saddam Hussein?