What’s in the Daily Pope Today?

Hurrah for Ian Jack. Hurrah for Polly Toynbee and now for Ian Jack. I love this comment on the Guardian’s popification – I feel like flapping my hands and saying ‘that is so true‘ like a Valley Girl. (I am a Valley Girl at heart, actually. I just cover it up well. But underneath the cynicism, the sneers, the bad language, the bloodshot eyes, the duelling scar – underneath all that I’m basically just a San Fernando valley high school sophomore who wouldn’t hurt a fly.)

The Pope — this is a crude and prejudiced paraphrase of the coverage — had ended the Cold War, brought down the Berlin Wall, and defended the world’s poor against the depredations of the world’s rich. He was ripe for beatification. No more humane, more spiritual or more important individual had recently walked the globe.

And that’s not new, either. It obviously got a lot worse when he snuffed it – a whole lot worse – it turned into a complete explosion of imbecility – but the kind of thing was bad before. I’ve been shouting at the radio for years because of the solemn pious deeply-impressed way it used to talk about the pope and his every move – as if – hello? – he were everyone’s pope, as if we were all Papa’s children. ‘Not this cookie!’ I used to yell at NPR, before changing the channel to the all-blues station. But what was that about? That childish uncritical worshipful tone that crept into papal coverage – as if the wretched man had never done a thing wrong, as if the Catholic church were an unmixed blessing, as if – oh never mind.

Jack compares the pope festival to the Diana festival.

There was no end to grief. It is worth recalling some details. William Hague wanted Heathrow to be renamed Diana Airport, Gordon Brown was said to be seriously considering the idea that August Bank Holiday be renamed Diana Day. Three foreign tourists were sentenced to jail for taking a few old teddy bears from the tributes heap. Newspapers instructed the Queen and her family to grieve, and to be seen grieving. Many people were recorded saying that they grieved more for Diana than for their dead mothers and husbands. Not to grieve was to be odd, cynical, wicked.

Diana airport!! That is hilarious. I didn’t know that. Can you imagine – Heathrow is bad enough just as a place to be – but can you imagine having to fly into and out of Diana airport?! The shame of it!

But anyway, I remember the frenzy very well. I was fascinated by it. I remember the insane stuff about the people arrested for taking a teddy bear or two. Because – what? Diana wanted them? All of them? To do what with? And how? And boy do I ever remember the stuff about the Queen. I found it sort of funny in a way – still do in fact. Because it was so Not One. One does not emote in public (or in private either actually). One certainly does not emote on television. A passing mention of an annus horribilis in an after-luncheon speech at the Guildhall (or wherever it was) is one thing, but a command performance of sorrow for a pack of drooling subjects is quite another, thank you. And One frankly does not feel all that much sorrow in any case, to be quite honest. One has known a good many other people whom One regrets more than One regrets One’s silly narcissistic publicity-mad daughter-in-law. One wasn’t made to go on television to emote for any of them, so why is One being made to do so now? One really finds it all quite insufferable, and One will read One’s careful speech with about as much emotion as One would read the breakfast menu.

Yep, that was pretty funny stuff, but it was also pretty disgusting. Because the whole thing boiled down to the fact that Diana took a good picture. Period. If Anne had been the one to get killed, driving the Range Rover 120 miles an hour and bumping into something, would there have been all that fuss? Would there have been a tenth of it? Don’t be ridiculous. No, it was classic pseudo-event, as Boorstin called these things (and he called them that a long time ago, before they’d really hit their stride. These days pseudo-events are really pseudo-events. Pseudo-events with hair on their chests.)

My resentment — a popular resentment, so far as I can tell — came from something else: an instruction from the media to have me see as hugely important something that I regarded only as reasonably interesting, and to feel something (sorrow, awe) that I didn’t feel. The more that television and newspapers leave cold information behind in pursuit of warm emotion, the more authoritarian they seem: their tone is not so much an invitation to know as an order to feel (which is a good definition of sentimentality) —there was, in Diana’s case, a dictatorship of grief.

Just so. There’s a lot of it about. Coverage of Michael Jackson, for instance. I always drop things in shock and surprise when I’m listening to the World Service on the radio and the news leads off with something about Michael Jackson – as if that’s the most important thing they could mention. For the whole world! Michael Jackson! We’re not ordered to feel grief about him, as far as I know, but we are ordered to be interested, and pruriently interested at that. We’re ordered to feel intensely interested in and concerned with various pointless celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brad Pitt and ‘J-lo’. That was the deal with the pope, I guess – he was famous. That’s all. He wasn’t quite as young or as pretty as Diana, but he was maybe even more famous. It’s a wonder nobody made the Queen go on television to say how wracked with grief she was.

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