Monday, September 11, 2006

Princess Diana Moments

In this incredibly antagonistic and hostile interview on A Current Affair, Karl Stefanovic pillories Germaine Greer for her public sentiments about television personality and animal wrangler Steve Irwin's recent accidental death. The clip illustrates the costs of holding a position outside an "official" narrative -- particularly official hagiographies:

At the close of the interview, Greer asks, "Why are the English calling it 'Australia's Princess Diana moment'?"

In Unbelievable, the Granta issue decidated to the testimony of "those who felt differently", Granta Editor Ian Jack writes about those who felt beleaguered by the mobs and the mourning for the Princess of Wales. (I apologize that I don't have my hardcopy at hand, and I won't do Jack the disservice of attempting an extensive paraphrase from faulty memory. Do yourself a favour and read the essay if you have the chance to come across it.)

While the English may mean, with no sense of irony, the phrase "Princess Diana moment" as a tribute, Greer can take comfort in understanding it in the Ian Jack sense of disproportionate and mawkish publish mourning that brooks no absolutely no dialogue, dissention or debate.

In societies like the UK, Australia and the US that pride themselves on democracy and freedom, there is an alarming and growing spirit of bullying, of quashing dissent, of silencing debate; a sentiment of "there can be only one" -- one mode of mourning, one type of patriotism, one official narrative. At the same time, the mythology of "freedom of speech" and even "freedom of thought" dissonantly persists, unchallenged. But then, of course, it is part of a sacred official narrative.

Sacred narratives, particularly sacred narratives displaced from the sphere of religion, demand faith, compliance and submission in reponse to the challenges of scientific facts, rationality, and even just close examination (what was once termed "reality" before the ascension of the straussian "big lie" neoconservatives). For that very reason, I find "Princess Diana moments" in their most extreme manifestations to be reminiscent of the religious frenzies of the middle ages.

Blind faith, unquestioning compliance, and absolute submission may function as demands of a religion, a dictatorship, or any other form of personality cult, but not as the underpinnings of a healthy, functioning democracy.

Unsurprisingly, in the current long-play "Princess Diana moment" in which we find ourselves living in the US, speaking truth to power is considered at the very least gauche, much more probably un-patriotic and 'un-American,' and on the outside treasonous -- there is a high penalty for stepping outside the bounds of the carefully and strategically constructed neoconservative narrative of America. At the same time, neoconservatives are increasingly mainlining outright warmongering, partisan propaganda into mainstream culture, as part of the sacred official narrative they construct and control. In the midst of the national congnitive dissonace, the increasingly explicit message is: "Don't tell the truth today. Wait a while. Now's not the time. But if you want to lie to widows, orphans, and the nation's electorate: what's good for the GOP war machine is good for America."

I found the clip of Greer's interview, or more accurately her grilling, very uncomfortable to watch. If you want to speak truth to power, expect to be treated the same way. And then, please, steel yourself to the task in the full knowledge of the risks and costs and speak truth to power anyway.

Hat tip to Breakaway Content for the link -- and the courage to hold a breakaway viewpoint.