The Internet’s not what it used to be. I heard this morning that some Italian magazine called Chi had printed a picture of Princess Diana, dead, sat in the car that killed her in Paris way back in 1997. After dinner, I thought I’d find it, and, incredibly, it’s taken me an hour.
Of course, the British tabloids have leapt on the picture, bellowing with outrage. This is just shameless profiteering. Every editor knows that Diana stories sell papers – Richard Desmond has turned over an entire newspaper, The Daily Express, to this peculiar business model, running endless and pointless front-page headlines over Diana.
But what is really ridiculous is that the picture is the tamest photo you could ever expect to see of a car crash. I find it amazing it hasn’t been published before. But then Diana’s death caused a national slippage of normal brain activity in the UK, and the flashbacks for the nation are still reoccurring.
What is strange is that I was discussing the peculiar tendency of the Western press to steer clear of graphic pictures only a few hours ago. Al-Jazeera showed some footage earlier today of a bombed-out building in Lebanon where a man in dreadful pain and shock held out a dead young girl in front of the camera that had just been pulled out of the rubble. He was demonstrating that this was not, as Israel claimed soon after, only an ammuniations dump, it was a family house. My friend who saw the footage told me that the girl was the same age as his daughter and he suddenly found himself crying.
But if you watch the images from the BBC, or Sky, or CNN, all you will see is a long-shot showing Beirut airport being bombed, or possibly a long-shot of a collasped building. Are they right to protect us from shocking images? Clearly they think so. But at the same time, isn’t that a bit of a cop-out, and a dangerous cop-out at that. We are not being told the reality, shown the reality. Death is shocking so why does our media pretend it isn’t?
Vietnam and beyond
Ever since Vietnam, the US has had major problems with showing death – to the extent that even coffins of returning soldiers from Iraq were carefully controlled. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a pic in the UK press that made me stop and think. I should ask some photographer friends what the history is behind the self-censorship of the realities of life.
But this standpoint is entirely hypocritical. See how we are able to deal with close-up pictures of Saddam Hussein’s sons – clearly dead and shot to pieces – all over the media, but not even the slightest hint of close-up violence otherwise. But those pictures were okay because they were *bad people*. It is incoherent.
And how come we can’t handle a few real pictures where we pay to go see incredibly graphic depictions of violence at the cinema? American films in particular are *incredibly* violent. There’s some crap cop show on the TV as I type this and two people have just come across a dead man by a bin, shot, dead, with blood all over his chest. I didn’t even blink. There is a very worrying double-standard at work here.
But what is even more worrying than that is a strange phenomenon of people self-censoring themselves on the Net. The Diana pic is not at all shocking and yet while several newspapers have run with the picture in their printed versions, no one has put it online. And people haven’t scanned the pic in and posted it up on the Net either. Not yet anyway.
There is a palpable fear out there in cyberspace about publishing this picture. Why? Has the very openness of the Net caused people to be overly censorious? Are people worried about hosting the pic, being linked to by everyone else (who don’t want to host it), and then being hounded by thousands of Netizens in a fake frenzy? Well, yes.
The Diana pic is apparently taken from a new book that covers the investigation into her death and includes some autopsy details. Fine. There is a book on her death and it includes some details.
But people’s response has to be call for newsagents to boycott this Chi magazine – which no one had ever heard of before – and ban the book, before anyone has ever even seen it. This is madness. Why has society become some hopelessly intolerant? Why is our first response to censor, to condemn and to ban? And where have the sensible majority gone?
Is it just because it’s Diana? Well, yes, partly. But at the same time, look at what we see of Iraq and Afghanistan – wars in which our citizens are being killed. Nothing. And what about Israel and Gaza and Lebanon? Isn’t a bit of old-fashioned horror at the reality of death exactly what we need, rather than white-clean, wipe-clean fantasies?
You’re not going to get any of that horror from the Diana pic though. Have a look at it. I am sticking it below. If you are shocked by this photo, it is because you are determined to be shocked. What if I told you it wasn’t Diana – are you still shocked? What exactly is there in the photo to be shocked about?
Censorship and mob outrage are the enemies of logic and the tools of propagandists and crooks.
Update: A report from John Stevens, out on 14 December 2006, summarized findings from a three-year investigation directly into the question over whether Diana’s death was a conspiracy. He concluded firmly that Diana’s death was no more than a “tragic accident”. You can download the short version of the report, or the longer version (800+ pages) from this site by following the links.