The Null Device

The Diana Years

Eight years ago, a glamorous and fashionable if otherwise ordinary royal was instantly transformed into the closest thing to a secular saint by virtue of no longer being alive and mediocre. The Graun's Jonathan Freedland reflects on Diana's passing, not because she was a great historical figure, but because of the minor golden age her time in the limelight -- a gentler, more innocent, age, though we didn't realise it at the time -- represented:
And yet a larger thought is prompted by a look back to the summer of 1997 through the lens of 2005. Suddenly it seems clearer what the Diana era itself, the 1990s, was all about. It was hard to tell at the time, but now the 1990s have a definition as sharp as the swinging 60s or the greedy 80s. They were the no-worry 90s.
For, viewed from today, the 1990s look like a kind of holiday, a pause between two eras of anxiety and conflict. Just as Eric Hobsbawm defined the 19th century as stretching from 1789 to 1914, so we can take the same liberty: the 90s began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and ended with the fall of the twin towers in 2001.
Never mind that both the old and new threats may be exaggerated, the danger felt and feels real. In the post-1945 era, we lived in fear of a third world war and a nuclear winter. In the post-9/11 era, we tremble at the prospect of suicide killers on a double-decker bus. Fear is the constant.
After all, what were the preoccupations of the time? In the US, the two largest national dramas of the decade were the OJ Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. One looks at that from today's vantage point with a warped kind of envy: lucky is the society so untroubled that it has nothing graver on its mind than two glorified soap operas.
Or maybe so it seems in retrospect.

There are 2 comments on "The Diana Years":

Posted by: substitute Wed Aug 31 23:12:20 2005

It was a mediocre decade for us in the U.S. We had a nasty recession and a splendid little war followed by the dotcom boom. We mostly ignored the horrors of the Yugoslavian war and the Rwandan genocide, which were the truly significant events of the time. Sometimes I think half the country spent that decade watching Court TV and listening to Sarah Maclachlan and never went outside.

Posted by: acb Wed Aug 31 23:29:13 2005

Mediocre is better than mutual assured destruction or perpetual war. Either that or lack of upheaval produces mediocrity. (Insert oft-quoted adage about Switzerland's contribution to culture being the cuckoo clock here.)