|Montréal, le 14 août 1999||
The inevitable comparisons were drawn between young Kennedy's death and
that of the Princess Diana. There were, in normally cynical New York, mourners
laying flowers outside his apartment as well as in other places with Kennedy
associations, Washington and Boston. In many ways young Kennedy differed
from Princess Diana in that he very seldom used his celebrity to further
his own ends. Unlike Diana he tried to create something durable even though
his magazine George was in dire financial straits at the time of
his death and its future seemed quite uncertain. Apart from the flower
laying and television watching there was little other public display of
interest. Perhaps the family's decision to hold private funeral services
did something to dampen the emotions. A decision which perhaps avoided
the kind of excessive communal orgies of second hand feeling and grief
which have accompanied the deaths of other celebrities.
In our times it seems that emotions are to be worn on one's sleeve and not concealed. Books are being published such as
Accompanying this phenomenon of political emotionalism is the wearing of ribbons. Where this began I don't know, perhaps during the Vietnam war, but it was certainly visible in 1980 when the American diplomats were taken hostage by the Iranians. Wearing a ribbon presumably gives one a feeling of identification with others. Since 1980 we have seen ribbons of various colours being worn for all kinds of events. Pink ribbons for breast cancer charities in the USA, green ribbons for those who sympathize with the cause of the IRA prisoners, black ribbons for anti-ETA campaigners in Spain, red ribbons for people identifying with AIDS victims and so on. The bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma, in which 164 people were killed, provided a choice of coloured ribbons depending upon which of the victims you sympathized with the most. US President Clinton chose white; as he said,
Is there an explanation for any of this? There seems to be some correlation between the rise of the politics of emotion, and the decrease in popular interest in politics. A British study in 1997 found that the turnout for the election that year was the lowest since 1945. Compare this to the huge outpouring of emotion for Diana. The same phenomenon is certainly true of the USA where voting totals fall with each successive election. In Europe too, as the recent European parliament elections showed, there is also a steady decline in the numbers of those who cast their ballots.
More and more there is mistrust of politicians and political institutions, in many cases with reason. Belgium showed this in its
Emotionalism replaced patriotism
With this mistrust of the authorities there is a growing feeling of powerlessness. The victim seems to have become the image to be venerated and these outpourings of emotion reflect the sense of identification many people apparently feel with the victim. Collective displays of emotion bind a splintered society together, at least momentarily. Whereas in former times, even as late as the Second World War, patriotism could be found present in North American society, it disappeared at the time of Vietnam. Patriotism is a quality few under the age of sixty can understand and its disappearance undoubtedly results from this growing feeling of powerlessness and alienation.
All this emotionalism is able to thrive because it doesn't really threaten the vested interests of the political establishment. In fact, it is ably exploited by many politicians with the willing connivance of the mainstream media which, because of the declining influence of the politicians, tends to have a disproportionate effect upon the public. A rather disturbing prospect.
Articles précédents de Ralph Maddocks