Princess Diana died in a car crash. As an extremely glamorous member of the
British royal family, she was a major celebrity whose death was followed by an
enormous amount of grief expressed by many who never knew her personally.
one assumes, but why grief?
Surely we feel
no genuine grief at the death of a celebrity we don’t know. Yet presumably many
people felt close to her – a false proximity nurtured and encouraged by the
media and by Diana herself.
False proximity seems to be an extremely common illusion, applying to
abstractions as well as people. Celebrities are part abstraction of course.
The Diana virtually all of us knew was mostly a glossy image nurtured,
refined and endlessly fascinating to millions...
Two members of
the Labour Party came to the door in the middle of writing this post. Canvassing
for the EU elections no doubt. I waved them away and shut the door. I don’t
want real proximities to mess up a post on false proximity do I?
Yet those two political
toilers were presumably motivated to bang on my door by a false proximity to
both people and political abstractions. Ed Miliband even! Plus equality, fairness, a just
society and suchlike. Proximity to a Cause on my very own doorstep but no
thanks – that’s not how detachment works.
Our ancestors were
heavily influenced by a false proximity to God, ghosts, demons and even the
local priest or vicar. Although I tend to wonder how common even that level of
piety really was among horny-handed drudges with little to look forward to
apart from a mug of sour ale at the end of a long day.
Now we foster a
sense of false proximity to everything from the latest teen idol to holiday destinations. What else is an exotic holiday but the illusion of
false proximity to a more interesting or desirable location?
We foster a
sense of false proximity to celebrities of course, but that about other abstractions? Royalty, honesty, integrity, intelligence, social class, other cultures, professional standards, science, the arts, places, the boss, style, football
clubs, disasters, human suffering, conflict, the supernatural, the environment,
whales, dolphins, furry animals, trees, forests and even the whole universe.
metaphor and simple comparison may create a sense of false proximity between
one idea and another, one situation and another, one event and another, a
historical figure and one from the present day.
lens of the media presents unusual people as being fascinatingly closer than
they really are. We get the same beguiling effect of false proximity when the
media present us with rare events such as terrorist bombings or freakish
- A community is in shock after a young man was shot…
- The film premiere was held last night - the stars were…
- Armed police chased him across this road…
It all adds up
to a dramatic but distorted version of what is going on in the world. False
proximity stirs up emotional confusions and sidelines detachment.
course is the whole idea.