Net perpetuates grieving conspiracies

The public mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales, was never unusual in its intensity. Deaths of beloved figures have inspired mass demonstrations of sorrow throughout history.

More remarkable was the scale of the public grieving, spread far beyond English boundaries. The most striking aspect came through the voices of the mourners. While noblemen such as the Earl of Spencer commanded the attention of news media and the world, the common folk had already been expressing their memorials in cyberspace.

The Internet became an immediate venue for personal remembrances, and a callous marketplace. Links allowed browsers to devour and compare news reports. Hurried conspiracy theories formed and fed upon themselves, freely taking in legitimate and illegitimate news.

One year later, countless Diana Web sites still pay homage, hawk memorabilia, concoct theories and obsess. Just searching Yahoo! alone brings up multiple “Princess Diana” categories, which offer current news stories, British royalty and Diana phenomena in text, audio and video clips. Links to news outlets such as CNN allow Web visitors to view the royal wedding, last moments in Diana’s life and the funeral.

Celebsite (www.celebsite.com/people/princessdiana/content/sites.html), in addition to a profile, biography and news, reviews the best sites for the selective Diana browser. Rating a three out of four, for instance, is Club Di (www.royalnetwork.com/clubdi), a self-proclaimed “cyber chapel” and source for books, music, grief support and prayers for different religions.

News organizations, which usually archive their stories, still devote space to the princess. Even after moving to a new Internet address, the BBC still keeps up its old site (www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/diana) with past coverage and a one-year retrospective. Court TV (www.courttv.com/legaldocs/newsmakers/wills/diana) publishes Diana’s posthumous last words, albeit in legalese, in her last will and testament.

MSNBC’s virtual tour of the Diana museum (www.msnbc.com/news/176920.asp) saves a trip for the casual voyeur. The Sun Tzu’s Newswire (www.ccnet.com/~suntzu75/diana) indexes the mammoth ephemera into intriguing categories, such as conspiracy talk; compare coverage of Princess Diana to coverage of Mother Teresa; the doctors and injuries; Princess Grace; public reaction; and rich and famous reaction.

The official site of the British monarchy (www.royal.gov.uk) gives the reserved Buckingham Palace version of Diana’s life and death. A more sentimental picture comes, of course, from the Althorp estate, Diana’s former home, final resting place and current museum locale (www.althorp-house.co.uk).

Beyond journalists and royalties, “Web zines” such as www.dianageneration.org has about 90 links (although some have expired) to more personal memorial sites. That includes the story of the site’s editor, Princess Laura Khalipha Adams. A woman who also attained her present position by marriage and subsequently divorced her Nigerian prince, she discusses how she looked to Diana’s example on how to behave and survive (members.aol.com/lkhalipha/index.htm).

The outcry to condemn rabid celebrity photographers has died down, but enmity can easily be resuscitated with a shareware 3-D game, “Paparazzi” (www.fairgame.org). The producers of G.O.D.D. (Game-makers of Diabolical Distinction) provide it as a “noncommercial public service and social comment.” A sample of that commentary: “Now you can actually feel what it’s like to be chased endlessly without compassion or consideration! Subject yourself to the cruel torment of violent intrusion from the comfort of your own home!” Users will need Win95 and Microsoft DirectX5; the latter can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com/directx/resources/enddl.htm.

A bizarre piece of bad fiction (www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~amlang/) imagines what the world would be like if Diana had survived the accident; the site even has a Japanese summary translation. Then there’s the backlash against the obsessive coverage, most awfully demonstrated with the Dead Celebrities Society “tacky and tasteless” Diana jokes (members.aol.com/ocmark111/dead2.htm).

A few sites actually attempt to carry on the message of volunteerism. Adams’ Web zine has excellent charity links. The movement to ban land mines can be found at www.peaceday.org. Travel site golondon.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa071598.htm links to the Peaceday land mine site and gives information on another favorite Diana charity, Terrance Higgins Trust. Britain in USA (www.britain-info.org), which answers consulate-related and travel information, links to charities and also provides insight about the American reaction to Diana’s death. The most comprehensive index is www.charitynet.org/diana.

The fervor has died down, evident in the fact that many of these sites don’t update their links. Still, the Internet continues to allow the common voice to add to a public legacy. Perhaps more than any other medium, it has accelerated the creation of folk tales. Now, instead of accumulating over generations, the legend of Diana grows a few bytes every second.

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