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House of Blues

By Bob Harris

DEFYING ALL REASON--like most of pop culture--the collective recovered memory (with all the accuracy that implies) of Diana Spencer has become something of a touchstone for the democratic impulse. And partly as a result, Great Britain's House of Lords is suddenly becoming the House of Blues.

Diana's tragic end--coming when Death accidentally confused her with Ted Kennedy, who now gets to drift away gently in a canopy bed--and even more tragic interspecies coupling with Charles have somehow converted the princess into a symbol of the common touch.

As usual, it approaches sacrilege to point out that the obvious--in this case, that the Empress in fact had very New Clothes. What you and I both remember is that in life Diana's conspicuous appetite for travel, glamour, and fashion displayed the proletarian restraint of a Fabergé egg and caused the family treasury to slough off more pounds than Rush Limbaugh on a Slim-Fast IV drip. Not that the royals are suddenly gonna show up hawking costume jewelry and silk jogging suits on QVC. Other than Fergie.

Which isn't to say Diana was any worse than most folks. Or better. Precisely my point. They auctioned off $3 million worth of her clothes and gave the money to charity. That's great. That Diana felt the need to wear $3 million around town, when the money was just as badly needed, isn't. Good and bad. Human. That's all I'm saying here.

Don't hit me.

But thanks to last year's full week of elite media Two-Minute Grief, overshadowing even the passing of the actual Mother Teresa (whose relatively anonymous demise can only be attributed to an inability to wear Dior with panache), Diana's normal human desire not to see children maimed by land mines has somehow been received as an almost revolutionary level of compassion.

Which means, inevitably, that many Britons intuitively expect their aristocracy to reside firmly in the pro-maiming camp. Egad.

Maybe that says something about the humanity of a system literally founded on privilege. At least the English know their leaders' dark sides better than we do. One hundred and thirty five nations have signed the Ottawa Mine Ban treaty, including Britain.

The United States, which has a full stockpile, has not. Surprised?

SO NOW, after years of the royals nosediving into more muck than Valujet, the mere legitimacy of regal authority is open to question, and constitutional monarchy itself just might face a shorter life expectancy than Dennis Rodman. So Britain's first family is trying to figure out how better to understand the common people.

Gee, maybe if they'd start sleeping with people they aren't related to. ... But what do I know.

The shake-up even extends to Britain's bicameral legislature, which includes (a) the House of Commons, where Britain's leaders shout things about each other's ancestry, and (b) the House of Lords, where they have the paperwork to prove it. Seats in the House of Lords have been passed by heredity among the gentry for almost as many centuries as insanity and venereal disease, but last week, QE II broke her moorings and declared that birthright and wealth, by themselves, should not be sufficient to qualify for membership.

The irony that Grammy Windsor should be able to decree such a thing--purely because of her wealth and birthright--wasn't even mentioned in the wire reports.

In turn, the assembly of ermine-and-scarlet-bedecked lords broke from their traditional silence in the presence of the queen, by--this is true--emitting a series of audible growls.

No report yet on how many Lords pawed the ground, snorted, and waved their forelegs in the air.

So let's hear it for the United Kingdom, as they take this important (if almost entirely symbolic) step toward representative democracy. And thank goodness we in the United States have no such hereditary, class-based claims on our leadership.

Whichever of America's three leading presidential candidates wins in 2000--whether it's Al Gore (son of a senator), George W. Bush (son of a president and grandson of a senator), or Steve Forbes (son of one of the richest men on Earth)--we can be sure democracy has been served.

From the December 17-23, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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