Friday, 18 May 2018

The Royal Wedding and Indifference

It's nice that a young couple have met, fallen in love, and are due to formalise their commitment to one another. For them, their family and their friends it will (hopefully) be a wonderful day, something they'll live to fondly remember. And as it's wall-to-wall telly and press, you might have heard something about it. Ah yes, the royal wedding, the taxpayer funded jamboree of bowing and scraping we are officially celebrating this weekend. Yes, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to find that this wee corner of the internet finds the spectacle not just cringe-inducing, but thanks to Windsor Council's cleansing of the streets of the homeless, and the money thrown at it while we "can't afford" to safely clad tower blocks, the absurd pomp of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding will be as tawdry as it is tacky.

That's not how millions of people will see it. For a great many, Royal occasions offer something uncomplicated and pure. The monarch and her progeny did not seek their station in life, it was thrust upon them by accidents of birth. The institution embodies duty and service in which the Queen is a repository, an empty vessel if you will, into which hopes, meaning and narratives are poured. For those ill at ease with what Britain has become, the sheer longevity of the monarchy gives them something unchanging to hang on to. Less a tug of the forelock and more of a grip, this is ably assisted by the eternity of the Queen herself. But not just the Queen, the royal family has something for everyone. In the retired Prince Philip and, to a lesser extent, Charles, we find two fossils who embody the backward-looking anxieties of the nation. The Queen's consort with his hilarious racist quips, and the heir with his meddling in matters political - they're just telling it as it is, innit? Just like all the loudmouths out there, albeit in plummier, more refined tones. And with the younger Royals, we see modern Britain poking through. "Wills" and Kate are inoffensive and pleasant and considering their backgrounds, feudal-old money and nouveau riche, come across as surprisingly normal and relatable. Likewise, Harry has grown to occupy the same wholesome, do-gooding space after a shaky start (booze, partying, Third Reich cosplay). And with Meghan, we start to see the family's first rank resemble multicultural Britain - a woman who is divorced, is foreign, and horrifyingly for the Daily Mail brigade, mixed race.

No doubt things have changed for the Windsors, and for the better. Irony of ironies, the troublesome princess who did the institution a favour by dying in a Parisian tunnel 20-odd years ago went one step further. How Diana settled into her role as the once-future queen by being touchy-feely and hanging out with the slighted and blighted of the earth ended up providing the template for how to be the British sovereign for the 21st century - roles the Cambridges and Harry have avidly taken to, at least if you swallow everything broadcast and written about them. And so the institution appears stronger now than it has been for last 30 years.

Yet there might be something interesting a-stirring. And this is the widespread indifference, occasionally acknowledged by establishment outlets, to the wedding. How to explain? Yes, Harry isn't ever going to become King. Despite the big deal that is being made, in terms of Royal events this is distinctly second order. Matters aren't helped by the FA Cup Final, but also for the indifferent it is very easy to escape the hype around the wedding - easier than Wills 'n' Kate, the jubilees, the Queen Mother's funeral, and the suffocating, maudlin miasma that hung over Britain in the aftermath of Diana's demise.

Indifference is a latent menace in their heralded celebrity/PR strategy. The Royals have always been celebrities, have always got spoken about in the gossip columns, but unlike their parents the press have proven much more hands off with the princes. Harry's occasional misadventures were an irregular fixture, but neither of them sustained full scale character assassination as per other members of the family firm. The problem is how long can this carry on, especially if anyone in our couple of, well, power couples indulge an indiscretion or end up in a scrape. Ideally, for the institution's survival, they have to keep their noses super clean, especially when Charles inherits the throne and starts putting people's backs up. Diana-like beatification has to attend to the princes and their families in contrast to a monarch who, according to watchers, is set upon a larger political role. And why should we be surprised? He was born to rule, after all. The difficulty here for what comes after is if, under Charles, they take the inoffensive path and only make headlines for opening the Invictus Games, etc. Without gossip swirling about then, in the medium to long-term their standing could suffer from a lack of interest. I mean, just look at the tedium of the stories about Meghan's family, the will-he/won't-he speculation about whether Dad would give her away, and so on. Even the most avid royalist would find this mind dribbling banality insulting. Likewise, new royal babies or two, the first day of nursery and school are not the stuff by which a mass public warms to their future King. The young royals run the risk of popping up in the popular consciousness as shiny, expensive baubles and little else. On the one hand this might not matter, monarchic succession isn't democratic, but the institution needs popular support to continue, otherwise more people might start asking what's the point.

Put away your fantasies involving Madame Guillotine and storming Buckingham Palace. The danger for the British monarchy is its coming to an end with a shrug.

3 comments:

Leslie English said...

If only but can we really wait so long. They form part of a disfunctional democracy with no end in sight.

Anonymous said...

I think they could cope well with indifference. Your point about the Queen being an empty vessel is a good one. If the narrative that got poured into it was ceremonial head of state only , then like the Dukes of Devonshire, or the Dukes of Northumberland, the monarchy could be 'just' wealthy aristocrats, symbolic of a problem but not actually the problem, or symbolically representative of stability but not actually that stability. Its retention or abolition would be/are both symbolic acts.
Charles' faults are well known to us but William's lack of apparent agenda,means he could subside quite happily into someone about as prominent as the Duke of Kent, or the Dutch or Swedish monarchies.
And I have a personal interest in William reaching the throne so that Aston Villa can have the support of a reigning monarch. Bragging rights, it really is what they're good for.

Anonymous said...

When I think about it rationally I'm opposed to the monarchy, as it's an obvious contradiction to have a hereditary head of state in a democracy. But I've seen the Queen in person three times, and I can tell you that I was a Monarchist for about a week following each sighting. Anyway, in Dr Who the UK still has a Queen in the 52nd Century.