diamonds and dirt

Oh bizarreness! For the second time in my life the heritage and patriotism industry is cranking up a royal “Jubilee” in the country of my birth. Last time was 1977, more memorable for the deaths of Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan by far, when a somewhat different country festooned itself in union jacks and televised street parties, and The Sex Pistols had a number one single that couldn’t be played on the radio, or even put on the chart list in some high street shops.

This time it’s a “diamond jubilee”, and while the media tone is not as uptight and stifling as it was 35 years ago, out come all the “what would we do without her?” lines. Our great heritage, how she’s been with us all this time, the value of having a living anomaly that isn’t a politician or a pop star, how much she does for us etc. True, it’s more Hello! magazine than a filter down from the circles of the post-imperial, and it is after all a holiday. Something has to distract us from the shame of the Olympic corporate take over of swathes of London after all, from the people who brought you the Bhopal disaster and the executors of a government scheme to strip the disabled of their benefits.

But what on earth is this thing with royalty? Everyone likes a fairy story and a fantasy, but role playing games aren’t meant to be nationally bank rolled and made head of a state religion, surely? And Disneyland does fund itself, so why not the royal industry?

Yes, we all know that kings and queens and their barons and nobles used to wield power disgracefully, and that’s history, but do you really have to say “thank you”?

Yes, they bring revenue into the country on the basis of spectacle and tourism. So let them be curators and performers, make a reasonable living and be self funding tax payers.

We know that there have been loved monarchs, even relatively good ones. But we also know full well that is just the roll of the dice. You can ask yourself Dirty Harry’s famous question as much as you want, but no one seriously wants a monarch with power, they just don’t want to be unkind about it, because most people know, somewhere, that these are people born in a gilded cage built on a dying world view, and that they have been on a leash since the rise of parliamentary democracy (not that I understand why they are there at all in this day and age). The British class system remains strange, psychological, and in need of cap doughing peasants, whether people admit it or not. The common attitude to royalty looks like a stand off – don’t remind us we’re serfs and we won’t remind you of anything. It’s an S and M routine where no one does much and everyone’s forgotten the safe word anyway.

The kind thing to do would be to get over this whole thing, let them have more normal lives with more normal expectations and requirements. They can have their say about things they probably know little about, along with any other celebrity.

As for the rest of us, we can grow up, and own our fantasies and role playing games with a bit more mutual responsibility.

illustration by John Tenniel for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – image in public domain

Addendum 3rd June 2012: as a friend of mine has pointed out, there was a “golden jubilee” in 2002 – just didn’t really register with me at the time.

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