The Big Day

Posted on May 4, 2011

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For weeks and months the country has been in a state of total hysteria in preparation for the royal wedding. You can’t move for Union Jacks, red-white-and-blue opportunism by supermarkets and van hire companies, and that peculiarly ugly British patriotism that rears its head from time to time is in full effect. What happens next weekend?

Mainstream journalists appear to have forgotten their heads. The language and sentiments expressed over the past weeks and months – and Friday, the big day, especially – would be shocking if it wasn’t so unsurprising. Kate Middleton, the “commoner” from Marlborough School with her wax jackets and immaculate front-teeth has married into the oldest royal house in Europe. As they said in the 1933 film The Freaks: “We’ll accept her – one of us!…ONE OF US, ONE OF US…GOOBLE GOBBLE GOOBLE GOBBLE”.

The comparison works both ways.

Since when was it still acceptable to call someone “common”? The BBC’s coverage of the event – with the saccharine Hugh Edwards and occasional voice-visits by Simon Schama (a historian I once respected but has since shown his unionist colours) – used the word quite liberally. “We’re all commoners here”, declared Edwards as the royals began to descend on Westminster Abbey. He later theorised on the “concept of the commoner” with Schama, who, with starch-pressed knowledge and eloquence, happily joined in celebrating the presence of mini-buses as part of the grand procession to the wedding. The “coaches” (royalty intact) “makes the point”, said Schama. “They’re just like us”.

There’s been a concerted effort to democratise an inherently undemocratic institution, and – as Edwards and Schama proved – in the most absurd ways. And why? Because Kate Middleton is common as muck, they say. They, along with much of the starry-eyed press, are using a young (quite posh) girl to legitimise an institution that for so long looked too out of touch to ever come back. Scandal has followed scandal, and the prying-eyes of journalists were becoming more of an annoyance.  Their contempt for journalists is at least understandable after Diana, but then Prince Andrew’s complaint of “those fucking journalists…who poke their noses everywhere” is more mafiosa than constitutional monarch. Treat him in kind.

But those journalists who are poking their noses in all the right places, and there’s plenty of them, have made a mockery of their profession when they should be doing the same to royalty. The royal family are ridiculous, so are the journalists in bed with them.

What the press’ attempts to portray the Middletons as down-home oiks shows is that the class system is not what it was, although it might continue the same ugly themes and social traits.

As part of the BBC coverage, Sophie Raworth (ha) chose to stress the fact Mr Middleton was “Yorkshire-born” as a kind of immediate indication of the family’s downright rootsiness, or more accurately speaking, them being lower-class. And in case you hadn’t heard, the Middletons are the descendants of Durham miners – the very lowest of the low amongst the working-class according to the London press, after the smear campaigns, class bigotry and top-down reportage of the Eighties – but they are not Durham miners. They don’t look like them, they definitely don’t talk like them, and they have never lived like them. Neither are they common.

This is fine for the Middletons – nobody would expect this kind of accountability to one’s past unless they pursued it. My friend’s granddad was a black-and-tan, for example. I’m not sure I’d be friends with him if he was a black-and-tan.

For those not waving their little plastic flags and singing ‘Rule Britannia’ this weekend, having a piss-up in the name of a royal wedding seems like we’re still being treated as subjects and not citizens, part of a democratic system. There are those who regard this kind of argument as going too far. They are the academy, Enlightenment intellectuals frowning on the deists and atheists, for questioning God and becoming Jacobins on the way.

“Oh come on, it’s a chance for a party”. A chance for a party, and a chance to make a fast buck from all that £20 billion-or-something the wedding is supposed to be bringing to “the British economy”. But who’s that money going to? The country has (briefly) been consumed either by tunic-clad private vendor-opportunists, staunch believers and apathetic mead-drunkards; this is all just medieval carnival-esque through a high-pixel lense.

Medieval-tech. The utterly absurd hysteria that the newly wedded couple had kissed (and twice, no less!) was pleasantly punctuated by a fly-over of three WWII planes (Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster bomber) and a “much more modern” RAF fighter-jet contingent. Again, emcee for the day Hugh Edwards celebrated the presence of that “majestic” Lancaster bomber. The majesty of polite British militarism, which we are so keen to laugh off in the crass displays of Soviet Russia and other dictatorships since.

It tends to get forgotten now amidst the constant re-telling of the war, of the Holocaust and the brutal Nazis that we fought against to keep freedom alive in the world today etc., but those Lancaster bombers were the ones majestically carpet-bombing whole German cities. One-third of Dresden was wiped out. Not just the buildings, as that famous photographs of the aftermath in those cities might just be able to quietly get away with. Civilians. Tens and tens of thousands of them. Phosphorus was used, man-made firestorms, men and women shot like dogs by the SS. And all commissioned by the reverend-great Winston Churchill, a man as indelible to the royalist idea of British-ness as – perhaps – the royals themselves.

But here we are on this most special of days re-writing our past that little bit more and hiding away that brutish and imperialist world domination that was the British Empire.

If anything, the one positive demonstration of today is not that it is possible for a lowly subject to make it into the royals, but for a royal to make it in the real world. He went to university, underwent helicopter training – instead of being groomed for leadership in the gilded drawing-rooms of Buckingham Palace. It might be century-like slow, but that is progress.

Republicanism still stands though.

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Posted in: Politics