So let me get this straight from the off.
Personally, I haven’t got anything against the couple as people; they’re a young rich couple, who happen to be Royals and I guess that, in the roles they now have to play in society, they’re just doing their thing. In short, the fact that they are Royals and that there are Royals doesn’t bother me that much. This is probably because I am a white, southern , privileged, English man, for whom the goings on of the Royals are of no consequence whatsoever.
However, what does bother me is the media’s coverage of the Royals. Read any article and it will become clear that reporting on the Royal family has a nomenclature all of its own and, with a Royal wedding approaching we’re about to be flooded with this kind of thing, so it’s best to be prepared.
I shall be critiquing a BBC article about the first public appearance of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle which I judged to be a fine example of the type. Should you wish, you can find the article online at www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42181189. Listed below are the main aspects of the language and atmosphere the media creates to perpetuate the on-going Royal story which, like football or a soap opera is perceived to have no end. Enjoy.
One…A complete lack of critical language
This first point is obvious; so obvious in fact it probably doesn’t need to be mentioned, but will be mentioned nevertheless because it is the foundation stone upon which the more minor points are built. To read an article on the Royals, especially at a time of heightened media excitement, is to enter a world where the grimy details of life simply don’t exist. This is the world of the ‘Great British Public’, of ‘Keep calm and Carry on’, of bunting and street parties, of Saturday night TV, doing your bit, crying because someone you don’t know has gone on an emotional journey on their way to winning a dancing competition. And they’re crying; EVERYONE is crying; EVERYONE IS CRYING AND NOONE KNOWS WHY!!! In this world there are no negative feelings, like in a childrens TV show aimed at the under-fives. No, scratch that, even those shows have a negative element; ‘Mr Big Head’ has lost his hat or something; a flannel based dragon is feeling sad because it can’t find one of its eggs (it finds it in the end). Yes, even a narrative aimed at toddlers contains within it an element of peril, of real life, of the idea that even the most perfect and benign world, contained within a pearlescent purity, can be tainted by the dark, Brownian ink of darkness, uncertainty and foreboding. Everyone is crying but these are positive tears; tears shed on behalf of an imaginary experience. There is no illness. There is no pain. There are no societal injustices. There is no such thing as inequality, except as it refers to the natural order of things. There is no money. There are no wars. There is certainly no politics and indeed the strong impression is created that politics i.e. life is a subject that is absolutely banned in this world. Instead there is only the womb. Warm, comforting, nurturing, containing. Encompassing you in a blur of indistinct shapes and sounds over which you have no more control than a microbial lifeform hurtling down the plughole of existence.
Two. People as cardboard cut-outs
As discussed, there are no naysayers here. Instead, were I a curious observer from Mars, I would get the impression that the streets of England are filled with credulous idiots who are quite prepared to stand around in the cold for hours in order to ‘see’ certain people (presumably everyone else who couldn’t make it really would of if they could but for ‘reasons which will not be discussed’ just couldn’t). So we get to meet Helena Bottomley, Zoe Scott and Carole Bingham, who all had their children at the same time as Prince Harrys Mum (that’s Diana FYI) a detail which makes no sense. Did they all conceive at the same time? Was it just blind coincidence? How could you time something like that? Do they mean roughly at the same time i.e. the same year? Which of Dianas children do their children share a rough birthday with? How does this feed into their shared love of the Royals? THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!
Or we meet Michael Thorpe, 60 who says he felt uplifted after seeing the couple because “I caught a glimpse of Meghan getting into [a] car – it was definitely worth coming”. Or perhaps we could turn to Julie Ball, 51, whose Christmas gloves were commented on first by Harry, then Meghan (1. Approach crowd. 2. Choose person to interact with. 3. Choose something to comment on 4. Comment on said object 5. Move on. 6. Repeat) or lastly ‘Royal fan’ Irene Hardman, 81 who had a goody bag ready to hand over to the couple, including copies of the local paper and two fridge magnets “so they don’t fight over it”.
Now, none of these people are bad people. It’s their thing, they were there, they got what they wanted. But these interactions and details are presented as a normal response to the news a Royal personage is
visiting your town. It’s NOT normal, it’s not the sodding Blitz! The only legitimate reason for the couple being there and therefore being newsworthy was their visit to an AIDS charity on World AIDS day, which is mentioned only as an afterthought in all the reporting. I wonder what our retinue of Royal supporters think about AIDS. and the progress that been made since, say, the time of Princess Diana in fighting the disease? Well, we’ll neverknow because that’s not what we’re all here for and they were never asked. NO, a Royal wedding has been announced so we’re all expected to act like it’s something important and AIDS becomes something the Royal PR team can use to launch #ROYALWEDDING2018.
Three The fetishisation of mundane actions
This is perhaps the most annoying of the tropes that occur whenever the Royals are talked about in the media and the most egregious offenders are the Royal correspondents for the various media outlets. Royal correspondent is a position that shouldn’t exist these days, but it does and it says a lot about the media that all major news outlets feel compelled to have one. Their job is to talk about the Royals as if they are semi divine beings, the royal correspondents in essence being a leftover from the days when this was believed to be so. For many months they will be silent, held in stasis, but, when something like a Royal engagement is announced they are suddenly everywhere like madder Daddy-Long-Legs, filling the minds of anyone who will listen with their fatuous reflections on the way the Royals walk, how happy they ‘seem to be’, the significance of them shaking hands with ‘the public’ and how amazing this simple act is. Don’t believe me? Well how about this from the BBC’s Royal correspondent Sarah Campbell
‘Meghan appeared very relaxed and perfectly at ease…She smiled, she chatted, at one point she even picked up someone’s glove and handed it back to them.’
Wow. Or how about this?
‘Dickie Arbiter, former royal spokesman, told the BBC the couple took their time to talk to as many people as possible on their 30-minute walkabout.’
What did ‘Dickie’ expect them to do? Wander aimlessly about for 30 minutes? Given that the ‘walkabout’ was a PR stunt, it’s hardly surprising that they smiled, were ‘tactile’ with each other and walked about talking to the crowd. I’m sure it’s shocking that Meghan Markle deigned to touch a commoner’s disgusting, plague ridden glove and SHOCK! HORROR!! HANDED IT BACK TO THEM!!! But I guess she’s new to the job and yet to cultivate a proper attitude towards the mindless rabble who will henceforth swarm around her like flies around sh….
Four. Shameless tacked on commercialism
This is a relatively new one; or rather it’s a new old one. After Diana died (gawd rist ‘er sowel), the Royals fell out of favour with the grubby voyeurs at Hello magazine et al who suddenly preferred the Beckhams and various minor celebrities like Jordan and reality TV stars. Post Diana, the royals were no longer the grade ‘A’ clotheshorses they had previously been (that’s that nasty ‘reality’ poking its nose in again).
But now the Royals are back, enough time has passed and we can all fixate on them again and buy cheap knockoffs of the extremely expensive clothes they wear, so we, the public, can get just a taste, just a tiny inkling of what it must be like to simply choose clothes without thought of their price. Here’s the BBC again reporting on what the Royal couple were wearing on their first public appearance, which I will quote at length.
‘The handbag Ms Markle chose to carry on her Nottingham visit has already sold out. The bag was made by the Scottish label, Strathberry, which said “it was a fantastic surprise” to see the bride-to-be carrying one of its designs. Ms Markle was wrapped up in a long navy coat by Mackage – a brand also favoured by actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Eva Mendes and Blake Lively. She wore the coat over a beige cotton, full midi skirt from British-based fashion label Joseph, priced at £595, which also sold out on the brand’s website.’
As the more perceptive of you will see, this quote also has elements of the previous section (SHE HAS A HANDBAG!?!) but is primarily a straightforward advert for the items listed. I did some research and that handbag cost about 500 quid and the coat cost about £600. Lord alone knows what her shoes cost, but I bet it was a pretty solid gold penny.
The thing is, the royals, particularly the younger generation, are like money itself. They exist as royals only because people continue to believe in them and the whole edifice of which they are the shining pinnacle damn well knows it. The grubby truth that they are the inheritors of feudal wealth, stolen land and rent extraction is not allowed to sully the great fairytale. Therefore, via their willing cohorts in the media, their status as rich people wearing expensive clothes, which is nothing out of the ordinary, is transmuted into a kind of fetishized gluttony which has no negative aspects. Look at them the media say. How happy they are, how well dressed. Project your broken lives upon them and be humble before their image. Forget your troubles for you are but dust in the wind; phantoms who rise up, form vague shapes and dissipate; whereas these are real people. They smile, they wave, they have happy lives. They fall in love and have children who want for nothing. They are kind and do charity work; they care and they work for you, you poor souls.
Go and see them when they pass by. Haul yourself towards them so you can, for a brief moment, be near them and say that you were near them and remember until your dying day that you once got near to them. You didn’t speak to them; the 30 minutes was up and they didn’t see your hand, outstretched yet submerged in a sea of faces. They moved on and it was over.
That this sort of reporting still exists and is reported with a straight face, is staggering and the sheer absurdity points to it’s real purpose. To make you forget, to give you a little warmth in the cold, to give you something to believe in even as you are told that no one believes in anything anymore. To forestall the revolution, to make you look only to the past, to infantilise you, to patronise you, to insult you, to remind you of your place and of course, to keep you there.
Still, it’s not all gravy. On the day in question, after they’d finished their charitable duties, the Royal couple were forced to watch a ‘Hip Hopera’. So maybe it all balances out in the end
Isn’t it amazing how much Harry resembles his father.