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“The heir is almost apparent.”
Alex Pappas, Jul 23, 2013
New born babies do have sacral powers, a bewitching sense of presence. They are also incorporated into human rituals – their arrival spells symbolic gusto, a promise of what is to come.
Even in an age when the entire process of death and child birth have assumed the air of medicalised procedure over magic, we can still find, in the arrival of latest royal to the House of Windsor, totemic powers at work. But what is near inexplicable is that the royals have, through this natal drama, become a source of balmy interest to not merely the British public, but a global one.
The royals do, as they have always done: breed. Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, followed the royal brief to a tee. Since the royals can no longer take marriage and breeding to the next level – conquest, military glory and territorial consolidation – the very process of childbirth has become a spectacle. “Problem one,” posed James Delingpole of The Spectator (Jul 22), “you’re a constitutional monarch. This means that when eventually your dad pops his clogs, you won’t be able to do nearly so much of the cool stuff as you might have done had you been born to the same position 500 years earlier.”
They are good for something after all, even in degenerate scenes more akin to a reality television show. Oh, but for the camera to be placed in doors, something that was not going to happen as “these are the Windsors, not the Kardashians” (New York Times, Jul 22). But Hilary Mantel said it better than most when she pointed out in the London Review of Books (Feb 21), quite rightly, that someone like the Duchess of Cambridge was a product of committee “and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss varnished.” The Duchess was selected precisely because she was free of risk, devoid of noticeable quirks. Creaseless, dull in her perfection, she would be ideal for William.
The process of this production, from the point of when there was evidence of a “bump” to the point when the bump was expelled, has titillated audiences. When was the Duchess admitted? And why, oh why didn’t that damn child show itself earlier, stubbornly clinging to the womb for fear of the alternative? As Darren Walsh would tweet, “Prince Williams’ heir is falling out.”
Every point in this drama has to be documented with painful tediousness. As Tony Wright, national affairs editor of the Melbourne Age pointed out, similar hysterical treatment was offered the child’s father when he came out to Australia in 1983 with his parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. On news that William was seen on the patio of a homestead in Woomargama having taken his first steps, editors in London lost their collective heads. “How many steps exactly? Precisely where did the child toddle?” (The Age, Jul 23). Pictures were screamed for.
Then come the gifts and congratulations. As slavery and official gifts of war booty has been outlawed, heads of state have to resort to pitifully dull items and choice words. While the new baby Windsor can hardly affect Washington’s policy one way or the other, President Barack Obama could still find time in his busy schedule to note the “special relationship” enjoyed by Britain and the United States, and “all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings.”
The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has asked that the Taronga Zoo bilby enclosure be named after the child – an apt statement given his recent declaration that asylum seekers, children included, will be detained in enclosed facilities at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. (Incidentally, we have yet to hear what those at Taronga think.) The previous Prime Minister – the now deposed Julia Gillard – was making a knitted kangaroo for the royal offspring before being cut in mid-session. It might be wise to call it quits now.
It is also fitting that the child, in this sense, is object, rather than subject, a point of reference rather than a creature of self. It doesn’t matter where this offspring actually goes – the pathway is minted by custom and archaic precedent, even if people will speculate. Ponder, instead, the curious situation of a birth funded by state benefits. “The consensus that it is feckless and irresponsible for couples who rely on state benefits to reproduce,” wrote a spiky Laurie Penny of The New Statesman (Jul 22), “clearly does not extend to the monarchy.” That old business of the patriarchal lottery again.
Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org