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Incoherent Australians taking to the Thames in body tight suits waiting to row in the procession, disgruntled West Indians in their social club in London wanting compensation for past wrongs, banked up traffic in the city, and the obsession with catching a glimpse of the sovereign. The largest flotilla in over 300 years to pass through the Thames – give or take a half century here or there. If Royalty is spectacular indulgence, then the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond jubilee is surely its apotheosis.
The occasion is becoming the excuse for any grievance, and the platform for reconsiderations. “Promiscuity, separation and divorce have reached epidemic proportions in our society.” That’s the Bishop of London, doing his level best to enter the bedrooms of Britons to wonder what exactly is transpiring between the sheets. Richard Chartres, however, has a solution: reflect. Ponder. This is the chance for the country – since 1952, things have altered for the worse, but that is hardly any excuse to accept the worse. “Government needs to do less, and do more to enable all the various bodies within civil society to do what they do best.” Damn the crude market place, and its rough means of distributing wealth. How curious then, to find a discussion in the press of the Queen’s “antique gold lace and deep olive”, “adored with Swarowski crystals” (Daily Mail, June 4). Such luxury is entirely permissible, of course, largely because it is so tasteful.
Given that Bishop Chartres is touted as a close friend of the Prince of Wales, one wonders if he also shares his sense of humour. In any case, the Prince of Wales was happily paying tribute to “Mummy”, and there were thousands of snaps of his gesture in kissing her hand. Daddy, however, was unwell and could not join the rain-soaked proceedings.
The Bishop seems to forget that the royal family of Britain is very much a reflection of its people – not in the sense of its class dimension (no, most Britons don’t own as much in terms of property), but in terms of insensibility in tolerating it. Some argue that people get the governments they deserve, but adulation for the royals suggest that those who endorse the institution get the monarchs they deserve.
Prime Minister David Cameron was himself gushing over the value of having a monarchy above politics, a focal point above the invidious scrapping of the parliamentary chamber. His point is only a good one if one consults the dire state of politics itself. Far better a clownish aristocracy than a clownish elected presidency. The entertainment is at least more parfait.
This is not, in itself, a slight on the Queen. It is, rather, a comment on the curious befuddling that happens when her royal person comes into view, or is thought about, or is dreamt about in the context of a celebration. Ceremonial fetishists certainly thrive in Britain, and the Queen is one of the more delectable excuses for festivities if ever there was one. Most of the time she seems painfully bored, and it is difficult to imagine how one wouldn’t be after hundreds of ribbon cutting sessions. ‘I hereby declare this place, by whatever name, open’ – or template-governed words to that effect.
Queenology becomes central – everyone wants a taste of it. Going gaga over the Queen is an easy thing to do – the dresses, the equestrians, the speeches. Such institutionalised elitism is the greatest triumph of the British social system, and its greatest curse. Even the Americans, through vicarious sensations, want to be part of it, romanticising an institution the Republic ditched on independence. The public is overwhelmed by speculations over whether she did, in fact, like the horseraces on Saturday. She, biographers speculate, was obsessing about horses just prior to her coronation. Should you dare to leaf through Elizabeth Longford’s work, she is particular keen to press home that point.
In the end the last laugh is on the Royal family, who have managed to have this entire event staged at a time when Britain is more downtrodden economically than it has been in decades. This is staged delusion and distraction, and the fact that it should idealise a monarchical system says how dire things are. The distractions are also set to continue. The Olympics are right around the corner, and the blessed profligate will be on the march again.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMT University, Melbourne. Email: email@example.com