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UK’s Society of the Spectacle: Mourning Prince Philip

Photograph Source: Jamie McCaffrey – CC BY 2.0

CounterPuncher Binoy Kampmark has given us an unsparingly accurate snapshot of the late Prince Philip in action at a Cambridge University event in 2006, while placing that event in the supervening context of the old brute’s habitual racism, misogyny, and regal condescension.

The BBC gave saturation coverage of Philip’s death, as did the main commercial channel ITV.

Following Philip’s death at Windsor Castle aged 99, the BBC scrapped its schedules across both BBC One and BBC Two to run an endless succession of mirrored programmes about him.

Viewers of BBC Four were met with a message advising them to switch over for a “major news report”, while BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live also broadcast programmes about Philip.

CounterPuncher Jonathan Cook points out that ITV, which generate revenues from advertising, saw a 60 per cent drop in viewing figures after “it decided to broadcast endless forelock-tugging”.

The BBC received more than 110,000 complaints relating to its coverage of Philip’s death, with the fact that it had two channels showing exactly the same programmes for hours on end probably constituting a big chunk of the complaints.

A BBC spokesperson, resorting to boilerplate, said lamely: “We are proud of our coverage and the role we play during moments of national significance”.

The spokesperson declined to confirm the number of complaints the BBC received.

Ukania’s over-saturated media coverage of the prince’s death saw fawning on a scale that became ridiculous.

Brits were told Philip was “the grandfather of the nation”, how much “we’ll miss him when he’s gone”, how Bonnie Prince Charlie Mk 2 will now be the “patriarch” of the royal family— if the TV-viewing figures are a guide, more than a few Brits were not happy at this extravagant toadying to the Establishment.

Even the disgraced Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein’s pal in cavorting with the latter’s sex slaves, emerged from the seclusion of a tower in some royal castle to say that Philip’s death “left a huge void for the queen”.

To provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Philip spectacle, just about every palace functionary involved in Philip’s funeral received their 90 seconds of fame on nationwide TV– the Lord Chamberlain, the Queen’s Comptroller, ladies in waiting, lords of this and that.

Every member of the royal family “resuming their duties” received TV coverage.

The press coverage was just as over-imaginative and obsequious.

“One last look of love”, said the Daily Mirror of arrangements where the Queen is expected to pause briefly at Philip’s coffin before taking her place in the quire.

The Daily Mail had a picture of Prince Charles with the caption “Agony of Charles, a picture of grief”. Overlooked here is the long history of Charles’s uneasy relationship with his father.

Philip received his education at Gordonstoun, a school in Scotland created on rugged Outward Bound principles. He flourished there, and insisted, the queen’s tergiversations notwithstanding, that his “sensitive” son go to Gordonstoun. Charles, who much preferred music rooms to rugby fields, loathed Gordonstoun, and when it came to his own sons’ educations, Gordonstoun wasn’t in the picture.

It was Philip who virtually ordered Charles to marry Diana Spencer, in a handwritten letter no less, despite having more than an inkling about his son’s trysts with the still-married Camilla Parker-Bowles.

When over-blown paens presented as baying headlines and ridiculous captions are the mechanism for dragooning Brits into swooning adherence to a twisted Establishment narrative, any such complexities and inconvenient facts are bound to be occluded.

The funeral, in the chapel at Windsor castle, was a relatively modest affair.

The pandemic’s restrictions reduced invitees to 30 family members instead of the traditional 800 or so in a cathedral. These included members from Philip’s German family, whose recent ancestors had Nazi connections so strong that they were not invited to the wedding of Philip and Elizabeth in 1947.

The other departure from a traditional royal funeral was the absence of military uniforms in the mourning party. Male mourners wore morning coats instead.

Two reasons were advanced for this: (1) Harry’s exit from the royal family to reside with Meghan Markle in California meant he had been stripped of all his high-falutin honorary military appointments (so he would appear at the funeral in the uniform of a humble army captain, the rank he achieved in his actual military service); and (2) the shameless Andrew apparently insisted on wearing the uniform of an admiral, even though he retired from the navy with the rank of commander. The husband of his older sister Anne is a bona fide admiral (retired), so the sight of a fake admiral (moreover someone wanted for questioning in the US for his dealings with Jeffrey Epstein) alongside a real admiral in the funeral procession probably rang alarm bells for the functionaries in charge of royal protocol.

Such are the bizarre exigencies of Ruritanian flummery.

The queen sat alone in the quire at the funeral service. The media coverage highlighted how “alone” she would now be with Philip’s demise.

Not mentioned is the retinue of valets, footmen, and maids who have surrounded her since she was born. The queen may be bereft after the loss of her husband of 73 years, but physically alone she will not be.

This flummery did little to dispel the impression that this is a monarchy approaching its terminus.

A generally admired queen (for whatever reason) aged 94 and hanging on till the end, followed by an elderly son who has shown none of the qualities needed for his role as future king, to be succeeded in turn by the callow Prince William, who will doubtless be overshadowed by his subtly glamourous wife Kate Middleton, in something of a reprise of the situation between Charles and Diana.

That seems to be Ukania’s future, as mirrored by its monarchy— a country of vanished economic means clinging forlornly to the symbolic accoutrements of its largely fantasized past.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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