The Empire strikes back

2011-05-07 00:00

A FORTNIGHT spent in the Tora Bora cave complex in the Afghan mountains would have been a small price to pay to avoid the tsunami.

The tsunami, that is, of nausea-making schmaltz unleashed worldwide from an over-populated and soggy island off the coast of Europe. A tsunami called the British royal wedding. Or as the world’s inexplicably deferential print media are wont to put it — scattering capital letters like cheap confetti — the Royal Wedding. Usually preceded by the phrase “fairy tale”.

Well, by now we all know about royal fairy tales. The previous one ended in a messy divorce because Prince Big Ears was shagging the Brigadier’s wayward dray mare, while Princess Diabolical was cavorting with a cavalry officer whose reputed penchant was for sidesaddle.

The Charles (“I want to be Camilla’s tampon”) and Di (“I want to be queen of people’s hearts”) marriage, and its subsequent soap-opera unravelling helped sustain the British newspaper industry for 15 glorious years. This was followed by the less dramatic but tackier tale of Charles’s younger brother, Andrew, and his brainless squeeze, Sarah.

Although divorced after 10 years, that liaison endures as a kind of celebrity nightmare reality show, with Randy Andy consorting with American paedophiles and Feckless Fergie auctioning off face-time with her ex-husband to dodgy businessmen who want assistance in cutting deals with Middle-East dictators.

According to the pre-nuptial propaganda, an astonishing two billion television viewers would watch the Westminster Abbey marriage of William Windsor and Catherine Middleton, up from the mere 750 million who watched his old man get hitched. Clearly, a couple of billion exceeds the likely international total of post-menopausal matrons suffering from empty-nest syndrome, so who are these royalist nutters? Well, they are not Empire loyalists, for one. Despite Queen Elizabeth II being the head of state of 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to the United Kingdom — the most significant of these being Australia, Canada and New Zealand — monarchism is pretty much dead as a political ideology.

Nevertheless, after the wedding, the New York Times estimated that three billion had watched the television broadcasts. What rubbish. Even conceding the existence of a large mass of vacuous people who fill their empty lives leeching emotional sustenance from media coverage of an endless array of vapid celebrities, can there possibly be three billion of them? Is it conceivable that almost one in two people on planet Earth watched this crud-fest?

Of course not. The figures are part of the self-serving puffery of the media. It is part of the circulation-boosting business of crafting a supposedly important phenomenon or beguiling celebrity and then slicing, dicing, packaging and selling it as “news”.

This is a symbiotically parasitical relationship, beneficial to both parties. That is why there was virtually no critical interrogation by the mainstream media of the induced public hysteria around the royal wedding.

The BBC, a public broadcaster once revered for its even-handedness, carries on its website not a single story critical of the event. The tone throughout is reverential and deferential.

But then, these are their royals, after all. Should the British media wish to treat the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the sycophancy that one associates with that which the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation accords Mad Bob, on their own bowed heads be it. That the world’s English-language media would join the love-fest is, however, bizarre. Again, not a whisper of criticism, not even when the British police preemptively arrested and jailed three anti-monarchist demonstrators dressed in period costume with a mock guillotine, on charges of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and breach of the peace. The Empire might be finished but its colonisation of minds continues to flourish.


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