A royal engagement and a narrative of national failure

I’ve been fascinated by the spectacle surrounding the announcement of the engagement of William Windsor and Kate Middleton – much of it of course following an entirely predictable pattern.

For a start, there is the endless overage on the rolling news outlets, vox-pops and helicopters flying over London to produce the aerial shots over which TV anchors can pour forth witless banalities, the toe-curling interviews, the cringe-making congratulations from politicians (apparently, according to David Cameron, there was much cheering and banging of the table at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, indicating the extent to which public-school manners are ingrained in the behaviour of our politcians). Add to this some fantastically sexist news coverage (the Telegraph described the hapless Middleton as “good wife material”) and there is a sense of the utter unreality of it all, although the unwritten assumptions about breeding stock hang heavy over the whole affair.

It’s all frippery, of course, and it’s not hard to see the political usefulness of all of this – nothing like monarchy to maintain the pretence that we’re a united society and all in this together. The attempt to brand millionaire’s daughter Middleton as “normal” and an icon of monarchical modernity reveals much more about the mainstream media than it does about her.

But it surely goes much deeper than this.  It seems to me that the drama being played out in the media is really a narrative of national failure. Outside the Westminster and media bubble, our society is deeply dysfunctional, ridden with class difference and inequality, in a political system that has ceased to function as a meaningful democracy, headed for economic catastrophe and unprecedented social division. A healthy, functional, prosperous democracy would digest the news and move on, because it would have the self-confidence to do so. Protocol and pomp and flag-waving and Ruritanian ritual are what a society does when it can’t bring itself to look in the mirror.

So of course the establishment jumps on this royal wedding bandwagon; it’s all they’ve got left.

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