Republic Opinion

King's coronation was theatre with bad actors

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King Charles was crowned in a poorly conducted ceremony where lines were read from cue cards (Screenshot via YouTube)

Millions were spent on the coronation ceremony of Charles III, a dreary occasion reminding all of the irrelevance of the royal family, writes Dr  Jennifer Wilson.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

LIKE BANQUO’S GHOST, the presence of the late Princess Diana's absence imbued the weekend’s coronation of King Charles III with sleazy and guilty hypocrisy.

The material presence of the King's long-term lover, wife and now Queen, Camilla, reminded many of the disastrous marriage between Charles and Diana that produced, as intended, an heir and a spare while allowing Charles to continue his illicit affair.

“...there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded,” lamented the disillusioned young wife in a tell-all interview with the BBC, a heroic initiative that has since been furthered by her younger son, Prince Harry, in his tell-all book, Spare, that deals with his challenging life as a British royal.

It’s arguable that in going public with her woeful marital situation, Diana set in motion a demystification of the royal family that has continued to this day and plays no small part in their loss of gravitas. The family’s worth was a symbol; humanise a symbol by exposing its flaws and you destroy its power. Diana, brought into the family as a broodmare, turned out to have more sass than any of them bargained for as she embarked on a splendid revenge spree that continues to resonate, to their ongoing detriment.

It’s as if Diana’s greatest and most enduring public service was shredding the royal veil of convenient discretion, making it possible years later for Andrew, accused of raping Virginia Giuffre, to attempt to defend himself on television by claiming, among other things, that after the Falklands War, he can't sweat.

All royal occasions are performances and spectacles, that is their purpose. However, credit where it’s due, they are usually conducted far more convincingly than was this King’s coronation, which seemed an altogether half-hearted affair. Ageing men plodded through a dreary process with their cue cards on sad display. The King and Queen seemed apprehensive and uncomfortable, as well they might given the history of their relationship and the presence of the sons of the woman they usurped.

The legitimate heir to the throne managed to make himself and his consort appear more like pretenders, possibly due to having had to wait so long for the crown, in which all faith in his right to wear had been lost, and their mutual lack of mettle. Diana, in all her glorious, implacable fury, made them both look like sad and tawdry sacks and they still haven’t managed to overcome that regrettable image.

The crowns clearly caused them both physical discomfort — heavy is the head and all of that, and one could easily imagine an outraged shade hovering over the thrones, belting out, It should'a been me.

The performance was amateurish. Netflix, with its series, The Crown, did it far better and perhaps this is another reason why the real-life royals seem more like wannabes — they’re far more compelling when fictionalised by real actors.

The French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, warned us of this phenomenon with his theory of hyperreality, in which what is regarded as real and what is thought of as fiction become so conflated we no longer know where one ends and the other begins. We are left only with a sense of abjection, an uncomfortable awareness of the emptiness behind the spectacle, an existential nausea that is the equivalent of bingeing on Big Macs and fries with double serves of hash browns on the side.

We are currently witnesses to the death and dying of many institutions, the majority collapsing from the inside as the human beings responsible for their maintenance prove unwilling or unable to observe the conventions that are essential to institutional survival. This is a mixed blessing; there are institutions we need to be rendered obsolete, but there are also those essential for the survival of liberal democracy. The British monarchy is not essential, especially to Australia. Rather, it’s vestigial, atrophied, without function except for the privileged for whom it offers the opportunity to preen and party.

Important people from around the world perform their privilege at royal events, while the rest of us, wearing cheap plastic ponchos, literally or figuratively gawp in the rain as the gold carriage rolls past. It’s theatre with bad actors, in all senses of that phrase. It’s the celebration of that most insubstantial quality — celebrity. It’s a lavish spectacle organised to showcase the elite while devastating inequality flourishes.  

We owe Diana some gratitude. She had the courage to complain, loud and long, and in so doing set in motion the ongoing devolution of the British monarchy. While the coronation isn’t its last gasp, it demonstrated, as no other royal spectacle has so convincingly, their increasingly ludicrous irrelevance.

Perhaps she truly was the “people’s princess”, just not in the way anybody – least of all Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who accorded her the sobriquet on the day of her death – anticipated.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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