Media

How the royals and the media screw you

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An example of the grandeur surrounding the royal wedding (Image via YouTube screenshot)

Despite the charade of a grand celebration of love, the royal wedding was no more than gross exploitation by the upper class, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

THERE WAS MUCH to exercise the intellect of an anti-monarchist after the royal wedding at the weekend. This was an event that, quite inadvertently I’m sure, shone a spotlight on how the ruling class, with the cooperation of the aspirational middle class, functions to quell unrest and dissatisfaction amongst the masses by offering us vicarious gratification through voyeuristic participation in the public celebrations of the obscenely wealthy.

In The Guardian, Roy Greenslade argues that the event was a turning point for the monarchy and the mainstream press, interdependent bodies both on the road to obscurity.

We should see this wedding for what it was, argues Greenslade: “A media-confected event played out over many months,” culminating in an orgy of fawning, sycophantic, sentimental drivel that led to one of our most respected journalists, Emma Alberici, tweeting:

Colleague Julia Baird took a pot shot at anyone disagreeing with these and similar sentiments by describing all dissent as "snark". Dissenters were shamed as mean-spirited and lacking in love in a media effort to control the fairy tale narrative. Critical voices on social media were silenced by mainstream media disapproval, as Australia’s senior journalists wallowed in the sparkly thing that was, as Greenslade so rightly claims, confected and orchestrated to the Nth degree by a media and a monarchy desperate for relevance in a world increasingly reluctant to give it to them. The absurdity was inhaled like fairy floss by the Australian Fourth Estate, which collectively abandoned itself to the cheap thrill of close-ups of “private” moments that nobody with even a tenuous grasp on reality could consider anything but performance, given the privacy was consensually disrupted by some three billion onlookers.

This wedding was not, as the media would have it, symbolic of all couples who decide to enter into marriage. It was rather a celebration of the power of unimaginable wealth and inherited privilege. The difference between Harry and Meghan and the couple getting married next door is spectacle and those who have the means to stage a spectacle. We were not expected to celebrate love. We were expected to celebrate the spectacle surrounding it.

The royal wedding transfixed the Western World because of the wealth and privilege that provided its context. We weren’t, as many would have it, simply watching a loving couple sweetly exchange vows, a moment to be found anywhere, any day of the week. We were watching money, celebrity and the inherited privileges of the aristocracy. We were watching Givenchy gowns and $100,000 wedding cakes. We were gazing through a camera lens at that which we can never have. We were, consciously or subconsciously, acknowledging the difference in worth of the aristocracy, based on their access to material riches not available to us.

This is the purpose of spectacle — to parade before us what we cannot possibly attain. The monarchy understands this and exploits our unrealisable desires for their own gain. The media provide the stage, sell their product and ensure the entire circus continues, to their mutual advantage.

When the performance is over somebody cleans up the streets, permits the homeless to return to their familiar doorways and we go back to our unspectacular lives — until celebrity and its enslaved media offer another carnival at which we might breathlessly gawp. At some point, it becomes necessary to question both the royals and the media who give them their platform, and, even more, to question ourselves about the need we have to gawp and wallow in the wealth-fuelled doings of those who directly cause oppression and exploitation.

And so to diversity. Some commentators would have us believe that the monarchy has been forever changed by the inclusion of a biracial woman in its immediate family. This is either a naïve or a calculatedly manipulative narrative. In reality, the monarchy is a structurally racist and elitist institution, unlikely to be reconstructed by the inclusion of one woman of colour. While Ms Markle was undoubtedly cut some slack in the organisation of her wedding to include notable men and women of colour, it is difficult to see how this dispensation will trickle down to positively affect the lives of those who endure racist attacks in Britain’s towns and cities every day of their lives. The fairytale wedding will not bring relief from the deeply embedded racism in British institutions and many British people.  

The monarchy is a business and, like any business that wants to stay profitable and relevant, the monarchy must eventually capitulate to diversity to some degree. It behoves the monarchy to admit a suitable biracial woman into its inner circle. It behoves the monarchy to let the bride invite her friends to play in its yard for a couple of hours. However, witness the expressions on the royal visages when Bishop Michael Curry, the first African-American presiding bishop of the Episcopalian Church, delivers his own brand of sermon. The aristocrats look askance, as if they expect him at any minute to start speaking in tongues and wrangling death adders. The impression created is of a monarchy not yet wedded to diversity, as key figures snigger in discomfort and roll their expertly made-up eyes. The royal wedding, claimed the media, was “subversive” in its appropriation of cultural difference as a signifier of structural change. However, there was nothing subversive in either the wedding or the media’s fawning and uncritical accounts of the spectacle. It was nothing more than a business engaging in tokenism for gain, in a Tory-run country that denies justice to predominantly black families destroyed by the Grenfell tragedy and commits crimes against the Windrush generation in an effort to rid itself of people of colour.

The new Duchess of Sussex has a hard road ahead of her, as her deceased mother-in-law Diana discovered. The British aristocracy does not easily bend, and when it has had enough of the token bending, it tears you to pieces and you have nowhere to go.

So why does all this matter? It matters because there are still so many among us, including mainstream journalists who have a powerful role in shaping our society, who are willing to unquestioningly buy into the fairytale and worse, attempt to silence those who would question its validity. It’s arguable that the biggest ongoing battle globally is the battle for the defining narrative. The mainstream media is central to determining which narrative will be disseminated. Without the media, the royal wedding would be as nothing.

The collusion between the aristocracy and the middle class media who thrive on their antics is dangerous. If, as Roy Greenslade suggests, both are in their death throes and the wedding signifies a turning point in that direction, this might be the one positive to emerge from an otherwise obscene spectacle — a spectacle chillingly calculated to exploit love and to retain relevance and power in a world increasingly disenchanted with institutions of all kinds, including the monarchy.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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