It’s Like Punk Never Happened
The Jubilee celebrations end, yet the Union Jacks still linger limply in streets, looking like sad Christmas decorations that have overstayed their festive welcome. The tea party is cleared away and yet curiously, the Jubilee spirit lives on. Even so-called republicans don’t seem quite as impervious to the royal festivities as they claim to be. Ask any of them whether they identify themselves as such and their bold affirmations are quickly dampened by an impressive knowledge of royal family members you didn’t even know existed, (Prince Michael of Kent, anyone? PRINCESS Michael of Kent?) the designers of all the royal bridal gowns, and ‘where were you’ reminiscences of key royal dates. Ardent republicans enjoy the day off along with everyone else, claiming to only watch the hours-long coverage of the Jubilee to learn more about the participating Dunkirk boats, or the history of the Thames. Republicans who do take to the waves (the republican radio airwaves, not the monarchist Thames pageant ones) to voice their dissent are strangely mild and inoffensive. It’s almost like a secret identity; you’re a republican, because well, it’s more democratic and does away with class divide, inequality, and aristocracy etc, but secretly, deep down, there is a little space in your heart that is proudly fluttering a flag for Queen and country.
The majority are far less discreet about it. The Queen is at the apex of her popular appeal, her royal apotheosis complete. Like a godmother on high, Elizabeth Windsor, the epitome of our great British brand, rises seamlessly up the ranks of public appeal, royally revered by pretty much everyone. Chirpy presenters fawn over royal memorabilia sick bags and flutter flags along with everyone else and the BBC’s duty to report royal events neutrally and factually quickly goes out of the window, replaced by a day of unabashed adoration for Good Queen Liz. Not quite sure which of the pageant boats were involved in Dunkirk or why? Don’t worry, you waved your flag and your eyes moistened when people sang Rule Britannia, and that’s really all that matters.
Amongst it all, an uneasy sense prevails. It’s all just a bit too cosy a relationship between the public and the monarchy; a bit too fanatical and gooey, for the usual gloomy, grumbling Brits. And worst of all, more horrible than all the hysterics and hyperbole, is the jubilee anthem: ‘Sing’ by Gary Barlow. Gary, you ain’t no Edward Elgar, that’s for sure, but at least now we know the purpose of those royal sick bags. Even if Barlow had produced a decent song to celebrate the Queen’s reign on the throne, it would still beg the question, what on earth happened to the anti-establishment voice?
It still exists, although dimly and without much direction (I’m thinking Occupy). But musically, what happened to the monoliths of yesteryear, like The Clash, the Sex Pistols and Morrisey, churning out lyrics such as ‘God Save the Queen/Fascist Regime/ They Made You a Moron/Potential H-Bomb’ and the more simple, yet no less effective, ‘Sod the Jubilee’. Even when they weren’t directed at the monarchy, the songs were still politically charged, clever and had that general angry let’s-stick-two-fingers-up-at-everyone-in-power glory to them. And more than anything, they were popular. They frequently appeared in the top ten and inspired generations of young people to question authority, such as The Clash’s brilliant Know Your Rights. In the process they carved for themselves a place in British music history. And now all we have is Gary Barlow.
Why? When on earth did we all get so soppy? And why is no one successfully giving us the other side of the story?
Well, someone has been rather busy as of late. Not since George III decided his family needed a serious PR overhaul in the aftermath of defeat in America, the French Revolution and Napoleon’s gathering forces, has a royal so ferociously masterminded the ultimate comeback. Perhaps this is where Barlow and the Queen find common ground; comebacks seem to be their forte. This transformation was most visible perhaps in the family members carefully selected to grace the balcony on Jubilee day. Refined and reworked, the weaker Royals had been discarded, and the emerging members, The Queen, Prince Philip (had he been well), Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, plus the princes, are the ones that have made the grade. It is unfortunate that there’s no getting rid of Prince Charles. Yet. But thanks to a remarkably propitious marriage between a commoner and a King-to-be, it is clearer than ever which members are the focus of the public’s adulatory delight. Beatrice, Eugenie and their disastrous parents are out; polite, pretty Kate, likeable Will and cheeky Harry are in. It rather suggests that the public has somewhat muddled the institution of monarchy with the actual individuals that comprise it. A recent poll suggesting that 39% would rather the throne passed to Prince William than his father, shows that individuals and personalities matter more than the archaic, undemocratic rules of monarchy; as we all seem to forget that when it comes to monarchy, there’s no choosing.
But the firm’s trick is not to be viewed as a firm, but a family. The princes talk openly about ‘granny’ and even more nauseating is Prince Charles’ ‘mummy’ chat, which in itself is crime enough to prevent him from inheriting the crown. Amazingly, no one seems to mind these sickening displays of family gushiness. It is the sugary icing on top of a cake whose dough consists of other reforms that have aided the royal reputation. The princes fight for their country and Kate goes to high street fashion shops, not inaccessible and costly designers. The Royals pay taxes, and the Queen has impressed upon family members the importance of earning a living. This is an accessible and hard-working family, and one, like all families, that has undergone its own share of misfortune, grief and embarrassment but has emerged as a strong, stable family prototype for all to admire. We worry about the Queen not having the Duke of Edinburgh by her side for the Jubilee, and we consign the numerous divorces and Nazi dressing-up costumes to the back of the collective memory. Polished and perfected, polite and praise-worthy, the Royals have navigated the stormy seas of the 21st century remarkably well.
Add to that the global downturn, rising unemployment and the general unpopularity felt for our politicians, and the reason why the monarchy is held in such affection becomes ever clearer. A party on an extra day off when times are tough matters. We hold on to the monarchy as something that somehow defines us; our sense of Britishness and belonging an anchor in stormy political and economic seas. And this cultural identity is just as much about what we are not, as about what we are. We are not like America and France, who we imagine envy our Queen and traditions. Anyone who actually dares to voice an alternative view point is therefore immediately declared at best as killjoys and humbugs, at worst, as unpatriotic and disloyal. Some, such as the Independent writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is castigated for expressing republican sentiment to the extent that her articles are drowned out in vicious smear attacks telling her to leave the country.
Whether you view the Queen and the Royal Family as the ultimate symbol of pride, duty and continuity, or an undemocratic institution that flies in the face of our supposed modern, meritocratic traditions, there is something uncomfortable about the lack of respected and rational counter-argument to the frantic celebrations. It’s like an eerie silence has fallen, made all the more apparent by the lack of a strong, successful cultural groundswell voicing their dissent and at least providing the other half of the argument. There doesn’t seem to be a space for a rash of angry rock bands shouting angrily against the establishment anymore. There’s just a forgettable, sentimental song by Gary Barlow about singing and love and singing. God save the Queen? God save us all.