Royal spawn is horrifyingly important

As austerity measures cripple Britain's sick and poor, the official line on inherited royalty is "delight"

Topics: UK, Britain, William and Kate, Monarchy, Royal Family, republicanism, Pregnancy, , ,

British Prime Minister David Cameron took swiftly to Twitter to express delight at the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a baby. A sign of the times indeed: age-old concern about the preservation of the royal bloodline amplified across cyberspace at breakneck speed. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Cameron’s tweet is reflective of a broader narrative in which this royal pregnancy is couched. “They will make wonderful parents,” without mentioning ascension to the throne. It’s a treatment now common in discourse about the royals: to talk of them like beloved characters in a soap opera and judge them simply as husbands, wives, newlyweds, brothers, lovers and parents. Let’s talk about baby bumps, breast milk or bottles. Let’s not mention that nagging anachronism — we’re not just talking about young, expectant parents — we’re  talking about royalty.

With the past two years in a Britain heavily punctuated by royal celebrations — Will and Kate’s wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee — the standard arguments between republicans and royalists have been hashed out ad nauseam. We’ve heard, for example, that British taxpayers spent $57.8 million on the royal family last year. It’s an expense that a nation crippled by austerity measures, facing even deeper government cuts to front-line public services, can scant afford. We’ve heard too that Obama’s family cost U.S. taxpayers $1.4 billion last year alone — 20 times the cost of the royals — but, after all, America is far larger than Britain and Obama was, at the very least, elected.

Republicans and royalists both point out that Britain’s sovereignty no longer depends on a real sovereign. Some, therefore, see the exploits, trials, tribulations and celebrations of the Windsors as a harmless, morale-boosting sideshow. Others more critical see the Windsors as a gross symbol of inherited privilege, perpetuating a nationalism rooted in (and largely indistinguishable from) imperial pride — but a sideshow nonetheless.



But the monarchy is far from pointless. To argue that the existence of the monarchy is no big deal either way is to miss the important function it plays.  It is, after all, a big deal that rigid social hierarchy upholds this family in a place of unchallenged importance. It matters that William and Kate, two grinning, waving, all but silent individuals command so much attention by sheer virtue of birth and marriage. The British government’s latest plans to take away benefits from people aged under 25 who are not earning money are enough to highlight how very much inherited privilege can matter.

It is a very big deal indeed that the same year that austerity cuts hacked into Britain’s welfare state and riots blazed through London, Britons sat cheerily under Union Jack bunting and waved like obedient feudal subjects as a royal bride paraded through the capital on her wedding day. Five thousand police officers and 1,000 soldiers stood guard during William and Kate’s wedding; London’s squats were preemptively raided with over 50 preemptive arrests made. The monarchy matters very much indeed when public dissent against it is forcibly prevented.

Fans of the British monarchy often celebrate it as a symbol of constancy — a stable ever-presence, a piece of Britishness that persists through internal familial drama and national crises alike. What better assurance of this than the promise of a new royal baby, begat by beloved, uncontroversial Wills and Kate. It is the embryonic equivalent of a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster — a symbolic vessel into which tabloid fantasies of united Britishness can be poured.

But as my good friend and colleague Laurie Penny has often pointed out, now is no time for Britons to keep calm or carry on. “Over the past four years, an all-out assault has been underway against the disabled and unemployed in Britain,” Penny wrote this week, responding to news of even deeper budget cuts in our home country. She added, “The attacks have come on all fronts, from the financial to the moral – rewriting the social script in this country so that the needy are no longer full human beings with just as much right to a life as anyone else, but parasites, scroungers, burdens on the state, barely even human.”

Anglophiles worldwide will watch eagerly as Kate begins “to show.” Britain will in nine months’ time be plastered again in gaudy flags and tabloids will ponder whether William will be a hands-on dad. Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor in chief, on Monday posted via Twitter the story he wrote about the announcement of Princess Diana’s first pregnancy. Much has changed in the three decades since Rusbridger wrote that story, but in 1982, as now, Britain was crippled by unemployment under a Tory leader and then, as now, the official line on the royal pregnancy was “delight.”

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>