Tuesday 25 October 2011

The monarchy does not stand up to scrutiny

25 OCTOBER 2011

Queen Elizabeth II with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is introduced to female koalas at South Bank (AAP: Lyndon Mechielsen)

David Donovan
There has been an outpouring of platitudes over our elderly monarch's visit to Australia.
Even avowed republicans have been eager to sing her praises. Clearly, there is great affection in this country for our aged, seemingly eternal, monarch.
I am going to go against the flow a little and say I feel very little, if anything, for the Queen other than a vague familiarity. I just don't know her. My impression of her, such as it is, has been formed almost entirely from second-hand anecdotes and her infrequent media appearances. Unfortunately, these media appearances are usually so contrived, scripted and stage-managed as to be next to meaningless in telling us anything about what she really thinks. I'm sorry to say, I have no more loyalty, reverence, adoration, respect or devotion to the Queen than I would any other random person I have never met and, really, know next to nothing about.
The truth is, our system is designed simply to place the monarchy up on a pedestal for our uncritical adoration - just because. These privileged elites, who inherit their positions through nothing more than a lucky accident of birth, are simply deemed - by an odd quirk of history - to be of a higher status in our society than us. It seems that even our Prime Minister - a person democratically elected by the Australian people - must visibly abase herself before this fabulously wealthy, elderly, foreigner, or else be prepared to face widespread public outrage, both at home and abroad. At its heart, this remnant of the class system inherited by Australia is intrinsically abhorrent to democratic ideals everywhere - but most especially to us here in our self-professed "egalitarian" nation.
There is no logical way to defend this system of inherited privilege and caste.
But, if society dictates that I am obliged to "bend a knee" to one or all of these genetically exceptionalised elites, I want to know who they really are. If they require my adoration, perhaps I will give it - but only if they deserve such honour. I do not want to worship a tyrant, or a deviant, or a simpleton, or a maniac, or a dangerous ideologue. The chances of finding out the real person behind the veil of royalty through any realistic, civilised (non-paparazzi) scrutiny by the media, however, unfortunately appears to be utterly out of the question.
For instance, when Prince William visited Australia last year, apparently to visit Victorian bushfire victims, the media was unanimous in its verdict that he was "charming".
They reached this conclusion, quite apparently, on the basis of nothing more than some gossip they picked up from the odd person who shook his hand as he wandered around on his occasional 'meet and greet' public hand-shaking sessions, and through some televisual footage they managed to film from a minimum of 50 metres away. This was because one of Clarence House's stringent conditions for that tour was that the media would not to be allowed to interview, or come any closer than 50 metres, to Australia's future head of state - a person of potentially vast significance in our nation's future. And, obediently, compliantly, no media did try to break these strictures and ask him a question while he was in Australia - they abided diligently to the special anti-media barricades that were dutifully erected by the Australian authorities just to keep the media away from this exalted personage. William gave just one public address in 2010 - an Australia Day address at the Victorian Governor's mansion. Afterwards, of course, no-one was allowed to direct a single question to him from the floor.
So much for the power of the press.
It really makes me wonder, why are we not allowed to find out who these people - who occupy privileged, reserved, positions no Australian can aspire to - are and just what they think about important matters relevant to their inherited positions?
When we consider that Clarence House censored The Chaser from satirising the royal wedding, we can be left with only one conclusion - that the monarchy exists for no other reason than its own promotion and selfish self-perpetuation.
The institution of monarchy endeavours to ensure that the media consistently presents a reverent, artificially constructed, picture of who the royals are simply to keep them - and the many hundreds courtiers and functionaries who happily sup on the royal gravy-train - in a spectacularly well-funded public service job with every perk imaginable - including hot and cold running palaces. And royal tours are nothing but painstakingly stage managed PR extravaganzas designed to keep the uncouth yokels in the distant colonies bowing, curtseying, obsequiously fawning and ferociously tugging their forelocks to these same insanely wealthy, powerful and well-connected hereditary elites - who probably wouldn't even condescend to scowl at them if it wasn't part of the Clarence House script.
Of course, Australia itself is not important to the royals, except insofar as that it is the most likely of all the 16 "realms" to next become a Republic. This means that Clarence House is concerned that republican rumblings here could set off a dangerous domino effect which may, just may, precipitate dangerous ideas forming in the minds of the economically beleaguered British yeoman class. People who have lost their public service jobs and are now paying through the nose for university tuition for their children may wonder why they are funding the lavish lifestyles of a bunch of rich dilettantes. Well, that simply wouldn't do. The show must go on!
And so we have, yet another, exquisitely stage-managed royal tour.
The Queen, it may surprise some people, was in 1954 the first reigning monarch ever to visit Australia - and this is to her credit, though it speaks volumes about Australia's importance to the family before her time. The Queen has been back approximately once every four years since then. Ignoring the media spin, unless you were privileged enough to be invited to a vice-regal event, or were part of an elite yourself, there is no way you could possibly claim to know what sort of person our absentee head of state really is. And even if you were lucky enough to be invited to meet Her Majesty, the stringent rules of "court etiquette" dictate that you cannot ask her any questions - no, as an inferior you are obliged to politely wait until, and if, she deigns to speak to you.
Of course, apart from a few prepared statements, in the same vein as her grandson, the Queen will undoubtedly not demean herself by staging a press conference or answering any questions from the media whilst she is in Australia. We know this, because she has never done so before.
She should.
The Australian people deserve to be given a glimpse behind the stage curtain to see whether our rulers merit our enforced uncritical adoration. Personally, I would like to know the answer to a few questions:
• Does the Queen care for Australia as much as she does Britain?
• What would she do if Australia was ever in a military dispute with Britain?
• Is there any situation in which she would use her constitutional powers to intervene in the Australian system?
• And, would she like to see Australia finally find its legs as a fully independent nation, a Republic, no longer tied to its colonial past, as some reports have suggested she does?
We never got to find out anything meaningful about William while he was in Australia - as he has been twice in the last year or so. And, successful to the aims of the approximately 100-strong Clarence House PR team, support for the monarchy has apparently risen in Australia in recent times. We are told to love them, but who are these people? The truth is, we don't know and we are actively denied the chance of knowing.
This is because we are not meant to know, because maybe if we did, it might break the spell that keeps us conveniently entranced by the pomp and splendour of monarchy - and keeps them comfortably ensconced in their fabulous unearned lives of deference, luxury and privilege.
David Donovan is a freelance journalist, editor of online journal Independent Australia.

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