The Guardian 9 March, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

It's a crazy world

It's a crazy world all right. Or have I said that before? I must have, I'm sure.

Did you see where two sisters, both in their late 60s, flew from Perth to Sydney last week just to catch a glimpse of Prince Fredrick of Denmark and his Australian wife, Mary. The future king and queen of the smallest country in Scandinavia were indulging themselves (what else they're royals, aren't they) in a spot of yachting on Sydney Harbour.

Mary raced Fred. Mary won. This, believe it or not, was front-page news.

It took up more of the Sydney Morning Herald's front page than Israel's threat to attack Syria.

One of the sisters mentioned above, Betty Bromfield, 68, is apparently so smitten with "Princess Mary" that she has already filled three scrapbooks with clippings about her.

An obliging capitalist media provide plenty of photos to stick in the scrapbook of course, but what a tribute to the power of the media to distort people's perceptions of what is good and worth while.

Mary and Fred have done nothing to make them noteworthy really. They have not discovered a cure for cancer or mapped a hitherto unexplored cave. Nor have they freed the Danish people from exploitation, or even made statements suggesting that the subject has ever crossed their minds.

No, they are just two young rich kids (yes, I know she wasn't, but she is now) enjoying the good life that wealth and privilege brings.

And yet Betty Bromfield says, "I adore them".

Betty and her sister Maureen have never met the Danish "Royals". All they know about Fred and Mary has come from press releases and public relations "spin" dutifully reported as fact by a manipulative mass media.

People like Betty and Maureen are the particular targets of that mass media manipulation. Their view of the world may be romantic and unreal, but it is deeply rooted in their own good-hearted concept of how people deserve happiness.

However, the capitalist media make damn sure that ordinary people comprehend that the lifestyle of Fred and Mary is not for them. No, it's for the well-to-do, the "beautiful people", the ruling class.

The hoi polloi can expect to enjoy that lifestyle only vicariously, by keeping a scrapbook like Betty Bromfield or by watching shows like the voyeuristic Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Or just occasionally, by marrying someone rich and famous the special appeal and usefulness of the "Princess Mary" story.

The capitalist media need people like Mary and Fred to keep that vicarious lifestyle fresh and vibrant. They need Royals who are young and relatively attractive, smiling and enjoying life. They do not want Royals who raise difficult questions or criticise the system. Diana was everyone's favourite princess until she began to take up issues like land mines and refugees.

Then, while the people continued to like her, the bourgeois media became very hostile.

For landmines and refugees raise questions about war and conquest, about empire and profit. And that sort of thing makes people think about the system.

Ironically, Prince Charles seems to have also shot his bolt with the capitalist media. His trenchant criticism of property developers for destroying the urban environment, for example, has apparently not endeared him to the moneyed classes.

The capitalist media certainly regard him as fair game, his comments fit only to be lampooned.

Now we have the unusual spectacle of the future King of England (but not, apparently, the Queen) and hence, the future head of the Church of England preparing to get married in a civil service.

Some monarchists have even questioned whether it will actually be legal. They must have been disappointed when the Palace said emphatically that it would.

Whether it's legal doesn't make it legitimate, of course, and regardless of how Charles and Camilla get hitched, the monarchy should and sooner or later will go.

As will other medieval hangovers (however recently they have been created) like the Danish, Swedish, Belgian, Spanish and Saudi royal regimes.

Then, the Royals will be just like us. Hopefully, Betty and Maureen and others like them, will then find more worthwhile people to admire.

You may ask, if the capitalist class and its subservient media want attractive royals and other "beautiful people" to distract the masses, why do they publicise their less attractive antics with such relish?

Because of a contradiction: although the capitalist media want to use an image of a sun-tanned smiling youthful ruling class to keep people vicariously thrilled and charmed, they also want to sell papers and TV time.

They know that whatever they say about some Royal, no matter how much that particular Royal falls into public disfavour (and it is never very far), there are others who can be brought into play quickly enough.

The media have always covered up the more unattractive Royal pastimes (what they have concealed about Prince Phillip would make a best-seller). They balance what they need to disclose to sell papers to the gullible audience they themselves have created with what they need to conceal to keep that audience from turning on them in disgust.

As I write this, Mary and Fred have only been here a couple of days; Charles is also here and Princess Victoria, heir to the throne of Sweden, arrives next week. We are knee deep in Royals, you might say.

The Sydney Morning Herald's story about Mary and Fred's yacht race was very cutely headed "Now she's crowned Mary Queen of Yachts".

Perhaps ironically, or perhaps ominously, it's a play on the title of the sister of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots. The latter, of course, had her head chopped off.

Back to index page