Sunday, 3 June 2012

I am not amused by this jubilation

An attempt to reason my distaste of the Diamond Jubilee

This weekend in the UK, it seems absolutely impossible to escape the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  Not only is it constantly the focus of TV and radio, with every newspaper packed full of monarchistic minutiae, but all the shops are suddenly full of Britain-themed everything, an excuse for sales, promotions, and suggesting endless ways to host our own perfect jubilee celebrations, and every street is a flag-lined arcade.

So by now I am quite fed up with it all, and find the whole thing annoying and unnecessary. This is separate, I think, from the debate of whether we actually need a monarchy or not, and whether such an archaic form of political and social organisation has any place in a 21st century democracy; or whether we could or should be paying for such glitzy pomp in days of alleged austerity. These issues have been argued pretty thoroughly elsewhere, so I'll not dwell on it here (though in case you haven't guessed, I fall pretty strongly on the republican side of the debate).

What annoys me most about this current spate of pro-royalty enthusiasm is that it is unavoidable, yet totally unrepresentative. Whether we are a fan of old Mrs Windsor or not, it is almost as if we are expected to join in and fulfil our quota of jubilation, being good little citizens and parade around in honour of our betters. This obsequious nonsense is not a celebration which well represents the people of Britain. In focusing on this one aspect of the country, all the diversity and variety is swept aside. Of course, the celebration is meant to be just about the Queen and her six decades of incomparable diplomatic achievements, rather than a celebration of the country itself, and all things British - but the lines are easily blurred, with over-zealous patriotism being the currency of this weekend's events; and after all, it is the union flag draped over every surface, and not the coat of arms of the house of Windsor.

This is in no way a rant against the concept of Britishness; in fact, it could be seen as a rant for it. Because the things that I see being celebrated are nothing to do with the true nature of the people of this country - but more like stereotypes. These festivities are all about sucking up to a wealthy monarchy, waving flags, street parties, giant flotillas on the Thames, watching guards parade up and down, and all that nonsense; which is not what Britain is about, or really ever has been. It may be one aspect of it, but these jubilee celebrations are playing on this to the expense of all else. For everyone else who considers themselves British, but don't consider the crown to be the focus of their existence, I can imagine them feeling more than a little alienated.

I realise of course that not everyone is like me, with my cynical view of royalty and liberal-lefty dislike of archaic extravagance. I do not claim to be speaking for the 'average person', and accept that there may well be a majority who are in favour of a monarchy. But that's my point: we are all different, and to represent the British identity by this blue and red striped charicature does not acknowledge this. From looking at my twitter feed and speaking to virtually everyone I know, it is very clear that many people do not relish this kind of sycophantic celebration - and while of course this is not a representative sample, it shows that there are quite a lot of people who feel this has nothing to do with them.

It's worth considering what all this celebration would look like to an outsider. It would probably be exactly the kind of thing they would expect from those quaint, tea-drinking Brits - a shamelessly gaudy celebration of our favourite hereditary title. Again, that's my point: it is propomoting a stereotype. The typical Family Guy or Simpsons portrayal springs to mind, where any British person is a posh-speaking, wonky-toothed cricket-loving toff in a fancy house. If that is how the world interprets us, we can hardly blame them, if we insist on holding such nauseatingly grandiloquent celebrations as the jubilee.

Britain should mean a lot more than this pompous charade. It is a nation of great scientific achievement, a huge diversity of ethnicity and culture, a place where all sorts of new and unexpected things happen, precisely because we don't always fit into one type of character. In a nation that produced Francis Bacon and Charles Darwin, the Rolling Stones and Aphex Twin, Jane Austen and Arthur C. Clarke, J.M.W. Turner and Damien Hirst, there is no single definitive style or characteristic, other than the differences between them. One of the great strengths of Britain seems to be its willingness to embrace this diversity, and combine different traditions and cultures to make them its own; it has long been a favoured destination of people from around the world seeking, and finding, a better life, and enhancing the country at the same time. Our favoured drink is of Chinese origin; Indian food has virtually become the national dish (or not); and what would traditional British cuisine have been without the introduction of the potato? This is (partly) why I am so annoyed at the likes of UKIP, the BNP and the EDL for harping on about some kind of British identity which is under threat, as if there were ever one defining trait: rather, I would say that one of the defining features of Britishness is that there is no single, universally-conformed to identity, and that it embraces people of all different backgrounds and makes them its own.

And that, basically, is why I object to the whole jubilee thing. Not necessarily as an objection to the monarchy itself (though I admit that is definitely an issue), but because it is celebrating a caricatured, monolithic ideal of Britishness which exists only in the minds of a few, clinging on to the relics of an outdated system of authority and class; and broadcasts this bland stereotype to the rest of the world. This is not a celebration of modern Britain, it is a pastiche. Rather than glorifying some horrific vision of feudal serfdom, far better to celebrate our differences, our achievements, the cultural mix that is the real world: that, from my point of view, is what Britain should be about.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose we should hope that it is just an excuse for a party à la St. Patrick's Day.

    Honestly, I don't really think the union flag face paint, t-shirts and hats are any different to Guinness hats and green jackets.


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