A royal pain

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WITH the 21st century so young, the media are already calling the April 29 event “The wedding of the century.”

The British media’s focus on the wedding of William Windsor and Catherine Middleton is understandable. There may be a republican movement in Britain that detests the monarchy and wants it abolished, but there are enough monarchists out there to merit — if that’s the word — the kind of breathless attention such conservative papers as London’s Daily Mail have been paying to the run-up to, and the actual wedding of, two unremarkable people who, if the groom were not second in the line of succession to the British throne, the world would have no reason to notice.

Not that even that really matters, monarchies being relics of a feudal era, anachronisms that have no place in a world in turmoil. For some reason, however, it does seem to matter even to the US media, which are devoting twice as much time, space and humanpower to the event as the British media. And yet, a New York Times survey found that only six percent of US people have been following the media puffery over the engagement, the wedding and their tiniest details, and are likely to be interested in watching the pomp and circumstance of April 29 via the major TV networks and the Web.

In the Philippines, where there’s no earthly reason why audiences should be interested, print and broadcast as well as the Internet news sites have been similarly hyping the event and are threatening to deluge Filipinos with the same mindless trivia the Western media are grinding out.

One suspects it’s because Philippine media’s mostly Western sources have been flooding them with stories on such earthshaking topics as Ms. Middleton’s weight and diet, her taste in clothes and her work, together with reports on how she and Mr. Windsor met, where they’re going to live, and the supposedly raging debate on whether she should continue working or devote her time to her “royal duties” fulltime.

And what would those duties be, pray tell? At her level, they’re mostly likely to consist of cutting the ribbon to dog shows, although she could also join Mr. Windsor’s grandmother, Elizabeth, in those hand-shaking and head-nodding sorties among her “subjects” the British call “walkabouts”.

Whatever duties the British monarchy has are supposedly ceremonial, which is true, up to a point. But British republicans point out that as British head of state, Elizabeth Windsor (aka Elizabeth II) also has, among others, the following powers: that of choosing the Prime Minister, dissolving Parliament, dismissing the governments of other countries of which she is also head of state, rejecting laws passed by Parliament, pardoning criminals, and declaring a state of emergency.

These powers are supposedly exercised in consultation with, and with the consent of, the government, but in the absence of a written constitution, the head of state, in this case Elizabeth, can influence the thinking of Prime Ministers, who, in any case, determine the extent to which they will allow the monarch to influence policy-making. Most have only been too happy to heed the monarch’s views.

Some members of Parliament have also admitted to a tendency not to raise too many questions about such issues as the finances of the so-called royal family, among other reasons because no one can be a member of Parliament without taking an oath to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and her successors, according to law, so help me God.” In short, says John Pratt of the Centre for Citizenship, members of Parliament “must declare their loyalty to an unelected, unaccountable individual with no democratic legitimacy, and to any and all members of her family!”

Republicans argue that this requirement either bars people who don’t believe in the monarchy from serving in parliament, or compels them to lie if they do take the oath. What’s more, only the Windsors, solely on the strength of their hereditary prerogatives, can ever be heads of state, unlike in other parliamentary democracies where a president is either elected by Parliament or at large by the people. The result, says Pratt, is to reserve the office of head of state for one family and to deny it to others, thus making democracy a farce.

For the feudal privilege of having people they may call “Queen,” “Prince,” “Duke,” etc., the British taxpayer spends some 110 million pounds (approximately $200 million) a year to pay for the palaces, stables, fleets of cars, first class travel, living allowances, staff of 1000, etc., to which the “royals” are “entitled.”

As to the claim that the monarchy unites the country, the antics — some critics say the philistinism and intellectual vacuity — of some Windsors have actually done the opposite. During World War II, some of the Windsors — a German house renamed only in 1915 — were sympathetic to Hitler, for example. William Windsor’s father Charles, first in line to succeed Elizabeth Windsor as British head of state, supported apartheid when practically the entire planet and most Britons were opposed to it. Charles’ own “fairy tale” wedding to Diana Spencer and his affair with his current wife while she was still alive, not to mention Diana’s own affairs, were themselves a scandal that to this day still invites acrimonious debate.

“Fairy tale” is indeed the key phrase in the media to-do over the William Windsor-Catherine Middleton wedding. Not only is it a tale told to divert people from the realities of a changing world, it is also a tale lived by people who have absolutely no understanding or even knowledge of what’s happening in it, one indication being the Windsors’ enduring friendships with such tyrants as the king of Bahrain, whom they have invited to the April 29 wedding.

The “wedding of the century” is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. And yet the Philippine media, mesmerized by their counterparts in the West, are inflicting and will continue to inflict on Filipino audiences this Saturday (Friday in Britain) that very same tale. In the process they deny space and time to the reporting of events that do matter to the lives of the millions who must cope with inflation, poverty, hunger, violence, fear, corruption in high places, and the media’s own enduring inability to distinguish between what matters and what doesn’t.

(BusinessWorld)

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