Mourning by state injunction
The Queen is dead. You probably didn’t know from the 24/7 news and obituaries taking place on every major British (global?) TV network, radio station and website (shout out to Ann Summers).
In a society where spectacle is king (not just Charles), the saccharine depictions of the deceased is in line with a commodity centred culture, where everything from grief (i.e. those mourning the loss of a monarch), to social justice (see the corporate exercise in appropriating the Black Lives Matter protest movement in 2020) to anti-capitalism, is co-opted and used to fuel the profit centred status quo. There is no Archimedean, holier-than-thou, vantage point from which to observe this state of affairs. The only way that remains is immanent critique; in effect, highlighting existing narratives and patterns to bring to the fore their tensions and contradictions. A popular master of such critique was the late, great, Bill Hicks. A contemporary in his legacy would be Frankie Boyle, who perceptively opined about the PR of the death that:
“The performed seriousness, the dullness, the drawn-out speeches, is like the way you have to walk slowly out of a store when you’re stealing something”.
I am, you probably guessed, staunchly in favour of a Republic, and abolishing the monarchy. The passing of the Queen did not bring up any emotions of sadness or loss in me; she lived a long and healthy life in luxury, at the expense of us, the plebs. By most accounts she demonstrated commitment to her role in public life, eschewed controversy, and practised a high degree of emotional intelligence when engaging with audiences from all over the globe, from many different backgrounds. Congratulations to her on a life well lived.
What has, however, negatively affected me is the narrative surrounding the unwavering deification of her, the monarchy, and an uncritical examination of their blood soaked past, as well as their relevance in contemporary society.
I, of course, respect the volition of those who are in favour of the monarchy, celebrate ‘tradition’ and mourn the passing of their leader. However, I object to the compulsory mourning that has been thrust upon one and all via state injunction. The rules and explanations (or lack thereof) of what marks respectful mourning are as clear as those during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdowns: stay 2-metres apart, unless in a lift whilst playing a ukulele stood on one leg; only have gatherings of 6 or fewer provided attendees consist of no more than 3 Arsenal supporters; wash your hair exclusively on Thursday evenings whilst playing Smooth FM at a moderately loud volume.
For example, the cricket was allowed to resume on Saturday 10th September, but no fancy dress was permitted. Football was cancelled outright, including at the grassroots level. Tiddlywinks was allowed, but only using colours from the Union Jack (OK the last one isn’t true, to the best of my knowledge anyway!). The arbitrariness of the rules smacked of inconsistency, prejudice against more working class pursuits, and an odd idea of what constitutes moral decency: “The UK will continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia, and let migrants fleeing persecution drown at sea*, but for goodness sake don’t dress up as Jack Sparrow to watch the cricket — have some damned respect!” (*OK, this was actually about Tunisia, but appeared after scrolling down nearly the entirety of the BBC News feed on September 11th: a timely reminder that all lives matter (HA!), but that some (white, privileged) lives matter waaay more than others, i.e. ‘dirty’ black, poor, ones).
The ideological construction of the contemporary (White) US empire was built on the myth of Black violence, laziness and danger; ghetto dwellers who will sully the pure heart of White America. This is an exercise in classic projection, and an effective manner of avoiding guilt: White Europeans stole land and labour, and built exorbitant wealth at the hands of free and cheap (Black and Brown, and yes, some ‘lesser’ White) labour, then have the gall to call the descendants violent and lazy! As Kendrick would say: “DAMN”. The British State exercises similar projection: dislike those who don’t work hard and earn their own way. ‘Benefit scroungers’ are to be vilified. See where this leads…?! Clue: look to SW1A, not E1. The best way to avoid heat is to project and thereby reflect potential, just, criticism.
Current day inequality can be traced directly back to 1066, via the monarchy. Land ownership is key. Contemporary privileges, like being able to go for a walk in the Peak District, have been hard earned. Who Owns England? Follow the money trail. That we are exhorted to mourn the passing of an undemocratically appointed monarch, and self-proclaimed servant of God, whose family continue to live off the labour of working people is downright crass. Once the dust has settled, and the compulsory mourning by injunction has passed, it is time for serious discussions about the move to a Republic. The cult of Royal personality has no place in contemporary Britain. During the worst cost of living crisis in four decades, the Empire related awards, lavish ceremonies and galling hereditary privileges have to go.
The Spirit Level
So go on, mourn away, mourney plebs, then can we at least talk about moving on to a fairer, more equitable society? Starting with Don’t Pay UK, it’s high time those with a gross amount of ever increasing plenty distribute a fairer share to those who make society function (remember the ol’ clap for carers and love letters to the bin collectors?! Turns out bin folk are more important than bankers — who knew, right?!). It feels a long time from David Cameron quoting The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone as part of the 2010 election campaign. As times have hardened economically, mainstream political discourse has gone further right of centre. The over-the-top injunction to mourn and recognise hierarchy, hereditary privilege and plebitude (I’m keeping that one) is merely part of a consistent, conservative narrative to maintain the status quo: “Long live the monarchy! Long live big business! Long live plutocracy! And as for you plebs: get back to work, get in line, do what you’re told, mourn when we tell you to, celebrate when we tell you to”. Smells a lot like fascist spirit.