The jubilee and all that

So, things are looking pretty good so far for my great hope that it would rain all weekend and ruin the jubilee, though I’m sure hardened royalists will turn that into a positive — a triumph of the patriotic spirit in the face of adversity; something that’s symbolised by the Queen’s admirable ability to wave in all weather conditions. I have a number of reasons for wanting it to rain. The first is my opposition to the monarchy and celebrations of institutionalised inequality, inherited wealth, and all that kind of stuff. The second is that people who live on my street are having a street party. There are few things that make me nostalgic about living in London and the society side of the community/society equation but this is definitely one of them. 


Anyway, all this jubilee stuff has got me thinking about where we stand in the UK and I think it’s an interesting, if undesirable, period of time. Part of what got me thinking was catching a glimpse of Julian Temple’s film “The Filth and the Fury“, which is about the Sex Pistols (it’s a very good film and Temple made one about Dr. Feelgood, which is also very good. You should watch them both). I first saw “The Filth and the Fury” when I was an undergraduate; around 2000/2001, I think. One of the things that I found fascinating about the film was the archive footage of Britain during the silver jubilee of 1977. The reason I found it fascinating was that I simply didn’t recognise the Britain that came across in the footage: bunting, street parties, union flags all over the place, that kind of thing. It looked very much like a foreign country and in a good way, from my perspective. It seemed to be part and parcel of understanding why punk happened, was a worrying big deal in popular culture at the time, and why there seemed no great possibility of it happening again.


c.2000, I couldn’t imagine anything like that silver jubilee happening again. Sure, there’d been the Diana thing. I certainly wasn’t down with that but it didn’t feel like a genuinely monarchical thing: more like a celebrity thing and it carried obvious anti-House of Windsor sentiment, which came on the back off several years of bad publicity for them. I remember thinking that the monarchy was on the way out, not in the sense that I thought it was every going to be abolished but because I thought we’d be heading towards something that was stripped down because people simply didn’t carry the kind of feelings that were necessary to sustain it as the kind of institution it was and still is. I kind of imagined it being a “Easy-Monarchy” a bit like the public services that will probably emerge from the ongoing cuts.


Anyway, that obviously didn’t happen and the direction things have gone in since c.2000 has really confused me. The monarchy has enjoyed a massive turn around in terms of its popularity and I’m just at a loss to make sense of people’s attitudes towards them — something that first became apparent during last year’s Royal Wedding. Indifference that enables an institution to persist is something I understand; thinking that William and Kate are normal down to earth people who do something valuable with their lives and we should all feel really positive about it is not. It’s just really strange and seems totally at odds with the kind of Britain that I thought was supposed to be emerging during the 1990s, though maybe my perception is too heavily influenced by being part of the generation that grew up under the Tories and was carried along with the hope Blair represented in 1997.


Anyway, all this Royal stuff is interesting because it seems, to me at least, to be related in some way to other things that have become popular in British culture during the last ten years. I’m thinking here of things like shops like Jack Wills and Cath Kidston and fashion items like Barbour jackets. All these things represent, in one way or another, a nostalgia for a Britain of the past, while also embedding the fashion choices of the upper classes into popular culture. This is really interesting because it seems to signal the reintroduction and celebration of, among other things, inequality in British culture. Inequality, on the one hand, because there’s this bizarre embracing of a “woman’s place is in the home” chic that is embedded into the Cath Kidston thing and, on the other, a celebration of upper class stylings in things like Barbour jackets. It seems like a a cultural and fashion accompaniment of Britain’s failings on things like social mobility and gender politics. It also feels like it’s related in some way to general perceptions of the people who rise to the top in politics these days: they really aren’t a lot like everybody else and can’t really find it easy to identify with most people but they’ve done a great job of making the public think the gap between them isn’t that great. David Cameron in particular is someone who I think has done a really impressive PR job on his socioeconomic status.  


It seems no coincidence that there’d be a resurgence of interest in the monarchy in this kind of environment. The reason I think it’s interesting is because I simply didn’t see it coming ten years ago and I think it poses really interesting questions about where we’re going. This country faces serious questions about its identity in the 21st century and, at the moment at least, the answer seems to be a kind of nostalgia for a Britain that felt like it had disappeared. I find this profoundly weird and I certainly don’t like it but I wonder why it’s happening.          


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