Royal pain: Class worship and social justice

There is a word my legendary English teacher, Shelva Rodgers, introduced me to that I still use. I reserve it for describing those situations that I find particularly vexatious. That world is kerfuffle.

Now, this kerfuffle about the British royal family has gotten out of control again, as it always does. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether the event of a birth signifies more than just the physical act itself.

My first concern is that this baby did not ask for the celebrity or the scorn that will be heaped upon him. So let me say outright that I wish no harm to him or any member of his family. It is just as unfair to harbour hatred for people who by accident of birth are born into wealth and privilege as it is to judge people based on the fact that they are poor or otherwise marginalized. Although I don’t know Will or Kate personally, I have no reason to think that they are ‘bad’ people. But the content of their character, or any good they might do, is entirely irrelevant here.

I read a comment by a self-professed anti-monarchist who wrote that he was celebrating because a healthy baby was born to a lovely family and nothing else matters. Perhaps that would be true if I was not having to hear about this everywhere I went. And perhaps that would be true if the reason why thousands of people were gawking at this spectacle wasn’t precisely because of the social status of the family in question.

I know it would be radical to suggest that members of the royal family turn their backs not only the privileges they were born with but also the responsibilities that fall on their shoulders as a result. I don’t think Diana’s life was easy, that it consisted only of photo ops, dinner parties and sunny sojourns along breathtaking coasts. It seems possible that many people liked her not simply because of her status, but more so because she seemed down to earth despite it. Maybe there is something comforting and even dignifying about seeing the humanity behind the privilege.

What really shocks me is how ‘ordinary’ and even underprivileged people are so willfully addicted to this ritualistic idolatry. We canonize figures like Gandhi, Mandela and King for their epic contributions to the well-being of humankind, through their courage, wisdom and kindness. Every day we’re reminded that we are all equal and therefore must treat each other with equal respect. Most of us recognize this understanding of human relationships to be self-evident and inherently valuable, even essential.

Yet the moment the rich and famous are paraded in front of us, all of this wisdom seems to be forgotten. We ooze admiration and envy, some of us probably unaware of a deep-seated jealous resentment. By getting caught up in the media circus and living vicariously through those who symbolize the things we want, we’re distracted from a very important question: Why do we pay so much attention to certain people just because of the positions they hold in society, especially when those positions are purely accidental? Is it that we can’t get over the fact that we could have easily been born to a different family in a different part of the world? Do we secretly suspect that the gods amuse themselves by assigning our births through a cruel lottery? Has religion instilled in people a saviour complex that predisposes us to look up at people rather than inward? Whatever the reason, when we idolize the powerful and the wealthy, we’re perpetuating injustice because we’re actively participating in a system that stratifies us. We do this voluntarily to ourselves, to our own detriment, and to the detriment of others. We betray the truth that no person is more deserving of admiration or praise than any other simply by virtue of the circumstances of their birth, their social status or the wealth they possess.

The medieval era is hundreds of years behind us, but have we evolved? Canada is a constitutional monarchy. We require royal assent to sign certain laws into being. This role is more than merely symbolic, but to be fair, this makes the Queen a ceremonial head of state rather than an autocrat. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims that Canada has “no history of colonialism”, however, we nevertheless remain a colony by virtue of this continued relationship. Most Canadians don’t seem to mind. Whether we’re relatively satisfied with the way things are or we’re apathetic, though, it’s interesting that if you express disgust at the royal spectacle, even here in Canada, you’re likely to be branded as negative and bitter.

That people are making such a big deal out of the fact that Kate Middleton is walking around in public with a (gasp!) post-baby belly is absolutely ridiculous. Why on earth should she pretend that she’s any different from any other woman? Good on her for keeping it real knowing how much she’ll be ruthlessly scrutinized – it wouldn’t be the first time.

What troubles me most is that there is no better case to be made for the idea of an elite upper crust ruling the masses than when the masses act like they can’t even govern their own intellects. All it takes is the ubiquity and greed of the infotainment machine and a fickle, excitable throng, and voila – we’re all made to look like a bunch of brainless plebs. This show isn’t over, and someday Chris Crocker is going to lose his shit in a “LEAVE KATE ALONE!” video. You heard it here first. But really, people… be happy for them, but get over it, and for Christ’s sake, leave them alone. They’re just human beings.

There has to come a time when our actions support our highest morals, even when that means not going along with the crowd. Otherwise, what kind of example are we setting for our young people?

Can we finally be honest about the fact that the existence of a monarchy (whatever form it takes) is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and social justice? And that hatred and jealousy are also incompatible with these ideals? Let’s wish the royal family all the happiness in the world – but not because of who they are, and in a fair, reasonable way that acknowledges that they are no better or worse than the rest of us.

2 Comments

Filed under Canada, Politics & Society

2 responses to “Royal pain: Class worship and social justice

  1. Pingback: The hypocricy of grief | Lavender Blume

  2. Pingback: The hypocrisy of grief | Lavender Blume

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