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The Hollowed-Out West
[An article from Free Life]
"The illusion […] will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move all the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre."
- Frank Zappa
Writers and commenters on this blog have not been too enamoured with the recent coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla. A fair summary of views is that the ceremony served as little more than a public pretence, offering only the veneer of a supposedly continuous lineage of values, rights and traditions that have persisted in England for many centuries. Behind the façade we see only, in Alan Bickley’s words, “the national rot [...] plainly on display”.
Through attempting to glean some of the ceremony’s original gravitas, one could, at least, sense the value in forcing the throne’s new incumbent to endure a multiple hour ritual in front of the altar.
The weight and difficulty of wearing St Edward’s Crown – traditionally regarded as a holy relic – is as much symbolic as it is physical. To see the king waddle like a toddler while attempting to balance his regalia demonstrates that to rule is as much a burden as it is a privilege. Moreover, it is a burden bestowed on the king not in some drab government building as the result of a committee vote, but by an Archbishop in a glorious church.
Little of this applies today. Not only is the awesome responsibility of power easily forgotten when secular, political office is subject to the modern day game of democratic musical chairs; it is an awesomeness that no longer applies very much to the king, except by way of constitutional fiction.
As such, this twenty-first century, family-friendly coronation felt much to me like a slightly-too-long royal wedding rather than a grand transition into a new era. Numb and inert is how best to describe my main reaction. I had pretty much forgotten the whole thing by the evening.
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However, this feeling contrasted very much with the wall-to-wall news coverage and the outpourings of official adulation for the new royal rulers. Bickley may well be right in assessing the crowds to have been smaller than those which turned out for the 1953 coronation. But large, enthusiastic crowds were willing to brave that day’s unpleasant weather nonetheless.
One of the rules of thumb I employ when I have time to sift through the cesspool of the mainstream media’s output is to ask two questions:
“What are they trying to make me think?”
“Why would they want me to think that?”
So with regards to the coronation, we could ask: why is it so important to them that we celebrate this event for an institution that hardly seems fitting for a modern, progressive state to which ours supposedly aspires? What do they have to gain from this?
It is this theme – of a hollowed out institution that we are, nevertheless, encouraged to celebrate – that I wish to take forward in this essay.