The sun sets in Montreal at 6pm, at which point it is already noon the next day in Auckland. When it falls below the horizon in Auckland, it has already been shining for 30 minutes in London. What unites New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and twelve other countries including Jamaica and Australia? Their shared head of state – Queen Elizabeth II. The sun still shines on the British empire.*
Not that there aren’t issues. In a recent interview with Oprah, Meghan and Harry accused the royal family of ignoring Meghan’s mental health crisis and being uncomfortable with the possibility that their child, Archie, could be a colour other than white. There have been fights over money, flower arrangements, and Prince Charles. Meghan and Harry now also keep rescue chickens.
I sympathize with any family going through hard times. But, I’d like to make them a cup of tea, not head of state.
The days of Australia as an English outpost in the Pacific are numbered. In the 2016 census, only 39% of people listed their ancestry as English, Irish or Scottish – a number set to decline given current immigration patterns. 29.7% of Australians were born overseas. While England is still the top country of birth, it says more about the past than the future. The median age of this group is 57; it’s 34 for those born in China or India. For the first time in 2019, there were more Australians born in Sri Lanka than Scotland.
The royals are increasingly irrelevant to our culture, our politics, and our future. They live thousands of kilometres away and offer no special benefit beyond the costumes. They epitomize a hierarchical, deferential culture at odds with Australian identity. Most of them would struggle to find honest employment were it not for the family business. There’s also the alleged sex offender.
All this is secondary to the main point. Anyone whose authority rests on their surname, and who their warboss-cum-king ancestor once extorted, should have no role, ceremonial or otherwise, in a modern democratic state.
But I digress.
To return to the question in the title, I have doubts about whether this drama will hasten the day Australia finally becomes a republic.
The problem is that these scandals replace the institution of royalty with a revolving cast of celebrities. We’re outraged at Charles or William not because they belong to 1000-year old hereditary clique that took power and land – the royals are the UK’s biggest land owners – at the point of a sword, but because they said something mean. Focusing on the individuals distracts from the institutions looming in the rear. The royals are increasingly just celebrities who live in the same house(s), a mix of Downton Abbey and Big Brother. And we know celebrity can be managed: an appropriate mea culpa; switch out the unpopular face (Charles) for the popular one (William); bundle the weird uncle into the closet; focus on the babies. All the while, what they actually are recedes into the background.
The irony of it all is that while defenders of the monarchy drone on about continuity, history, and culture, the royals are transforming themselves into celebrities who just happen to play dress up. All the worse for republicans everywhere.
*According to Wikipedia, similar honorifics were applied to the Persian and Roman empires. The Habsburgs, with their domains in Spain, Germany, Italy, and Latin America, were the first to phrase it in the now familiar way, but in Spanish – el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol.
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