Sunday, November 21, 2010

A very unengaging engagement

One of the biggest news stories this week was the announcement of Prince William's engagement to his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton. Imagine my annoyance, though, on switching over to Channel 10 at 6pm the following day to find that, instead of an episode of The Simpsons, there was a half-hour special about this supposed 'news'.

This prompted me to comment on Twitter thusly:

Then, only two hours later, I was further incensed when I saw that Channel 9 had pulled an episode of The Big Bang Theory for, not just a half-hour special, but a whole hour-long feature.

I went straight to Twitter to vent some more:

Why was I so annoyed? Easy: because it's not important enough to justify anything more than a cursory mention in a standard news bulletin. We live in Australia, not England – and it's 2010; the monarchy is almost completely irrelevant anywhere outside of a history class.

And it's not as if there's anything particularly significant about his getting married anyway1. Queen Elizabeth seems fit and well, and then there's Charles, who isn't exactly in poor shape either2. It could be a very long time before we have to worry about whether or not his head's going to look good on our coins - and even then only if we haven't finally become a republic.

I just don't understand why Australian television networks decided to give this so much coverage – though I have to say I've rarely agreed with their decisions in the past; the miners trapped underground in Tasmania a few years back being a good example3.

But, as these things so often do, it's made me think.

1As I also wrote on Twitter, if he announced he wanted to marry a guy, that would be something to do a special on.
2Physically at least. Mentally, I'm not so sure; he supports homeopathy and has spoken positively about Islam, neither of which endear him to me.
3Mostly to do with the amount of coverage, i.e. they were broadcasting from outside the mine when they weren't even close to getting them out – what was the point? They could have just let us know when it wasn't far away.

An expensive business

One thing that people have been discussing is how much the wedding is going to cost; there've been all sorts of estimates thrown around but none with any certainty - though, while the figures for Charles's wedding to Diana has never been revealed, but is thought to have cost £30million, and that was almost thirty years ago.

The Queen and Charles are now being pressured to contribute a significant amount to the cost of the event. The rest, though – security, mostly; millions of people will turn out to watch, plus every world leader (past and present) will be invited – will come from the public purse, at time when England, like so many other countries around the world, is dealing with the impact of the global financial crisis.

So the question therefore is: should it?

My first thought – as someone who dislikes both monarchies and pageantry – was 'hell no'. But the more I thought about it, the more complicated it became.

Bread and Circuses4

The expression, of course, refers to the idea – attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal – that it is the role (or even a requirement) of the government to entertain the people, at least to some extent; with the more cynical interpretation being that it distracts them from the more important issues. And it appears to be as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

Governments – our included – put a lot of money into entertainment, in the form of sport and the arts. Some people – like me – enjoy the fruits of both those figurative trees (albeit far more from the arts tree than the sport tree, but there's still enough of the latter to make it significant, a fruit salad if you will), but there are – as alien as the concept is to me – people who don't benefit a great deal from the subsidising of either.

Now, as I noted earlier, I – personally – don't give a tinker's cuss5 about the royal family, and think that anyone who finds this development even vaguely interesting or entertaining really needs to sit down and think about things for a while. But, despite its vacuity as a subject of interest, the fact is that a lot of people seem to care.

So, I guess as long as it's in the public interest, it's something the public will continue to fund - and if someone who didn't like theatre presented me with the same argument, I'd be unable to counter it. But don't count on me to be buying any commemorative tea-towels, reading any special editions of Hello, or not ranting on Twitter and Facebook when they take something I want to watch off the tv in favour of the latest inane development.

4Hat tip to Jordan Roberts Bell for reminding me of that particular expression.
5That's one for the Monty Python fans.

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