So we have a Royal Baby. Nothing – not even MMR or the time Brighton signed Stephen Dobbie – has so split my twitter timeline in terms of opinion. And yet my first reaction was how quickly I could get a James Hewitt gag in. Otherwise I feel strangely ambivalent*. But why?
It certainly wouldn’t have been the reaction of my Granddad. A staunch communist and republican he would have been moaning about the amount it would cost to maintain such a huge institution the second the first photo hit the papers. Then, the following week, he’d have paid his Union membership without a hint of irony.
It probably wouldn’t have been my Dad’s reaction either. Not a communist but certainly left leaning, he too was republican the last time we discussed it. Years of living in a large wine cellar in France might have mellowed his opinion but then again maybe not. He certainly lives in an area of France where a quick “vive la republique” will still get you bought a drink.
I am less republican. Maybe it dilutes in each generation in my family. I feel no need to genuflect, hang up the bunting or write to the Mail with a eulogy on how damn wonderful “Waity Katy” really is but I feel no real anger or jealously or injustice either.
When I see comments on twitter about the baby having a life of luxury paid for by the rest of us my reaction is “yeah – and?”. After all that comment was just posted using an electronic device that cost hundreds of pounds connected to an internet system that also requires money to connect to, in a Liberal Democracy that might snoop on you quite a bit more than you suspected, but no longer hauls you off to the Tower for a quick beheading for such a thought.
The fact is that if you live in the first world, particularly the English speaking first world, then your life is a lot more like the Royal Family than it is a family who have to work all day in tropical heat to earn the dollar or so it takes to give their kids rubbish tasting food and dangerous water. Or, if there has been drought or flood no food or water at all. There are some real flaws in our society and some really vulnerable people who lead fairly miserable lives, but the majority of us sit in relative palaces talking to one another on miracle devices purely because of where and when we were born.
When my eldest was born I promised myself there were certain parent things I would never do. I wouldn’t answer the question ‘why’ with the answer ‘because I said so’. This is a rule I first broke when he was about two. When we had two we promised we wouldn’t spoil or indulge them. Clearing out our attic and the kids room ready for our house move had demonstrated to me that, while they are no Violet Elizabeth Botts, they certainly haven’t wanted for things. But I never promised myself I wouldn’t say ‘life’s not fair’ because I have always believed that life isn’t fair. And whether you choose to tackle this with charity or libertarian harshness the truth is it probably never will be.
At the end of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life there’s a song that contains a line that urges us to consider ‘how amazing and unlikely is our birth’. And once you’ve digested that mindfuck then consider how amazing and unlikely it is that you were born the child of a Business Analyst and Nurse in a suburban new build in Welwyn Garden City as opposed to the eighth child of a labourer in rural Chad or a sweeper in Bihar. You may not be living in a Palace with everything paid for you but then nobody shoves a camera up your nose if you want to pop to Tesco Extra for a late night bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
In short, I’m uncomfortable attacking privilege by accident of birth from a position of privilege by accident of birth.
But if I’m uncomfortable with attacking privilege then I also don’t understand the fascination with the Royals either. OH LOOK, THAT WOMAN JUST GAVE BIRTH TO A BABY! OH LOOK, HE’S PUTTING THE CAR SEAT IN AND DRIVING OFF JUST LIKE A NORMAL BLOKE! Let’s face it if you are reading this you have probably gone though this sort of thing yourself without so much as a round of applause. I’d be interested if she gave birth to octuplets or, say, a lizard. That might make me look up from my cup of coffee and switch from the Sports section of the paper to the front page but ‘Woman has Baby’ is not really going to hold my attention for very long.
The fascination of others is, I suspect, due to familiarity by media. I avoid the celebrity and gossip pages and the Royal stories like the plague and therefore feel I barely know them. This was certainly true with Diana’s death too. While the rest of the country sobbed in shock I went off to play cricket having barely considered it. But should you be constantly bombarded with images of Royalty there’s no doubt you will treat a birth or death like it happened to a very distant relative or the woman up the road. If this is a natural part of human nature though, thinking of the Royals as your betters, to me, is not. They just got one of the Golden Tickets in the birth lottery.
*obviously not that ambivalent or I wouldn’t have just dedicated 960 odd words to the subject. So shoot me.