Sunday, April 10, 2005
How others see us
The BBC's news coverage yesterday of the royal wedding was restrained compared with the ridiculously OTT coverage of the Pope's funeral. Perhaps the Grand National helped keep things in perspective.
Not so overseas. Last night, I zapped through several French and Belgian TV channels plus CNN, to see how events were covered. The wedding was the lead news item throughout on these channels, which have not thought our general election worth even mentioning.
CNN went so far as to move its entire programming to Windsor, so that its two anchor-people were running the show from an outside broadcast unit in front of the castle for the whole day. This showed a dedication to the monarchy far surpassing anything that any British TV station could muster. (Or it may simply have been the case that Britain's entire stock of TV cameras was still in Rome and Aintree).
In all cases, the foreign channels offered no perspective or nuance. Their viewers would have had no idea that Britain had competing concerns, not just the Grand National but also the Rover crisis and the election. Instead, to create a bogus air of authority, these TV channels grabbed anyone they could find with a plummy accent, then wheeled them on for their 'expert' view, when such nonentities would have been laughed out of court on any British channel.
The divisions of opinion within Britain were not explored, except in the case of die-hard Diana fans, whose tear-stained perspective was given undue reverence. Courtesy of Belgian TV, I discovered that there is a scary organisation called the Diana Circle, run by a barking mad woman in Camberley who has turned her suburban home into a shrine, every nook and cranny filled with cheap 'n' nasty Diana souvenir tat.
(Jonathan Calder will be pleased to note that it is the Shropshire Star's report on the Diana Circle that is the most robust).
The Diana Circle, by the way, illustrates a paradox of monarchy. If you believe in the principle of monarchy, logically you must accept whichever monarch fate hands to you. But the ultra-royalists in the Diana Circle claim to believe in monarchy while being unprepared to accept Charles's right to the succession. They can't have it both ways.
Yesterday's foreign news coverage demonstrates a serious problem with the monarchy to which most British people are oblivious. Royalty perpetuates the image of our country as a Ruritanian theme park. It is a powerful image that tends to blot out everything else the British achieve. If you've ever visited the USA, you will know that the royal family is the only thing about Britain of which the average American is aware.
Is it any wonder that foreigners would rather buy our Diana souvenirs than our cars?
It really is time to grow up. The sooner Britain becomes a republic, the better.