The Illusion of Intimacy: Royals and Celebrity Culture

A few days ago I published a post about the nauseating spectacle of sycophancy surrounding the royal family. But there is another crucial weapon which the Palace Public Relations machine deploys in the 21st Century – celebrity culture. During the Middle Ages court jesters or troupes of entertainers were retained to perform for the king. Now, in an apparent reversal of roles, it is the royals who display themselves via mass media for our entertainment! But the outcome is the same, the monarch remains at the top of the tree.

The low point for the UK monarchy in recent times came in 1997 immediately after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In some respects the danger for the Windsors was similar to the circumstances which led to the demise of the Russian Romanovs in 1917. Somewhat surprisingly it is not the ostentatious display of wealth alone which alienates the people, but wealth combined with a perception of remoteness. Correctly perceiving the danger, royal public relations after Diana has been successful in harnessing the power of mass media to embed the royals in the celebrity culture.

Although there are many descriptions of the celebrity culture, I like the pithy analysis given by Encyclopedia.com In particular, one sentence is telling:

Celebrity culture is a symbiotic business relationship from which performers obtain wealth, honours, and social power in exchange for selling a sense of intimacy to audiences.

In reality the monarchy has historically been very adept at cultivating its fame (just look at the publicity around Queen Victoria’s funeral). Similarly, mass media has been around for almost a century, but it’s the cultivation of the appearance of intimacy which is new.

This deliberate blurring of fact and fiction makes a intelligent debate on the monarchy difficult. Closely linked with the orchestrated displays of sycophancy it is almost impossible to separate the celebrity illusion from important constitutional issues. Sadly, along with ITV, the taxpayer funded BBC appear to be the main culprits in this obfuscation. The puerile appearance of the Windsors playing on the Harry Potter set or discussion of Kate’s outfit renders debate of the extent of royal interference in our law-making, or the usurping of monarchical powers by politicians via the Privy Council, seem arcane and inconsequential. Irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of an Elizabeth, Charles, William or George this is the real reason why the monarchy show must end.

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