Is England Dreaming or Is It Just Me?
- 5 June 2012 by laila 0 Comments
Thoughts on Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee
Why, when the subject of royalty or monarchy is mentioned, do the British bid adieu to every vestige of proportion, modesty, humour and restraint? – Christopher Hitchens
Last year, the Queen (Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith) became the second longest reigning monarch in 1,000 years of British royal history. Celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this week, the Queen has been feted by the British and Commonwealth citizens with street parties, parades, concerts and, I am sure, a pint or two. Before her, Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee by donning silky lingerie and having a secret. Oh, wait. That’s something else. The reigning monarch of the Victorian Era, Queen Victoria, still holds the record for hanging in there the longest.
We Are Not Amused
Poor Victoria, ruminating on the loss of her beloved husband, withdrew from public life in an attempt to have a 10-year private moment, so the British people threw her a surprise Diamond Jubilee celebration on the 60th year of her reign instead of the traditional 75th.
During her reign, England became the British Empire with far reaching colonies spanning the globe. It is really when Rule Britannia meant something when Victoria became the figurehead to over 25% of the population on Earth.
The Victorian Era – racing to build the British Empire – drew arbitrary borders to the native people in the lands it colonized leading to massive post-colonial problems that we are still trying to untangle. As England’s rule grew, it’s people became more confused about what it meant to be British. Themes of loss – of religion, nature and of the pastoral English lifestyle – were hit upon again and again by artists and poets disaffected by the Industrial Revolution. The British began to have misgivings about the cultural assumption of English supremacy. After all, it was during the Victorian Era the British went into the “Heart of Darkness”.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold was not alone in feeling the steadfast English traditions provided no emotional support to ease consciousness-raising that came along with colonialism. Ignorant armies clashing by night isn’t so bad when you don’t know about it. When you do, the standby lovely English gardens, tea time and mannerly parlour past-times seem hypocritical. Plus, anti-depressants were not yet available to take the edge off.
Elizabeth II: 60 Years of Decline
Since 1952 when the crown was officially plopped on the young head of Elizabeth II, England has changed dramatically. Fresh off the heels of two World Wars, England was slowly fading into a shadow of its “Rule Brittania” former self. The British youth didn’t like it.
This was highlighted during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee marking her 25th year as the British monarch. The occasion was punctuated by the Sex Pistols’ banned single “God Save the Queen” – the scathing, yet honest punk rock song about how silly sentimentality about the Queen does nothing to elevate the British people faced with tough and tumultuous economic times. The punk anthem became a call to action in 1977 for young Brits, wading through heaps of garbage in the streets during a general strike in London. On their way to the dole office to pickup their cheques, they could sing “no future” while skirting around picket lines and police.
God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
In England’s dreaming
Don’t be told what you want
Don’t be told what you need
There’s no future, no future,
No future for you
Pretty much somes it up, doesn’t it?
Aw, but it didn’t last. Punk rock splintered and moved on. The Monarchy, ineffectual as it was, became tabloid fodder with the soap opera shinanigans of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Camilla, Fergie, et. al. The Royal Family became media caricatures of themselves, devoid of true emotion. For such a class-conscious nation, the British Royal Family was showing very little of it. The “Rule Britannia” feeling existed only in the misty-eyed memories of the old ladies at tea and in the far-away gazes of old men ‘round the pub.
That is, until British sentimentality came crashing in after Princess Diana died violently in a car crash in Paris. Then the English people took to the streets in droves to grieve her loss. The same population who flipped through tabloids in the loo to gawk at cellulite close-ups on Diana’s painfully slender thigh. Now, she was the “Peoples’ Princess”. In reality, all she did was lower herself to hold a few sick babies and visited an AIDS ward once, but in death, she became a martyr. What a wonderfully tragic tale that could swell in the romantic bosoms of the British people. Strangely, if she represented a martyr for anything, it was for the appetite of the British people for absolute schlock tabloidism.
Through it all, Queen Elizabeth “kept calm and carried on.” She lived through her Annus Horribilis wearing a variety of hats and life went on.
Click here to see Vanity Fair’s slide-show of Queen Elizabeth’s hats throughout the years.
Diamond Jubilees Are a Girl’s Best Friend
So, we have arrived at 60 years of Queen Elizabeth reigning Britain and the Commonwealth.
“Indeed, one of the symptoms of postcolonial melancholia is that now it is the white English who are deemed the victims. This is particularly the case with regard to the Royal Family. We are invited to feel sorry for the Queen who has muddled through coping with the vicissitudes of her dysfunctional family. This is actually quite an ancient theme in popular attitudes towards the monarchy. Richard Hoggart wrote in the fifties that the working class felt envy and resentment towards their “royal betters”,yet at the same time pitied them for having to do a “rotten job” enslaved to duty.” – Les Back, May 30, 2002, Open Democracy
Perhaps that is all true, but today … the day of the Diamond Jubilee pageantry, England would like to stay dreaming for a little while. Because everyone knows that if you are awakened from a wonderful dream, try as you might, you can never get back to it again.
Fabulous infographics below to provide context and perspective on the life of the Queen.
With all the festivals and music, I wonder if the artists and poets still feel disaffected in modern day England?