How long should a Nation mourn?

September 9, 2022

On the death of her beloved Husband Albert, Queen Victoria began a period of mourning that lasted forty years to her death. It is considered today a somewhat extreme action by a person who never overcame the grief after her bereavement.

When Diana, Prince of Wales died in a gruesome car crash in 1997, there was an outpouring of grief for the princess which has scarcely subsided for those most affected. 

When the Queen died on Thursday 8 of September, the period of mourning began. Television channels grappled with the dilemma. BT Sports decided to show a football match, but to drop the pre-match and halftime punditry and adverts. 

‘Every COVID death is a tragedy’ we heard during the pandemic. For the deceased and for their loved ones. We know know of the widespread anger against politicians who uttered words of solace which were later found out to be false. 

At present there seems to be a country which has been long preparing for the death of a paradoxical figure, much loved, remote as a long-lost relative but closer than members of the household. Remote and close. Whose imagined life to the last detail is recounted in the minutest detail. 

The royal drama has already been played out in lucrative films. Popular debates continue over which actress plays the Queen best. This morning less than 24 hours after her death, an article appeared comparing the merits of Clare Foy, Olivia Coleman and Helen Mirren in the role.

By Friday decisions are now being reached to postpone sporting events. The BBC which has been preparing for several years for this sad event has virtually abandoned other news stories.

It summarises the current situation

 
 The Queen’s death will have a major impact on daily life in the UK. While a timetable of official events has been carefully planned, most details are yet to be confirmed. The funeral is expected to take place at Westminster Abbey in about 10 days’ time. The date, to be announced by Buckingham Palace, is likely to be declared a bank holiday. It’s unclear whether schools will close before then, with the Department for Education and devolved administrations expected to issue advice. Sporting and cultural events to have been cancelled or postponed include Friday’s football and racing fixtures, the BBC Proms – including Saturday’s Last Night of the Proms – and the Mercury Music Prize ceremony. Meanwhile, rail and postal workers’ unions have called off planned strikes.

The Diana death industry is still very much alive. The mourning for a fairy tale figure, especially one of a much-loved monarch can go on as long as those profiting from it can continue to exploit it.


Is Michael D Higgins the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic?

April 8, 2014

‘Michael D’ defies contemporary leadership stereotypes. A case could be made for saying that this man is the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic

The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins makes an historic state visit to England [April 8th, 2014]. The trip is redolent with symbolism, as was The Queen’s visit to Ireland three years ago.

According to popular theory, a leader in the public eye has to pass the celebrity test of physical attractiveness. Absence of media glamour is a bar to a successful political career. In the UK, Ed Milliband suffers from repeated media references to his lack of personal attractiveness predicating his non-electability as the country’s next Prime Minister. Dr Higgins has been lampooned for his unimpressive physical appearance and stature.

The Irish are different

The Irish appointed a different kind of leader as their President. The two previous incumbents were Mary Robinson followed by Mary McAleese. Lucky the land to have found such impressive heads of state.

Then there was ‘Michael D’

‘Michael D’ was appointed in what seemed another burst of creative contrarianism by the Irish electorate. At the time, I got the election seriously wrong. I noted that two charismatic candidates were spicing up the election campaign. Both dropped out of view and eventually did not run. Instead a veteran politician and scholarly academic was elected.

An important ingredient of charisma

The Irish voters listened to what Michael had to say, and voted him in. This week he showed why to an international audience. He is an impressive and empathic communicator. In advance of his State visit to England he was asked whether it was time to put aside the lingering scars in Ireland of a relationship of often bloody disputes. He replied in a moving and convincing way. No, he replied, he had no right to demand such a thing of his people although he hoped he could help movement forward toward a better future.

And that was the moment I understood a little more about his charisma.

Context

Much of this post will be understood differently from the perspectives of readers familiar with the historical and complex relationship between England and Ireland. [For example, the symbolism of the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011, and of this return visit] Some of the modern history is touched upon in the links to the post, which mainly focuses on the surprising nature of the charisma of the Irish President.


Queen’s Diamond Jubilee reveals a nation seeking consolation in past glories

June 6, 2012

 

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations in England took place across an extended public holiday. The festivities could be interpreted as capturing a mood of escapism to an Olde England, and a yearning for cultural continuity, in times of radical change

The novelist Julian Barnes described a surrogate England in the future which has been established off-shore with all guile and marketing skill of an all-powerful media magnate who was behind the venture .  Visitors could enjoy the nostalgia provided, cleansed of uncomfortable aspects of reality.

In that respect, the celebrations [June 2-5, 2012] of Queen Elizabeth’s sixty years as constitutional monarch, chimed with the dystopic vision in the novel.

Drizzle, drivel, and magnificent pageantry

The BBC reporting of any national event may be taken as convenient shorthand for an official State view of the nation.   It does so while signalling its commitment to free speech and yet offering provision for expression of alternative views.  

A Supernova and an informational black hole

Over the period of the celebration, the various events collectively produced a Supernova of dazzling intensity. Almost all other news disappeared into an informational black hole.

The BBC courageously undertook the required wall-to-wall coverage.  The procession of 1000 vessels down the Thames was magnificent. It was intended to surpass a royal regatta of  350 years ago.

The unremitting drizzle was creatively reported as demonstrating the British spirit when facing adversity.

The event lasted less than three hours, so that seven hours of radio commentary resulted in inevitable drivel.  I base this mainly on sampling snippets as I dipped in and out across the four days:

First snippet:  “What kind of dress would you say she is wearing”

Second snippet:  “The crowd are staying loyal although they must be very wet by now”. 

Third snippet:  “A bottle has floated down the Thames.  That’s brought a cry from the crowd”.

Fourth snippet: “You are dressed in a Union Jack.  Are you proud to be British [cheers from crowd]”. “Yes. Anyone who’s not should go back to wherever they came from” [more cheers].

Fifth snippet: “Everything has been a highlight…but perhaps the real highlight is to come with the appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace this evening”

Sixth snippet:  “The royal loo is now open to the public”

Seventh snippet: [Repeated chanting, apparently by young and female participants directed to an intrepid group of anti-royalists] “God save the Queen”.

Another marathon

The journalists, as indefatigable as the Queen herself, gallantly repeated the marathon at the variety performance.  This was another magnificent spectacle, drizzle count low, drivel count high, celebrity count very high. 

Somewhat strange end to the event: 

 

Prince Charles paid a personal tribute beginning ‘Your majesty… mummy’.  Mentioned sad news of his father’s hospitalization after the boat trip, and asked the crowd to cheer up Prince Philip with a cheer and another three cheers for the Queen.

Then The Queen lit  the last of 4000 beacons in an echo of the symbolism of  the Olympic flame, still in transit around the United Kingdom.

With still time to fill in, and suffering withdrawal symptoms, BBC’s Radio 5 resorted to phone-ins and crowd-sourced debates on  ‘Should we get rid of the Monarch?’ [No],  and  ‘Are you proud to be British?’ [Yes].  

 Behind the headlines

The event will become distilled into a footnote of Modern history. The orthodox version will accurately capture widespread respect for The Queen, observed in the four days, and  amplified into a popularist near-idolatry.

GB Limited

After the glitter has faded, the Diamond Jubilee will be examined for implications of the current and future branding of GB Limited.  Students of leadership may be motivated to contribute to reflections on the dilemmas facing hereditary monarchies around the world.

Apologies

Note: LWD still awaiting restoration of normal service. Apologies.