The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'royal family'
Forth Bridge is down. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died, aged 99.
All of Britain is officially in mourning for eight days; all non-funereal programming has been suspended on the BBC (with the exception of the childrens' channel CBeebies). In normal times, theatres, music halls and other such establishments would have been shut by law, though given that it's the Ronatimes, they're shut anyway. Presumably the authorities will order Netflix and Animal Crossing to be blocked at ISP level and repurpose the BBC detector vans to find people seditiously watching comedy shows on Zoom.
At any time, this would have been disruptive, though at this moment, it is particularly so. Britain now stands several months after the completion of Brexit, the total triumph of small-minded xenophobic reactionaries against the liberal, cosmopolitan tendency within, and is engaged in a sort of scourging of the shires; this is partly to distract attention from the monumental cock-up the whole project has been on any level other than the quick amphetamine high of chest-thumping nationalism. (Though, to those cheering it on, this is what counts; the Brexit agreement itself, for example, has been negotiated by the UK to be deliberately harsher than necessary, particularly to punish those of the defeated party; consequently, Britain has pulled out of the Erasmus student exchange programme, and pointedly refused to allow visas for touring artists. After all, the reasoning seems to go, we don't want our young people fraternising with the garlic-eaters, do we? The only way a young Briton post-Brexit should meet a European is in the trenches, with bayonet fixed.) In any case, the few months of Britain's post-EU existence have been met with businesses that do any sort of trade with the EU going to the wall, and the government engaging in a spiral of performative nationalism; mandating the flying of the flag on all government buildings, defending the statues of noble slaveholders from Antifa/BLM extremists, introducing laws criminalising protest, and blaming the lack of promised post-Brexit sunlit uplands on stabs in the back from treacherous metropolitan liberal remainer elites.
In a sense, Prince Philip is the Princess Di of Brexitland, the People's Prince 2021 Britain deserves. As Lady Diana—youthful, glamorous, relatably insecure, and caring about people in the way those around her didn't—embodied, in retrospect, the mood of the lifting of the dead hand of Thatcherism in the Cool Britannia New Labour Spring (how little we knew!), Philip—a geriatric racist who, even while alive, looked uncannily out of place among the living, known for his callous “gaffes” and celebrated by taxi drivers and pub bores across the country for his “robust views”—embodies the identity of post-Brexit Britain, indeed, the definition of True Brit in 2021.
Meanwhile in Australia, life goes on mostly as normal, with events going ahead as planned, with one exception: apparently the ABC not only replaced its main channel programming with wall-to-wall royal hagiography but simulcast that to its music channel, preempting a planned Rage tribute to a popular recently deceased musician in Melbourne. It is not clear whether they were required to do so by some imperial-era laws held over from the Menzies era (or possibly reintroduced in the contemporary conservative era), or whether some executive made the call to preemptively fold to the conservative culture warriors before their budget gets cut any further. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, a standup comedian started a routine mocking the Royal Family, not knowing that Philip's death had just been announced, and executed a perfect 360⁰ pivot.
The limits of the Zuckerberg Doctrine, which states that everyone is to have one identity, publicly linked to their legal “wallet name”, which they use for all interactions, have been tested with the curious case of an impeccably connected young man named “Spike Wells”, who, until recently, had a Facebook profile:
He has more than 400 friends, including some of Britain's richest young men and women, and appears to have an impressive appetite for partying both in Britain and abroad.
Yesterday, however, it was claimed that Wells is in fact a pseudonym used by Prince Harry, whose nickname is Spike - even his Scotland Yard minder is known to call him Spike - to keep in contact with his friends.The “Spike Wells” profile disappeared after a recent tabloid incident involving Prince Harry, and was largely locked down beforehand, leaking only the information that, under the Zuckerberg Doctrine, is public, but even that was enough to give the game away: given sufficient eyes, pseudonymity is shallow.
While Mr Wells used high privacy settings, until last week a limited version of his page was available for all the world to see, with every update discussed and debated on the internet by fans of Prince Harry.
Mr Wells's profile says he is from Maun, Botswana, a town visited by the Prince and his former girlfriend Chelsy Davy in 2007. Like Prince Harry, he also lists his interests as "all sports".
In July, Prince Harry went to the Womad Festival in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where he was pictured wearing a hat based on the popular mobile phone game Angry Birds. Mr Wells's Facebook profile featured five people wearing similar hats, although their faces could not be seen.Which suggests that even if one takes care to lock down one's profile and refrain from posting anything publicly that reveals one's identity, the very act of making social sites useful will, over time, leak out enough information to give one away, given sufficient eyeballs. If you're a young, single prince in a celebrity-obsessed society, sufficient eyeballs can be taken for granted. If not, the lack of a hungry public can be made up for by the more targeted interest of a smaller number of parties; business rivals, extortionists, obsessive stalkers, vindictive ex-partners (business or romantic), and others all could be very interested in piecing together a party's identity from a succession of large numbers of fragmentary clues. Which is why Scotland Yard's Royal Protection Branch have warned those with a high profile to forswear social software altogether:
However, Dai Davies, a former head of royal protection for Scotland Yard, said that a Facebook page for a member of the Royal family would pose a security risk. "From a security point of view I would never recommend anyone high profile to have a Facebook account," he said.Of course, telling the world's richest and most influential people that they should, due to their status, restrict themselves to 20th-century modes of social telecommunication is not without its problems. (Telling the children of such people that there's no Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest for them, ever, by virtue of who their parents are could be even more problematic.) Hiding in plain sight on Facebook, however, has its problems, with information leakage. (One could imagine, after a few royals protested, members of the Royal Family being issued pseudonymous accounts, whose public profiles and publicly visible activity are “chaff”, deliberate disinformation posted by handlers from a specially established department of the security services, and whose personal updates are visible to friends only, with the cover identities (the “legends”, in intelligence parlance) of the accounts being known only to a trusted few, so, for example, only a few dozen people from old money and a handful of Qatari princelings would know that, let's say say, “Melva Bellamy”, ostensibly a 43-year-old veterinary nurse in Sheldon, Iowa, is really Prince Charles. At least until someone talked to the tabloids or Mrs. Bellamy started haranguing people about architecture or homoeopathy or something. I suspect that the handlers in charge of keeping Prince Phillip's account—or, rather, accounts—under the radar wouldn't have an easy job of it.)
Of course, this is only as secure as the weakest link, and there are many ways the secret online identities of the super-famous could fall into the hands of a delighted tabloid press. If the Queen (in her guise as Bolivian scrap merchant “Levi Villalobos”, or something to that effect) posts a comment on a photo taken by property tycoon Lord Reynold Mooney-Bagges on one of his yachts in Barbados, mentioning a similar trip she took some years ago, or how the dogs in a photo look a bit like her Corgis, or any one of a number of bits of innocuous fluff, this will be visible to all of Lord Mooney-Bagges' friends. And even if the Queen's (sorry, Señor Villalobos') online contacts are vetted by MI5 prior to being approved, Lord Moneybags' friends aren't. And they include three emotionally unstable narcissists, one fabulist and compulsive liar and two senior executives at News International. Oops!
Another option would be for the Royal Family to have its own social network built, for them and the few they socially connect with. This site (undoubtedly built by a military contractor at huge expense) would be accessible by invitation only; the invited would be vetted by the security services and given key fobs, like more ornate versions of the ones used by online banking services, for logging in. The theory is that Prince Harry could then have anyone he wished to socialise with invited to the service, forming a virtual royal court in cyberspace. Meanwhile, similar sites may crop up outside of the court; private social networks founded by groups of the super-wealthy and organised along the lines of private clubs.
The problem with such forums, though, is that they would be siloes, separated from the rest of online activity. If you're the Royal Family, you may be able to get away with sticking to your own forum without it turning into a ghost town; this, however, might not scale well to those less famous or whose fame is not guaranteed by constitutional law. And such siloes, by definition, would separate what happens within them from what happens outside; within, there are different identities, a different social graph, and their own discourses, photographs, events and the like. Which may be suitable for a traditional royal court who can bestow the honour of attendance on those sufficiently well connected, but it does preclude one from interacting with the outside world other than by inviting selected members of it into one's sphere. Perhaps the online royal court would flourish, or perhaps it'd become an expensive white elephant, but I doubt it would remove all need for those in the gilded cage to venture outside of it.
Perhaps the solution is a sort of delegated, federated social software, where each realm has its own identity scheme and privacy rules, but protocols exist for federating between them. (After all, Facebook is no less a walled-garden silo than such a virtual court would be, merely one that's many orders of magnitude larger.) When the credentials from one realm could be used for interacting with other realms (and granting access to private content, though issues of trust would have to be worked out), we could go from a one-size-fits-all Zuckerbergian walled garden to a multitude of interacting social spaces—some jealously private, some as public as Twitter; some free and ad-supported, some paid for with premium services, some enforcing a Zuckerbergian wallet-name policy, some encouraging pseudonyms or handles—without users being restricted to interacting only with those in one's own space.
In this economic downturn, spare a thought for the British royal family; the costs of heating all those palaces are becoming so burdensome that the Queen asked ministers for a handoud from the state poverty fund to heat them; a request which was, eventually, politely rebuffed:
Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to "adverse publicity" for the Queen and the Government.
Taxpayers already contribute £38m to pay for the Royal Family. Yet some of the buildings which would have benefited from the energy grant were occupied by minor royals living in grace and favour accommodation on the royal estates. Surprisingly the Government offered no resistance to the proposed application and cleared the way for the Queen to take advantage of the handout.Though to be fair, those palaces are appallingly inefficient to heat:
Last year thermal imaging technology, used to identify and measure energy waste, showed heat pouring through the closed curtained windows, the roof and cracks in the walls. A team of energy surveyors labelled the Palace "shocking and appalling", the biggest "central heating radiator" in the capital and gave it a score of 0 out of 10.You'd think that Prince Charles, that great ecologist, would take some time out from promoting homeopathy and waging war against nontraditional architecture to get some insulation installed, but alas, it doesn't seem to have happened.
Perhaps another argument for moving to a Dutch/Scandinavian-style "bicycle monarchy", in which the Royal Family earns its own keep? (A republic may be attractive to the more left-wing at heart, though it can be argued that the Royal Family is a cornerstone of British cultural "soft power", and its loss would weaken Britain's standing in the world. Having said that, one could say that the accession of Prince Charles may well end up doing that.) The Royal Family occupy that curious space between government institutions and popular entertainment; they have vestigial constitutional functions (mouthing whatever words the government of the day pens, opening Parliament), for which they are richly compensated, but the rest of their functions are providing fodder for celebrity gossip magazines and enticement for foreign tourists to visit these "quaint" isles. Perhaps if it was acknowledged that the Royal Family are part of the tourism and entertainment industries, they could be paid by these industries, in return for giving them more value for money than under the inefficient old system. Minor royals could become "tourism ambassadors", doing everything from international tours to viral video spots to get Japanese and Americans over here; a US-style surcharge on tourist visas to fund tourism promotion could help with the civil list. Meanwhile, one palace could be given over to a reality-TV company, with the royals spending a specified period of time in it, in front of the cameras, giving the paying public what they want; the revenue could be used to maintain and heat all their palaces.
The upcoming Royal Wedding Mk. II isn't exactly looking like the finest hour in the history of the house of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha; first it got rescheduled to a town hall or somesuch because they couldn't legally have it at the cathedral, then the Queen decided not to attend (whilst strenuously denying that her action was in any way a snub), and now it turns out that the only way that Prince Charles is going to get to marry Camilla is by invoking a European human-rights law guaranteeing the right to marriage. Which is not the most dignified state of affairs. That and the danger that the IRA may bomb the wedding to protest not being allowed to get away with the robbery they didn't commit.
Not surprisingly, the prospect of having what is becoming the World's Most Expensive Reality TV Show at the helm of state has stoked the embers of the Australian republican debate, as Graham has pointed out.
I'm not one of the year-zero republicans who believes that Australia's British colonial heritage is evil and must be repudiated like an abusive parent (after all, we did get a lot of good things from Britain; the rule of law, Westminster-style democracy, an appreciation of good tea and a sense of irony, to name four). However, an Australian head of state would be good, especially given that the present monarchy is starting to look somewhat ridiculous.
Having said that, one good thing about the monarchy is that the head of state (which, in reality, is the governor-general) is above the ebb and flow of politics, and can keep a cooler head. Replacing them with a party-political President elected every four years would lose that. Graham's idea of a purely ceremonial president is good; I have always liked the idea of making the Moomba monarch (usually a footballer, soap star or other celebrity) the purely ceremonial head of state for a year, during which they would cut ribbons and attend state occasions. However, a one-year term may be a bit too short. Recently, I have been thinking that, to get the advantage of the monarchy that it is above the cycle of politics, the head of state's term should be longer than four years. Perhaps 10- or 12-year terms would be best. This would also encourage the election of figures with more staying power than, say, some footballer or Australian Idol finalist.
As for the title of the head of state, "president" sounds too political (not to mention too reminiscent of France, the US, Italy or other horrible examples). "King" or "queen" sounds a bit silly, and "monarch" would, technically, be inaccurate as the figure would not actually rule. "Taoiseach" may appeal to the Fenian wing of the republican movement (i.e., the ones who wanted to give Australia a green flag), though most Australians would probably not be able to pronounce it. One idea would be to find a word in an Aboriginal language meaning "chieftain" or "wise person" and use that; however, now that reconciliation has been binned, that would seem somewhat patronising.
And if all else fails, we could do what Murgatroyd suggested and establish a cadet monarchy, with a lesser member of the British royal family emigrating to Australia and becoming the resident monarch.