As I begin writing this piece, it’s raining heavily outside. The corner of the living room is damp, and even above the whirr of the dehumidifier and the fan of my laptop, I can hear the rain lashing against the windows, dripping and bouncing off objects in my back yard. It’s the second weekend in June. It’s supposed to be summer. It was pretty much the same last week, too. Not that people were going to let a bit of rain deter them from celebrating, and so in true British spirit, they took to the streets in their thousands, millions, even, to join in the four day long nation-wide party to commemorate the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
The media reporting in the run-up had been immense, and the previews that had initially been trickle earlier in the year had increased in their intensity to reach the level of blanket coverage several days before the monarch began her tour of the streets to nod, wave and smile at her loyal and loving subjects. I almost felt a tingle of anticipation, a warmth spreading in my heart: this was going to be a once in a lifetime event, a truly historical occasion. It was a time to reflect and to celebrate not only our monarch, but what it means to be a part of the great British nation. There would be events in every village, town and city across the British Isles and every other corner of the Commonwealth, with street parties and countless other activities organised to show our appreciation and community spirit. The momentum was impossible to sustain, of course, and even had I been the most ardent royalist, I expect I’d have found myself experiencing Jubilee jubilation burnout before the first of four long days of national celebrations. Not being an ardent royalist, I grew weary of the hype a full week and a half before the 4-day bank holiday weekend.
In the event, I stayed in for four days straight and avoided the television and radio as much as possible. And the Internet, for that matter. Ordinarily, I’d have taken to the various social networking channels and unleashed my bile, but, well, frankly, I discovered I had neither the energy nor the motivation. What’s more, I couldn’t see the point.
The media hype had already beaten me, and what’s more, it had already beaten many others – into submission. Over the course of the extended weekend, the news channels devoted considerable airtime to voxpops from talking heads who proclaimed themselves ‘republicans’ but found themselves forced to concede that all the pomp and the orderly conduct of the spectators beamed around the globe did indeed make for a good advertisement for Britain. People who would only have described themselves as monarchists in the same way most people who hold no religious beliefs and who only frequent churches for weddings, funerals and christenings would declare themselves ‘CofE’ were jumping on board and heading to wherever they thought they might find the most thriving, vibrant, flag-waving action, or otherwise participating in events that most strongly reflected their notions of what it means to be British.
When I did go on-line, I found the voices of dissent were strangely quiet, and while a few – notably Charlie Brooker – managed to sustain an acerbic commentary throughout, most of the jubilee detractors simply sounded embittered or as though they were struggling for an angle. And yet there was no shortage of material: the boat flotilla might have been fleetingly interesting (pun intended) if you were present, but a slow-moving procession of floating vessels, however ancient sand spectacularly historical, drifting at a crawl down a murky sewage-saturated river in a prolonged downpour is not good television and unlikely to instil a sense of joyous pride on the small screen. In case people hadn’t noticed, we’re no longer in the 1950s: we’re not rebuilding our lives and our country in the wake of the war and no longer clamour round the one 4” black and white television in the street.
Boats. Lots of boats. Whoopee.
Sixty years is a long time. Consider this: postmodernism hadn’t even been conceived at the coronation. Popular culture, youth culture, capitalism as we know it didn’t exist. The Beatles didn’t form until 1960. Elvis Presley didn’t release his first single until 1954. The coronation took place in a different world. So too did the silver jubilee in 1977. The breaking of punk in the UK was not – contrary to so much recent retrospective coverage – I repeat, not, precipitated by the jubilee. Opportunistic pub rockers with manufactured sneers, operating under Malcolm McLaren’s guidance, were nothing more than puppets who happened to make a swell-timed appearance. If punk captured the zeitgeist of the mid-late 70s, and the monarchy found themselves the targets of so much vitriol, it was still only a part of a more widespread dissatisfaction with what we now hear referred to as a ‘broken society’. Times change, but some things don’t change. The question is, if there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that expressed itself in the blank nihilism of ‘no future’ back in 77, why was there so little sense of uprising or protest 35 years on? Is everybody really happy nowadays? Yeah right. And yet the thousands who had turned out remained rooted to the banks of the Thames, waving their flags like they’d never known fun like it.
Thousands of no-life crets, waving flags like they were really excited just because everyone else was doing it
I blame social networking, the media. I particularly blame Facebook. It seems to me that much Facebook activity is devoted to showing your ‘friends’ how much fun you have: how often you get out, how active and vibrant your social life is, how incredibly popular, vivacious and happy you are, how fucking brilliant your life is. If you’re not in this photo, you weren’t there, and if you weren’t there, you missed out on the event of the century that people will be talking about for years to come.
There is, of course, another major consideration. While the news media and social networking sites may have portrayed so much rejoining and unity and a nation united under a flag, the simple truth is that most of the activity took place in key areas in central London and was attended by the kind of bozos who’s turn up for the opening of an envelope if they thought they might be missing out. The world at large may not know this, but London does not represent Britain, or even England, and a few thousand people do not represent the entire population. As such, the streets of London may have been as packed as they were precipitous, but that doesn’t mean ‘the nation’ was celebrating. And why they hell would they be? Is anyone under 75 really going to believe Grace Jones and Jessie J represent the best of British music from the last 60 years? What’s more, the waxwork Macca’s decision to perform ‘Obla-di-bla-da’ was little short of senile. I’m no fan of The Beatles by any stretch, but do strongly appreciate their importance in terms of music history, their enormous influence, and their undeniable status as the biggest band of all time. So with this, the enormity of their catalogue and the wealth of definitive, ‘iconic’ pop gems it contains in mind… why?
Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole: who gives a fuck?
Obviously, having Kylie represent the Commonwealth is all well and good, but were the Australians out in the same kind of force waving flags with the same kind of zeal? Of course not,and the point is, neither were most people in Britain. And there’s the problem: Britain – by which I really mean England – is so London-centric that it’s broadly perceived that London actually represent the country as a whole. So, when events in London are beamed out around the globe as representing ‘Britain’, it’s generally taken as fact. Riots in London equate to the country ablaze and falling to anarchy. The Olympics in London translates as excitement the length and breadth of the country (and why not, when the Olympic torch is on a preliminary lap of honour?). A bunch of people waving flags in London equals a nation united in their support for their long-serving Queen. Take it from me, it doesn’t. Some people in one place in one city does not represent the nation as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s good PR on the international stage, then fair play, but for overseas viewers / readers, please understand that this is not a true picture of life in Britain.
Indeed, so much of the coverage I did see (and I missed Fearne Cotton’s controversial ‘sick bag’ segment. The contention that this was ‘inane’ and ‘disrespectful seems to have missed the point that the ‘sick bags’ were big news – about 3 months before the jubilee, and if the BBC is to adhere to its remit of ‘unbiased’ reporting, then it should present something other than pro-monarchy propaganda, and besides, watching people in the rain waving flags is fucking boring and anything that provided a distraction was a good thing) seemed to focus on how the celebrations brought the nation closer.
Fearne Cotton and Paloma Faith discuss what the jubilee means to people who aren’t royalist sycophants
There might have been a lot of positive noise to this effect, but I very much doubt this corresponds with the experience of the average citizen. There was no party in my street, or any of the streets in my vicinity, to the best of my knowledge. The Polish couple across the road had a blazing row in the street on the bank holiday Monday. Some curtains twitched. People went about their business, or otherwise used the extra days off work to go and visit family. Had it not been slinging it down, and had it not been northern England, a tumbleweed would have probably passed down the street. It was like four Sundays in succession, and I would have dug out Morrissey’s ‘Every day is Like Sunday’ if hadn’t been in such an all-consuming torpor. So, come Wednesday, I got on my usual bus to work at the usual time, surrounded by the usual faces I never make any kind of contact with, buried my face in my book while they immersed themselves in their books, Kindles, editions of the Metro or whatever shit they’ve got going on their Smart Phones and in short, nothing had changed.
I’m not ungrateful for the extra time off work, of course, but ultimately, the whole jubilee seems to have been a huge non-event for the majority. It’s extremely difficult to muster any enthusiasm, or ire for that matter, for something that doesn’t touch my own life in any way, and while the jubilee celebrations were frivolous, exclusive – despite supposedly being all-inclusive- the monarchy simply don’t impinge on my day-to-day existence nearly as much as, well, so many other things. The power they wield is limited in real terms, and while I may be paying for them through my taxes, it’s infinitesimal in comparison to the sums being sapped from my income by the politicians, bankers and the Eurozone. Besides, I’ve bills to pay, I have to sustain myself and my family by putting food on the table. This is the reality for the everyman. Keeping things going in the everyday is as much as anyone has the energy for. Railing against something a world away and for the most part irrelevant simply doesn’t justify the squanderance of vital time, of vital energy, or essential breath. So fuck the jubilee and the petty bickering between the few who haven’t anything better to do. And fuck the Olympics, Euro 2012 and frankly, fuck it all. Back to life, back to work, back to the things that matter and back to merely surviving.
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