Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Are the Royal Family Redundant in 2020?

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Well, so many other things have changed this year, we thought we’d ask the question after a very spirited debate in the Capsule office! Capsule’s Emma Clifton and Kelly Bertrand debate the merits (or the lack of) as to whether the royal family has any use in modern day New Zealand. Which side are you on? Let us know!

Yes, They’re Redundant – Emma Clifton

There’s a line in the show Veronica Mars that I think about every fortnight or so. In it, a student is told off by a teacher, by being accused of ‘lurking.’ The student, played by biracial actress Tessa Thompson, replies, “Lurking? Oh, you mean standing… while Black.” Every time I would see another pointed headline against Meghan Markle, I would think this. Oh, she’s cocky! She’s a vain pregnant woman! She’s a diva bride! No no, she’s just existing, while Black. 

And yes, I know, she is Biracial, a fact we all know very well because her horrid white father was on the news every second day for something like a year. But to the lily-white royals, who still exist in the world like it’s the 1800s (you know, before women could vote, when slavery was legal), Meghan was always… Other. The Royals don’t love powerful women, I think it can be fair to say. But the Queen, you say! Yes! The Queen is very good at being the perfect kind of woman: Well dressed, very polite, speaks once a year at Christmas. Huzzah.

I know this sounds like I’m ripping on the Queen and I’m not, really – I think she is remarkable and I will be devastated when she dies. But the limitations of her role are infuriating. This a woman who has outlived and out-endured numerous prime ministers and still seems to be dominating her day job, well into her 90s.

Until the royals are useful, they’re useless, says Emma Clifton

And yet, the extent of what she is allowed to do is limited to a social calendar that looks like something out of a Ladies Who Lunch schedule. Ribbon cuttings, charity lunches… spare me. It kills me that when she and Boris Johnson are in a room together, he is the one with all the power. Boris Johnson. A man who prides himself on looking like an overgrown school boy and having the thinking power of one.

Everything that is good about the Queen is lacking in her children – the overwhelming themes of stamina and sacrifice that have made up so much of the Queen’s legacy just don’t seem to have been taken up by the next generation. Charles can singsong to as many of his plants as he likes, he’s still as interesting as a damp flannel. His long-term affair that destroyed Diana’s life is still the most famous thing he’s done. What a role model. Andrew still remains proud of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein and is apparently dodging FBI requests to appear before trial for his dead friend’s alleged sex trafficking of minors. I honestly can’t even name the other two, and I worked in royal-loving magazines for 15 years, which shows how much they’re up to.

One of Harry and Meghan’s last royal appearances

I don’t want to sound like a disgruntled school teacher here, but it’s the lack of following through on all that potential which infuriates me the most about the Royals. Imagine what some of the world’s most powerful activists could do with the same amount of money and opportunity this family has at their fingertips. In a year where we all quickly became labelled essential or non-essential workers, has there ever been anyone less essential than a member of the Royal Family? I get that the monarchy is symbolic. But I’m not interested in symbolism, I’m interested in work. 

The Royal Family isn’t political, that’s always been their selling point. Well, call me crazy, but I don’t think you should be a tax-funded representative of your country if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty in the politics that are ripping said country to shreds. Meghan’s latest ‘scandal’ is telling people to vote in the US election – that’s seen as being too political. I’m sorry, but I think we’re at the stage where we can say that Donald Trump is the most dangerous leader of the Western world since Hitler. And if you disagree, I’ll just ask how many hundreds of thousands of dead citizens – not to mention children in cages – is too many for you.

I feel sorry for Harry and William, I always have. They were always doomed to end up like either one of their parents – bored out of their minds, or banished. What would you pick?  

When Meghan came along, I rejoiced. Finally, a breath of fresh air. Immediately she matched Harry’s empathy, action and knowledge that the royal family needed to join the rest of us in the 21st Century. Remember how joyful, inclusive and modern that wedding felt? Well, it didn’t take long for the other shoe to drop on that one. Oh, and of course, the terrible headlines hit a high just as the extent of Andrew’s association with Epstein were coming to pass. Oh, the Prince once stayed at Epstein’s apartment after he was convicted of soliciting an underage prostitute? Never mind that – Meghan forgot her pantyhose once! That’s basically the same thing, right? No wonder Meghan did what any self-respecting woman would do and she got the hell out of there and she took her family with her. That’s a fairy tale I can get behind.

I am absolutely at the ‘burn the rich’ part of this particular revolution, as Covid-19 and climate change widen the gap between the rich and the poor around the world. How can we continue to take the Royals seriously when they have all that money, all that privilege, all of that land – and they just continue to sit on the sidelines, politically. Apart from being able to support football teams, of course *screams into a pillow*.

The appeal of the Royals was that they were supposed to somehow be both ‘just like us’ and also represent the best of us. Their weddings are our weddings, their births were our births etc. Well, how many families do you know now who can afford to have three children, ala Kate and Wills? How many families do you know who were able to pick between their many million dollar mansions to ride out Covid-19 in peace? How many people do you know who were able to have completely empty calendars during the pandemic because they can afford not to work?

The world is changing quickly and conditions for billions of people are getting worse by the day – and that’s just the pandemic. Climate change is a billion times worse. Now isn’t the time to be apolitical. The Royals need to start being useful, or get out of the way.

No, They’re More Useful Than Ever – Kelly Bertrand

I don’t think it’s possible to work at New Zealand Woman’s Weekly for almost a decade without developing a deep love affair with the royals. 

For nearly 10 years I lived and breathed the House of Windsor. I know the line of succession to 30 places (I always wanted that to pop up in a pub quiz, but nope) I know who in the family are the Queen’s favourites (Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Lady Sarah Chatto and, up until recently, Prince Andrew) and I can give you detailed history of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship, broken down by the month. 

I remember scaring my then-boyfriend half to death when he woke up in the middle of the night to me screaming with joy over the news of Prince Louis’ birth. I am a (nearly) 30-year-old royalist and monarchist, and I’m bloody proud of it. 

Who doesn’t love a bit of pomp mixed with a whole lot of good in the world, asks Kelly

Yes, I’m now single – why do you ask? (I mean, I don’t think the rude nighttime awakening had anything to do with why that ended.) 

But even I can recognise that New Zealand’s relationship with the monarchy has changed and evolved since 1840 – but I’d argue it was for the better. 

A lot of Kiwis don’t realise the Prime Minister is not our head of state – the monarch is. That’s why she’s on our banknotes, why the armed forces always have the word ‘Royal’ in front of their names and why cases that are tried in our courtrooms are framed as ‘The Crown vs…’. 

In terms of our day-to-day life the monarchy doesn’t have much of an impact, and that’s a good thing. New Zealand is not Britain, as much as our history dictates a deep, maternal connection. 

But New Zealand, for such a young country, also has a deep love affair with the past, and love nothing more than a good dose of nostalgia.

Four generations of monarchs – Prince William, Prince George, Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Charles

Her Maj. and Co represent that – where we initially came from, how our nation (for better or for worse) was built, and the very fabric of how we came to be us. They link our past to our present, and educate us on what the future can be, and the freedom to become the country we deserve to be. It’s why the model of government we have, a constitutional monarchy, is often held as one of the most successful in the world. (I mean, when you look at places like the USA, Russia and China, you have to admit there might be something there.) 

The monarchy is in an interesting phase right now, with the sun setting on one legendary reign and the promise of a newer, more streamlined one on the horizon (don’t @ me, I’m dreading the day we lose the Queen just as much as the next monarchist, trust me – although now I don’t have to worry about magically producing a commemorative magazine in, like, five minutes, so win). Prince Charles has long indicated that when he’s King the royal family will be modernised, with most of its public duties centred around his family and descendants. 

They have transformed into something beyond a dazzling, mute figurehead, and can now boast an army of causes they ferociously support. Charles, to his credit, was ahead of his time in this respect, with his climate change and environmental theories causing him to be labelled a nut in the 80’s and 90’s when he dared to voice them.

Princess Anne completes more than 300 charitable engagements a year – most of which go unreported. Same with Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Just because the majority of the royal family simply gets on with the jobs and tries to do as much good as they humanly can, without shouting about it on the rooftops or on Instagram – or on the red carpet of The Lion King premiere – doesn’t mean they’re not earning their keep. 

But the true future, and unrivalled relevancy of the monarchy, lies with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, whose work in mental health with their Heads Together organisation has revolutionised how royals contribute to society, and helped thousands and thousands of people the world over. 

How can you not love those two? From their amazing charitable work, through to the three gorgeous princes and princess they have produced, they provide a light through the gloom – a harmless beacon of joy that so many New Zealanders love and cherish (trust me, I should know – I’ve seen the sales figures of the magazines that had them plastered on the cover). 

William made a beeline for New Zealand after the Christchurch mosque attacks, addressing crowds in almost-flawless Māori as he conveyed his and his grandmother’s sadness and support. Prince Harry, too (before Meghan, obviously) often spoke of his deep love for New Zealand, and also visited many times, charming little kids and old ladies alike before leaving his royal life behind him to seek “privacy” and “a normal life” in Hollywood because that’s where you go for privacy and normality. 

Prince William with his almost perfect Māori addressing New Zealand a month after the Christchurch mosque attacks

Of course William and Kate live in privilege. They’re royals. But they live as ‘normally’ as their position allows, without patronising those they’re trying to help. They aren’t the ones flying around in private jets to stay at their celebrity pals’ LA mansions.  

In 2020, and guided by Wills and Kate, the Royal Family stands for the same things that we, New Zealanders, stand for – fairness, equality, kindness – but they stand for it on a worldwide stage, and it’s there that we truly benefit from their right royal glow. 

We are a proud member of the Commonwealth, with Her Majesty representing us in a way that no other could possibly. She is above all politics, all agenda, all obligation, and I actually love that about the royal family. In 2020, everyone has a political opinion, and rightly so. But isn’t it nice to have a safe space, a safe beacon, where politics is irrelevant and we can instead just celebrate history and tradition? We have enough politicking in the world – and call me crazy, I just don’t think that’s the royals’ job. They don’t seek power, because in 2020 and in a democracy, that would be wrong – but they make the most of their inevitable influence, and they use it for good. 

They also provide us with something that we don’t have in New Zealand, and what some might deemed as ‘un-Kiwi’ – a little pomp and pageantry. Don’t get me wrong, I love that fact that our country is built without a class system, and also love the underlying tone of humility and humbleness we have (although I would like us to adhere to dress codes a little more – black tie doesn’t mean chinos and the ‘good’ flannelette shirt with a collar).

But just every once in a while, we get a taste of the hoopla that surrounds the royals – not enough to ruin our Kiwiness, but just enough to be special. 

And look, I’m not saying that I love all of them. In fact, my royal opinions aren’t always popular – I’ve always been on #teamcamilla, much to my former boss’ chagrin (although to be fair she is a huge Princess Diana fan, complete with ornamental plate collection in her bathroom). 

God save the Queen!

Andrew, obviously, is a bad egg, and don’t get me started on the hot mess that is Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (there was a lot of “I told you so’ yelled by me when that hot mess started unravelling just months after I’d predicted as such, and it wasn’t just because I thought me and Harry would have been quite happy together, thank you very much).  

But overall, the royals add so much more to our country than they take, and in these batshit times of uncertainty and fear, a little stability and tradition are welcome. And with a lens of true, pragmatic Kiwi value, that’s enough for me. 

God save the Queen.

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