Sunday, 3 June 2012

That Darned Royal Jubilee

‘We just love the Royals. I mean, it’s what we do, innit?’ That was a little snippet I caught on Radio 4 this morning, from a woman who had camped out beside the Thames in the cold and rain last night to get a good view of today’s Jubilee river pageant. I hadn’t particularly wanted to write anything about the Jubilee on this blog, but when a Morrisian craftswoman posts pictures of her ‘William Morris Jubilee Union Jack Cushions’ on Twitter, and a left-wing colleague remarks there: ‘Rented a movie this weekend about countless screaming zombies taking over London, now feel a fool as it's been playing on BBC1 all day’, then perhaps one should say something after all.

The key principle here for me is that, as Fredric Jameson has often insisted, the ideological and the utopian are inseparable in popular culture. So the whole recent frenzy about the monarchy is indeed ideological, disguising the reality of a brutally class-divided society (that reality which erupted in the riots of last summer). We need to invoke all of Morris’s angry invective about Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee and more, and the notion of a Morris Jubilee Union Jack Cushion is therefore simply contemptible.

However, within ideology, utopian impulses are active too. There is a real longing for community beyond class division and capitalism’s cyclical economic crises, and for a continuity and decency which that violently disruptive system tears apart every day (‘all that is solid melts into air’). The fact that such hope is projected onto the elderly Mrs Windsor rather than directed into active politics makes it self-defeating, but it does not make today’s Jubilee enthusiasts the mindless zombies of my colleague’s incautious comment. I certainly wouldn’t want to be as contemptuously dismissive of them as Tiresias is of the typist and clerk in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – in part because my own Mum is one of them too!

So: ideology and utopia – very frustratingly intertwined indeed. And we are not much better than the socialists of the 1880s at prising utopia away from ideology, either in theory or in practice.


John Hopper said...

I must admit that although I let the Jubilee pass by without taking part or watching it on TV, it was really hard to escape it online. I was fully prepared to be indifferent, but as we got into the Jubilee I got more and more bewildered, even sane rational people were starting to wave flags and talk about the Windsors as if they were near neighbours.

I do understand that the tory press in particular, were trying to make a point in their crude way, as to the fact that Britain was a pageant rich phenomenon compared to possible future and bleak days of England and an independent Scotland, but it still seemed stomach churning to me personally and a tad insincere.

Still, I can say with some pride that my village didn't have one flag, piece of bunting or street party anywhere in sight despite the acclamation of the tory press, we love you ma'am, but not here.

Tony Pinkney said...

Good to know that there were some Jubilee-free zones. It was all fairly low-key in Lancaster, though I was dismayed to learn (after the event) that my university had organised a Jubilee party in the central square on campus.

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