Posted: June 1, 2023
I like the BBC. They do objective journalism the way it was intended. While they get public funding they are not beholden to that funding source as Elon Musk has asserted, but they are held to account to represent the public they serve. In so doing I found the range of coverage of the Coronation a few weeks ago quite dramatic.
I had expected there would be a heavy slant on the ceremony itself, and certainly it was covered that way in detail. But along with it, and included in the commentary to a certain extent, was the questioning of the role of the British Monarchy as well as some interesting details on its chequered past. One piece was on the unconscionable behaviour from history of not owning slaves but trading in slaves as a loophole to benefit from the whole industry without actually being owners. Splitting hairs I think. A bit like those Americans who financed Hitler all the while denouncing the aggression their lending practices facilitated.
Another piece was on the number of countries who have, since the passing of Queen Elizabeth, either removed the British Monarch as head of state, or are contemplating that removal, as either no longer relevant or more often because it is an affront to the dignity of their people, particularly in the Caribbean.
But mixed in with these very damning explorations were the light fluffy ones for the supporters of the monarchy and the drama of the coronation. The affixing of the bunting and the painting up of the shops the new coins being minted. And with this was one piece that really stuck with me – the gilding of the finials. Now for those who are not into such things, the act of gilding is to apply gold leaf (gilt) which is a paper thin gold sheet (think very thin foil – thinner than most aluminum foil) to a surface so it now becomes gold in colour. The finials on the fence posts around Buckingham Palace, in St. James Park for example, over time, with the weather and the pigeons and time become worn down and need a new layer to look new.
What struck me is the whole nature of this illusion and how much of a metaphor it is for monarchy. These posts are not gold, but the visual suggests they are. And over time the illusion is lost and needs to be replaced. Most of us knew of the illusion of course, but had that knowledge tucked away in box somewhere under the bed as we had so much respect for the dedication Queen Elizabeth to various good causes and her role as a constant in a crumbling world. With the passing of time, and the passing of Elizabeth it is impossible to see how this illusion can be effective in todays world. With the coronation of Charles, the box has come out from under the bed and we are appalled at what we see. Its time to put the rose coloured glasses in the box and put them away.
And this notion of gilt, got me to thinking about guilt. When do we stop being guilty for the actions of our parents, grandparents or predecessors? As a young Turk learning about the Armenian massacre, or a young German learning about the Holocaust, is there some point in time that we stop carrying this guilt? I cant imagine living in Berlin, and having to walk by the busses of tourists eager to take pictures of Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial. But equally something like the Holocaust memorial keeps it alive in the consciousness of those German youngsters and the rest of the world, so has value.
There is some level of erosion of guilty feelings of course. I feel more strongly about the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Residential Schools in Canada as it happened in my home country including in my lifetime. While I am upset by historical wrongs I don’t feel as guilty about the bad behaviour of my ancestors from several hundred years ago as I do about the recent ones.
And there is no arbiter of history. History is something we make up from our interpretation of what happened. The Russians did the heaviest lifting in both world wars to save the freedom of Europe but that’s not how most history books or popular films tell the story. And often even the version of history we are exposed to goes part way to try to downplay our culpability.
While in the past I would proudly sing, God Save The Queen, the illusion has been exposed, the rose coloured glasses put away, and I will never sing God Save The King.
P.S. While I am posting this today, I will update it from time to time as it is a topic that is haunting me.