Generally, I have no truck with passionate opposition to the British monarchy. This is for two reasons: (1) I think all that anti-royal revolutionary effort would be better spent hanging the last capitalist with the guts of the last celebrity; and (2) I love the Princess Royal and secretly believe that HRH Anne and I could one day become great pals.

So critique of the media excesses performed around the recent imperial birth are made with political and personal reticence, and these will not involve a call for a republic, which would, let’s face it, offer no benefit to ordinary Australians, save for a period of increased employment at the Mint.

To be very clear and in the very mild hope that those who race to the comments with a call for my torture by means of Malcolm Turnbull are still reading: yes, the monarchy is absurd. The most practical argument anyone can create to defend this funded obscenity is “it’s good for tourism” as though this portion of the British GDP would not survive the institution’s death. When tourists visit London, they head to the Tower of London more than any other monument, and this is a clear indication that the world loves the thought of the pointless fuckers dying. Anyhow, financial services keep the British economy strong enough to withstand all beheading and it is the globalised might of this vile industry that keeps Empire alive more than eight new pounds of royal flesh whose particular emergence, apparently, is seen by many idiots as a sign of progress.

Yes. Apparently young HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is a win for gender equality. We know this because The Guardian tells us so. Male-preference primogeniture laws were changed in time for the birth and this means that Charlotte now moves ahead of Prince Harry in line to succession and need not kill any future younger brothers but just her older one if she fancies a spell on the throne. This “has to be good for the feminist cause” reports the Graun because of, um, reasons. Reasons that are not elaborated but, presumably, involve something about how every little girl can now dream of miming the worst traditions of super elite Western imperialism just like little boys. God. It’s all just so fucking inspiring. I feel proud both as a woman and a feminist Guardian reader to think that one outlandishly privileged representative of my gender can wield fictitious power every half-century or so. This will Make a Difference.

As if this parliamentary decree did not sufficiently appease our Western need for the performance of progress, the Cambridges themselves did. In a hyper-casualised echo of the last royal birth, they have been busy looking unflustered and loving on the steps of an expensive hospital. No matter that the Princess employed a team of stylists to create a fresh look that no post-partum woman of my acquaintance could naturally exude, the Western world’s media has been serving up the shitty lie of normal parenthood with a plastic McFlurry spoon.

How? How is it possible that we are doing this deluded dance again? When the other royal lump was removed just a few years ago, we all oohed at the “casual” and “unfussy” parenting techniques of the couple and frankly, once was more than enough. I recall that a clockwork chimp at the Herald Sun wrote an open letter in which Princess Catherine was thanked for the way she “proudly showed off” her body. A feat she managed, by the by, simply in appearing in a frock without an obvious girdle. Hardly “showing off” and hardly any more radical than the appearances by previous new royal mothers, none of whom have ever sought to mimic the impossible natal silhouettes of the current era’s celebrities. Even HRH Diana, the famous bulimic, got about in some turquoise candy store sack when she’d shoved out Charlotte’s father.

This is the thing, though. Since the time of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, the Royal Family has been pretending to be Just Like Us. A decent piece in The Conversation reminds us of what stupid journalists allow themselves to forget: this nonsense institution preserves its power by concealing it.

You don’t need to read Sun Tzu to understand that an appearance of weakness wins the war every time. You don’t even need to lift your indolent finger and search for previous images of the royal family to see that they’ve been at this We’re Just Like You game for much longer than a century. You actually just need to have taken a selfie to understand the nature of artifice.

Kate and Wills have an ordinary pram and a baby capsule of the sorts one might purchase at an online sale and engage in acts of “natural” affection with their children. This is hailed in putatively sensible newspapers as a “royal nursery revolution” and not, as it is, a simple extension of what the British monarchy has been doing for decades to preserve itself.

These images of the Cambridges as loving, natural parents are just as staged as, and far less beautiful than, the royal portraits by Cecil Beaton. How anyone who lives in the era of the selfie can think these images are any more “real” than those flattering snaps we take and post of ourselves is quite beyond me. Many people grizzle, as they should, about the humble-brag imagery of Instagram and can see right through the filtered pictures of bliss-with-family-at-the-beach to their core of needy evil. That we largely consent to be moved by a royal moment that logic tells us is even less candid and constructed than our own selfie-stick efforts is bizarre.

Not everyone is fooled, of course and not everyone is moved to tears of oestrogen for the picture of a sensitive Prince holding his toddler for the benefit of press in a posture that recalls a hundred ads for razors. Some of us know that William’s apparent reconstruction as a man is secondary to his function as a construction for mass and social media.

While it is entirely possible that these royal strangers may be decent, sincere parents, it is impossible that there is a moment of decent sincerity in their mass depiction. Branding takes labour, and bullshit requires our complicity.

The sensitivity of celebrities, royal or otherwise, is always a lie. Even if it is authentic, it is necessarily as processed as a ham. No one in the current era just poses for or publishes a picture without hope to represent something other than themselves and that we, architects of our own bullshit, can believe the “raw” and “natural” emotion of the royals to be any less constructed than the tears-on-cue of lesser celebrities is evidence of our diminishing grip on the real.

This is not candour. This is not real. This is not a timely move to “modernise” an institution that relies on the maintenance of our pre-Enlightenment awe to sustain it. It’s another well-placed nail in the pretty casket of materiality.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey