Populist stories, however trivial, commandeer streams of coverage in what are commonly considered the ‘downmarket’ publications. We’re prepared for it. We know it’s going to happen. If an X-Factor runner up becomes engaged to a semi-literate footballer, we know, right away, that this is going to adorn the cover of the next issue of OK! magazine. It doesn’t catch us off guard. We aren’t in the queue at the Co-Op clutching a readymade chicken dhansak and a discounted bottle of red wine, with a big evening of belligerent misanthropy and self-loathing on Twitter ahead of us, before seeing the glossy magazine flanking the queue and think: “Well I am GOBSMACKED they’ve run with that piece of arbitrary nonsense. I did NOT see that one coming.”
Of all the bits of inconsequential drivel which catalyse the paps into a news orgy akin to the last days of Caligula, anything Royal supersedes it. Ever since the golden couple, Wills & Kate, and the ‘likes a pint so he must be off the rails’ prince, Harry, turned up, the royals had that mix of fame, class and a degree of relativity, which saw them receive more column inches than a millennia worth of page 3. The Royal Wedding saw a veritable malaise of coverage, with every paper trying to out-do each other to see who could find the most threadbare scoop or convoluted interview (“I once sold Kate a Battenburg at a village bakesale when she was 12. It was an inspired choice, which made me realise that she would make a similarly erudite decision when it came to choosing her husband”). It was pantomime stuff.
Despite this bombardment of asinine story after asinine story, no-one, really, cared that much. No-one was particularly irked by the coverage. Most of us just got boozy on the bank holiday and continued to live our lives, unaffected. See, despite what some would make you believe, it’s quite easy to avoid the news. I manage it. Only the other day I found out that Liberace was gay. I couldn’t believe it. The ladies loved him! I didn’t see that one coming! Avoid BBC news for a couple of days. Read a book instead of the newspaper. Watch re-runs of Come Dine With Me instead of the news. Besides, it’s hardly like the average person would be pontificating over more scholarly subjects had it not been for this national interest piece being run into the ground. It’s not as if this Zeitgeisty discussion over two arbitrary people getting hitched has replaced the previous debate around the office water cooler, over the stark similarities between the society depicted in Nokolai Gogol’s Dead Souls and modern times. These shitty stories cash in on public curiosity. They don’t create it. If the next in line to the throne gets engaged people WILL talk about it, regardless of that 14-page picture pull-out in Hello! magazine. Besides, I’d much rather people read about a pregnancy than some libellous bullshit in a right-wing tabloid about Muslims eating swans (at taxpayer’s expense).
Therefore, there’s no point being irritated by these stories. What is irritating, however, is the so called ‘reputable’ papers continually writing about how fucking irritating the whole affair is. PEOPLE! TALKING ABOUT STUFF! WHICH HAPPENS! WELL CONGRATULATIONS, THATCHER! WELL FUCKING DONE!
Every time a story like the incumbent Royal… insemination… appears, the salubrious publications have a virtual dick-measuring contest to see who can appear the most aloof to the sensation. Who can give the fewest shits about it. Who can care that one iota less than the others. And to do this, they write about the story in question. Endlessly. Article after fucking article just peppered with ironic witticisms, which are just about as debase as ‘lolz, dey ain’t even got jobs. Y do I care about der weddin, pmsl.’
Under the guise of irony, people can assimilate seamlessly into the crowds they spend every waking second of their life disparaging. Because some people just love gossip. But sometimes these people also like knitwear, and lenseless glasses, and Damien Hurst instillations, and books by Jack Kerouac, and Two Door Cinema Club songs – and unfortunately these cannot co-exist. Which is why any mention of anything Royal has to be caveated by the get-out-of-intellectual-jail-free card, irony.
Much like during the royal wedding, the rib-tickling satirical coverage of the Royal pregnancy by kitsch journalists was palpable. They got stuck into the hype-buffet with their home-brought 12-inch plate.
The Guardian, traditionally the first to get its grubby mitts all over the cash-cow of mass hysteria, went for the side-splitting Kate Middleton’s pregnancy: 10 stories I don’t want to read. Ha, yeah. You tell ‘em, Zoe Williams. I’d hate to read pointless shit about an event which doesn’t affect me. Can’t wait to see her piece! *Reads Zoe Williams’ article concerning pointless shit about an event which doesn’t affect me*.
From baby name suggestions to speculation about Pippa, there are some articles that should remain in the writer’s imagination.
But not in yours?
The list includes such irreverent sub-sections as An endless list of things she shouldn’t be eating or drinking, An imaginative reconstruction of how Diana would take the news if she were alive and Any article headlined Dilaty-Katie.
Midly tittering? Absolutely. But the issue is that Williams and the paper want to both have their cake and eat it, so to speak. For last years’s royal wedding, Zoe appeared to occupy the role of head tit-bit writer, rolling out such articles as ”Royal Wedding Guest List; Perplexing – where was naughty uncle Gary? and “Siblings’ Star Turn’; articles as arbitrary as the ones she so vociferously warned about in her above piece. Which seems to imply that shite articles about non-consequential side issues concerning popular stories are fine, as long we write them.
But it’s not just Williams. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian appears to be playing the good cop alongside Willams’, I dunno, hypocritical cop. He does this by penning a scathing op-ed, lambasting the media for prying into their lives and writing polemic articles on the Royals. In order to get his point across, he pries into their lives and writes a polemic article on them. Wait…wait…wait, what?
The ferocity of the spotlight helped undermine three royal marriages, from which the monarchy is lucky to have escaped unscathed, largely through the personality of the Queen. Now the same terrible glare is being turned on the next young couple, and what seems to be a difficult pregnancy. We can smile and wish them well. But it is not morning sickness that this family has most to fear, it is the demons that follow.
Traumatic stuff, no question, though this gambit would hold far more gravitas if it wasn’t accompanied by a sidebar displaying NINE separate, Guardian-penned stories on the Royal wedding. Which is a bit like explaining to someone the problems with unregulated fire-arm ownership, whilst your mate has them at gunpoint.
Other stories by the Gruan include Royal Wedding: The Strangest Stories so Far and A Story is Born – The Papers Devote Pages to the Royal Wedding, including, it appears, the one in question. It’s classic Victorian Freakshow traits; the so-called educated and affluent gentry, with their prosperous lives and refined tastes, yet with the morbid curiosity to gawp at a bloke with Elephantiasis, or a dwarf on a tightrope.
I assume that The Guardian have reams of these articles achieved and ready to go, and are just waiting with baited breath for a story to touch the heart of middle England which they can mock and eviscerate with some half-arsed shite stolen from Twitter. I reckon when the exclusive broke, Alan Rusbridger burst out of his office dressed like a Spartan warrior, before shouting “SOUND THE IRONY KLAXON!”
I realise the obvious ‘irony’ of myself penning an article disparaging those disparaging the Royal Pregnancy/Insemination/Unprotected-Bonk coverage, but my stance on the whole event is that it’s just another story which will annex the front pages for the next month, before disappearing away, soon to be replaced by Prince Harry’s latest fancy-dress mishap. It’s inoffensive and mildly enamouring. Yet print and social media is awash with people trying to prove they care the least about the pregnancy, and how they’ve managed to defy science and give a negative amount of fucks about it – Yet at the same time devoting every inch of their columns to it.
But in addition to the quirk-meisters with their irreverent opinions, you have those who hijack any populist story and contort it to reflect their personal bête-noire. And as ever, if you want a smorgasbord of exaggeration, hypocrisy and general lunacy, one can’t look much further than friend of the site, Laurie Penny.
Laurie’s scathing prose on the Royal Foetus follows the standard three-point approach to an LP article:
1) Mention how meaningless the subject matter is;
2) Shoe horn in hyperbole about Cameron’s Britain being worse than Stalinist Russia;
3) Arbitrary and extraneous stories about either a) a minority group, b) her mates, or c) both.
Doesn’t matter what the subject is, anything from the Royals, to Facebook, to Literature, she will make sure you know the subject matter is worthless, Cameron is a prick and that the other day she met someone who sleeps in a toboggan.
That’s what we’re all meant to say: how very, very happy we are for the prince and his pretty princess, so young and so in love, and now with a baby on the way. I’m going to go out on a limb here and count myself one of many thousands who didn’t feel any particular surge of joy at the news.
Yeah, you know, fucking trivial this royal wedding schmaltz. No-one gives a fuck about it…
It’s as if the House of Windsor were just another soap opera, rather than an institution that continues to confiscate full democratic enfranchisement from seventy million other humans living on this rainy little island.
…but it’s important to remember that the royal pregnancy reiterates the fact that we’re living under totalitarian rule. Sort of.
After boxes 1 and 2 are ticked, Penny goes on to, apropos of nothing, talk about some mates of hers whose life should make you feel guilty about ever giving the aforementioned pregnancy the merest hint of interest.
When I think of William and Kate and how happy we’re supposed to be for them, I can’t help but think of another young couple I know… This summer I watched them have their first dance in the room above the local pub with all their friends, with him bent at a strange loving angle to reach her mouth for a kiss, because he’s a lanky sod and she’s under five feet tall. Now the two of them want to have a baby. But they can’t. Not Because of circumstance. Because he’s on night shifts and she’s in full-time further education. The welfare benefits they rely on to keep them in their home have been slashed.
Now, I’m not going to make light of these two’s situation. Why would anyone? But one must ask oneself about the relevancy. Am I supposed to think: “Are you trying to tell me that people are WORSE off than the Royal Family? Really? Cripes, this changes everything.”
But Penny’s pantheon of marital mates continues.
Then there’s another young couple I used to know… one of them suffered from a painful physical disability that worsened the more she worked to build them a home together. Her partner watched her struggle to claim disability benefits, like millions of others, watched her self-esteem slowly eroded by the gruelling process of applying for sickness support under the new punitive welfare system, and failing, time and time again.
Again, WHERE’S THE RELEVANCY!? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO ASCERTAIN FROM THIS!? Penny hasn’t embarked on a fucking Attenbrough-esq discovery here. She hasn’t given the causal onlooker some context by which to view the event, as if before she bequeathed us with this priceless bit of knowledge we thought you had to be of royal lineage to shack up with someone else. Most of us a fully aware of the sociological patchwork that makes up society. Most of us have ventured outside of our front door.
It’s an article which starts out as ambivalence, and ends like an Arthur Miller screenplay. I don’t actually think Laurie Penny writes articles anymore. I think she just waits for a public interest story occurring in an area in which she despises to hit the headlines, before talking about how pointless it is, garbling out some nonsense about political decay before tossing in a few case studies where she educates the world about the fact that people with disabilities exist. IN THE REAL WORLD! Well cheers for clearing that up, Laurie. I would never have known. Not from my ivory tower up here.
Here’s the thing. Yes, the royal pregnancy is a bit tedious. Yes, the coverage is inane. Yes, no-one, really, cares that much. But we knew this in advance. We knew this was coming. We don’t need highfalutin journos to remind us at every turn that it’s proper wank, and the rags are going to go mad for it. Don’t like it? Report proper news. Joe Public; don’t like it? Read a book. Speak to people about something interesting. But time and again this doesn’t happen. Time and time again these papers clamour over each other to report on these tit-bits. Which means there’s two reasons why; one, they want to cash in on the hype like everyone else, or two, so they can make them feel better about themselves. I have a suspicion that it’s a mix of the two, which is why the next time the royal family do something out the ordinary, the same cabal of self-appointed opinion makers will be all over it, with Zoe Williams arranging meticulous headlines which she doesn’t want to read (before writing pieces she does), Simon Jenkins will write an article about the dangers of writing articles and Laurie Penny reminding us that it’s important to remember at this moment of not-giving-a-fuck that David Cameron is worse than Vlad the Impalor.