Deconstructing the royal spectacle (Undressing Anne Boleyn)

The old misanthrope in me loves a literary essay written at someone else’s expense. Such writing can be cruel, but when the subjects are either born into or adopt privilege, such as Kate Windsor (née Middleton), they are to a degree fair game. Celebrities survive only with a thick skin, and I doubt that they suffer unduly from the pens of acerbic authors.

Take Hilary Mantel, for example, who in the London Review of Books has given us a brilliant deconstruction of royal celebrity, from which I quote…

“I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”

Mantel’s essay has drawn the ire of the tabloid press responsible for promoting and perpetuating the ghastly royal spectacle, and I find it impossible to summon any sympathy for my journalistic colleagues who engage in the vacuous page fillery of royal reporting. Even prime minister David Cameron has seen fit to comment, which was a very silly thing for him to do.

As Mantel illustrates so beautifully, the reaction of real people possessed of firing synapses in potential encounters with real royal celebrity is often (I paraphrase) “Ooh look, a squirrel!”. Now they have my sympathy. It must be an excruciating experience for all concerned.