Why Would You Viciously Attack a Dead Queen?
Trying to cancel Queen Elizabeth II after her death is really just another fantasy about the Royal Family
Every once in a while, the news pushes me in a direction I had not anticipated. But if you have a friend who would appreciate this post, do:
“It is hard to know whether the inevitable avalanche of mourning and reporting in the days and weeks ahead speaks to the way the monarchy still matters for many Britons,” writes historian James Vernon in one of many Twitter threads that named Queen Elizabeth II as an enduring symbol of exploitive colonialism and white supremacy. “I suspect instead, she represents an earlier time and a nation/empire many still wished they lived in.”
Yes, that’s probably right. And yet Queen Elizabeth’s critics are in the grip of a whole range of other fantasies which, despite the very real historical horrors of the English colonial past, are no more tethered to reality. Predictably, Twitter doesn’t care and is on fire anyway: tributes to the Queen, who died yesterday at 96, compete with anger that anyone could imagine mourning, positively evaluating Elizabeth Windsor’s 75 years of public service, or thinking about her with any emotion but contempt.
And if you are saying: “Who knew there was something called anti-colonial Twitter?” then you don’t know Twitter very well. It’s just another name that the mob travels under, aversion of all the other kinds of Twitter organized around expressing the horrible, not very well processed, rage that most of us try not to express.
But to whom is the rage really directed? To Queen Elizabeth II—or to those (one presumes Vernon is referring to white Britons) to whom the monarch “represents an earlier time and a nation/empire many still wished they lived in”? I suspect it is the latter, and I have some sympathy for that. The Queen, and the Royal Family in general, do represent a white national past that hasn’t been English reality for almost 100 years. And embracing Meghan Markle, only to have Markle take Prince Harry and run, leaving behind a series of awful accusations that the family refuses to answer (as is their habit) didn’t help.
It used to be widely understood that a monarch had two bodies: one, an earthly body and the other a divine spirit which inhabited that other body. It’s why kings and queens always refer to themselves as “we.” it isn’t an affectation, but a statement of royal reality. In the age of mass media, however, you have to add a third body: the national, mass-mediated fantasy.
And it is perhaps Queen Elizabeth’s greatest distinction as a monarch that she was born into a world that didn’t even have radio, and died in a world where anyone gets to say whatever they want on social media. So it isn’t a surprise that she, and her family have been carefully curated. As journalist Susie Madrak posted on Twitter, whatever Queen Elizabeth you are posting about is not the real person, because “she was only an avatar in the world hologram, a game piece -- as are all public figures. We only know the image carefully constructed by well-compensated PR teams. Whatever we think we know about a public figure, we're probably wrong.”
Want to keep reading? Try Political Junkie as a paying subscriber for only $5.00/month
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Political Junkie to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.