Fri, 20 May 2005

So did anyone else witness the Saskatchewan Centennial Gala on CBC last night? I tuned in right at the end, just as our royal visitors were paying their respects to the performers assembled onstage at SaskPlace. I missed the edifying spectacle of the Queen shaking hands with Theresa Sokyrka, but I watched her tottering past a lineup of befeathered Indians and gold-lamé-clad teenage jazz dancers, smiling benignly and absent-mindedly on each one. Prince Philip trailed her, stopping to shake hands and offer small-talk to a random sampling of colonials. Then the Queen and the Prince reached the end of the receiving line and the camera followed them backstage, where they climbed into their car and were gone from the building before the song (a Muzak version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”) had finished playing.

I don’t mean to be bitter, but what happened to the good old days, when aristocrats sneered at the vulgar entertainments of the hoi polloi? I’m not saying we should have an aristocracy, but if we insist on having one, let’s at least make sure that it establishes and adheres to aristocratic standards of good taste. Those standards might be arbitrary – they might dictate that the laziest performance of classical music is accorded more respect than the most adventurous jazz – but at least they’re standards. Instead we have a Royal family with no discrimination whatsoever – a Queen who will sit smiling through the most mind-numbing and amateurish pageants, who offers the same lazy applause whether she’s watching Don Giovanni or Saskatchewan Express, who will smile just as patronisingly at Leslie Nielson playing a clumsy Mountie or Olivier playing Hamlet. People always complain about the crassness and lowest-common-denominator-chasing of politicians, but politicians are at least allowed to express opinions that might alienate some members of the electorate. George Bush prefers country music to gangsta rap, and is unafraid to say so. Jean Chrétien liked Harvey’s better than Burger King, and he didn’t care who knew it. Our Queen just sits through one tacky gala after another, smiling at the stage like a mentally handicapped person, nodding politely at everyone and everything, a symbol expunged of all meaning, an incomprehensible glyph. This, apparently, is what a royal family must do to retain its privileges in a democratic society: they have to become imbeciles. If they had any self-respect they’d have rejected this bargain out of hand and retired quietly to nurture their corgis in the countryside somewhere. Perhaps we should begin hinting politely that it’s time for them to do just that.

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