I was happy to let the passing of Elizabeth II go unremarked, to understand her death as an important moment, worthy of respect, even from those of us who were not monarchists.
My dedication to this proposition started to wane earlier than I thought it might as an unstoppable flood of drivel was released through the mainstream media, of individuals and institutions engaging, not just in unseemly displays of forelock tugging, but in active erasure of the experiences of colonised peoples around the world (and more about that in another post), and the manufacture of a first draft of history that was insulting and misleading.
I couldn’t make up my mind which response was the most ridiculous. Was it the Herald Sun running a picture of a cloud that ‘looked like the Queen’?
Or was it the Liberal member for Kew in Melbourne releasing a cringing press release swearing allegiance to the new King on behalf of his electorate?
And then, of course, came the endless demands for ‘civility’, when in fact, a lot of the criticism I saw of the Queen, and more especially, of the institution she represented and embodied, was civil, well-informed and completely reasonable. But as Dr Ingrid Matthews pointed out on Twitter, we were ‘not hearing any of that infamous balance on the wireless today’.
Or as journalist Wendy Bacon said, ‘What a coincidence that @abcnews had all day to get a range of Vox pops about the monarchy & found not one that was not positive—or not that I heard. A reminder of the limits of their #journalism & propaganda role of ABC.’
Or Paul Bongiorno:
The way in which the mainstream has reacted to the sad death of Queen Elizabeth II highlights again the role the media plays in stifling rather than promoting, not just debate, but information itself. Rather than accurately reflecting the world in which their audience lives, giving voice to the myriad opinions such a moment conjures, journalists and their editors tried to force on us a singular, sanitised version of reality.
It was a failure of their duty.
Elizabeth was a person in her own right, the representative of a particular class, the embodiment of a necessarily complex notion of government and statehood and empire whose historical reality is mixed, to the say the least. Her death, therefore, inevitably touches on a range of matters personal and political, and that complexity should be acknowledged in the moment of her death, not glossed over. The idea that everyone should adhere to a singular, status-quo approved response to her passing is a nonsense.
The claim that there should be a moment in which we accentuate only the positive is not just unrealistic, it is infantilising, demanding we behave like obedient children rather than thinking adults. In saying that, I am not foreclosing on the idea that such discussion should be polite or dignified, but the very idea of civility can only exist in the presence of criticism. Civility presumes criticism, and if it doesn’t, then what you are calling for is not civility but silence.
Too often, and especially in moments like this, that is precisely what the mainstream media, and the status quo they represent, is doing.
This post was first published at Tim Dunlop’s Future of Everything.