The snobbery of the pregnancy refuseniks
Why the commentariat loves declaring its ostentatious indifference to the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy.
Brave, courageous, well-paid. These words have been cheapened by overuse, accorded to people who are often merely doing their jobs, be they footballers or firemen. This is why it is a blessed relief finally to be able to bestow these lofty adjectives on those who truly deserve them. I’m talking, of course, of the steely-eyed pundits, the iron-willed commentators, who, no doubt in full knowledge that we live under a constitutional monarchy, are still prepared to respond to the news of Kate the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy with a howling, irreverent ‘meh’.
It is difficult to downplay their courage, the sheer bravery of their determination to say the unsayable, to greet the royalist fervour with a deliciously seditious ‘am I bovvered?’.
Or at least that’s how they see it. Because, ever since the news of Kate’s pregnancy emerged, there has been no shortage of people desperate to tell us how utterly uninterested they are in the whole shebang. ‘I’m going to go out on a limb here’, announced a New Statesman columnist, ‘and count myself one of many thousands who didn’t feel any particular surge of joy at the news’. Over at the Independent, another neo-Roundhead moaned: ‘I find myself to be that peculiar sort of bird uncatered for by the British media who doesn’t really care about a stranger who never speaks pushing one out.’ Elsewhere, a Telegraph columnist was simply wearied: ‘Babigue? Pregxhaustion? Ennuioetus? I feel I need a good portmanteologism to explain what I’m feeling right now.’ It was clearly a sentiment shared among the commentariat: ‘Tabloidisation has turned this into a single daily headbang, one dominant story, overwritten and slammed in front of the reader’s eyes to the exclusion of all else.’
Here’s the thing, though: why make such a fuss about being ambivalent towards Wills and Kate’s big news? There is no national obligation to give two hoots about Kate’s pregnancy. In fact, no one really cares if a columnist doesn’t care about the royal fetus. After all, the majority of Her Majesty’s subjects aren’t actually in paroxysms of proxy, monarchist-topped joy either.
Of course, there is an ostensible point – and it is almost always the same point – to these numerous displays of ostentatious indifference. These brave journalistic souls are determined not to let us be distracted from our economic misery by stories of a royal pregnancy. That’s what the Thatcher-haunted, Tory-led coalition government want, you see: to create a miasma of sentiment and patriotism so powerful that we, the people who actually experience the realities of economic stagnation every single bloody day, think everything is hunky dory in Albion.
If that sounds like half-baked media-studies-cum-conspiracy theory, that’s because it is. Not that the poverty of the argument stops this brave tribe of naysayers from spouting it: ‘Coverage of the Glorious Impregnation of the Magical Vagina of Monarchical Succession has knocked our woeful economy conveniently off the front pages, and distracted attention from the omnishambles that was once the British fourth estate in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry’, writes one columnist clearly too influenced by media-effects theory. ‘Extinguish all rational thought. Abandon all hope that the chancellor’s Autumn Statement will make the front pages this week. Stand aside, Leveson Inquiry and its fretful consequences. There’s a royal fetus out there and it’s instantly eclipsed all other news’, writes another. And as one Scotland-based columnist concludes, ‘Something which the coalition government has become very good at is creating an artificial sense of joy to distract us from the real problems which are affecting the country. We saw it with the royal wedding and the Diamond Jubilee and we have seen it again with the pregnancy.’
In the real world, however, people are merely interested by the news of Kate’s pregnancy, not deceived into happiness by it. No more, no less. But then the motivation for penning endless statements of self-righteous indifference towards the embryonic heir to the throne doesn’t really have anything to do with those in whose name they are supposedly written. Rather, to declare oneself indifferent to Kate’s pregnancy is a cultural marker of one’s superiority to those – the distracted, the duped, the deceived – in whose name the articles are supposedly written. To declare oneself a royal-pregnancy refusenik is to display one’s superiority to those who apparently lap it all up. These right-thinking sages can see through the ‘schmaltz and parades and [the] buggerload of bunting’ because they are different to, not to mention better than, the flag-wavers and fist-pumpers, the consumers of Wills and Kate chintz and commemorative crockery. One will even go to ‘WH Smith later this week and be confronted by the vast printed Hadrian’s Wall of Kate Baby Special Editions glaring back at me and I will continue to feel unmoved’. Good on her. And shame on us.
But in this peculiarly British inflection of a US-style Culture War, a snobbery-ridden standoff, one point does seem to be frequently missed: whether these missionaries of broadsheet enlightenment like it or not, Kate’s pregnancy is not simply of biological significance. It is of social significance, too. And it is important. Kate is not just carrying simply an ‘eight-week-old cluster of cells’ or even merely a ‘first baby’. She is carrying the future head of the British state. Of course, critics may legitimately – and rightly – oppose the institution of monarchy and the principle of hereditary succession on democratic grounds, as spiked does. But given the snobbish contempt for normal people so evident in their anti-royal missives, one suspects their republicanism is rather shallow. Deep down, beyond their Victorian-era pity-the-poor posturing, this oh-so-brave tribe of anti-royalists are far happier feeling superior to the masses than really and truly believing in their liberty.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.