Notes From the Margins…

Hey, Mantel, Leave that Princess Alone

  • February 20, 2013
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I don’t have any strong personal feelings about the ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ or any of the other members of the royal family one way or the other,  with the exception of that homicidal upper-class thug Harry – a spiteful moron who looks as if he spent his childhood pulling the wings off birds.

But I do feel an instinctive revulsion toward the royal family as an institution,   and a symbolic bastion of residual class privilege that should not have any significant place in a modern democracy.    I dislike the wealth that the royal family possesses and the amount it receives from the public purse.   I dislike the hierarchical conception of society that it represents.   I do not see why I or anybody else should have to look up to a succession of  mediocrities, non-entities, and grotesques, just because they have a title like ‘duke’ or ‘princess’ .

More than anything else, I am constantly astounded at the sycophancy, morbid celebrity-worship, genuflectory reverence and sentimentality that drives the media cult of the royal family.       All these qualities were on display in the outraged response to Hilary Mantel’s brilliant but pitiless deconstruction of ‘Kate’ and the public representation of royal women.

Naturally, the Daily Mail was at the forefront of the pack, in a piece on Middleton’s visit to a drug and alcohol rehab centre that positively foamed with  indignation at Mantel’s sacrilege, without showing the slightest indication that it understood a single point that she was making.

It was a testament to the Mail’s stupidity or hypocrisy that it could derisively quote Mantel’s heretical suggestions that the ‘royal body exists to be looked at’, and that Middleton was a “jointed doll on which certain rags are hung’ – in a piece accompanied by 20 photographs and 2 videos of the pregnant princess, punctuated with buttock-clenchingly embarrassing descriptions of the ‘rags’ she was wearing:

Wearing a patterned wrap dress by upmarket High Street label MaxMara, the 31-year-old duchess seemed proud of her gently swelling stomach, holding it protectively.

Just in case we didn’t get the point, the writer informs us how

Looked tanned after her recent holiday in Mustique, Kate braved a chill morning in London wearing only a grey patterned wrap dress by upmarket High Street range Max Mara.

OK, OK, we got it already.   In addition to Middleton’s dress sense, there were lots of reminders of what lay inside her ‘upmarket’ attire.     So readers were breathlessly informed that ‘The Duchess made no attempt to disguise her gently swelling stomach, standing with her hands clasped under her bump.’

Now I don’t know about you readers, but when I read this kind of mawkish voyeuristic drivel I feel a kind of nausea that has nothing to do with morning sickness.     But prurient voyeurism is the bread and butter of a newspaper that likes its women to look a certain way, whether they are royal or simply famous.

There were abundant examples of the Mail’s ideal type on display yesterday in the soft-porn photo column on its website,   together with come-hither headlines like this:

Stylish but skintight! Heavily pregnant Malin Akerman accentuates her baby bump in clinging Lycra dress as she steps out with husband

If pregnant celebrities weren’t enough to tickle readers’ fancies, there was Selena Gomez (‘flashes some serious flesh in sharp suit with plunging neckline’), Kate Beckinsdale   ( ‘sleek in black outfit as she dines out after Burberry show’), Betheny Franke (‘shows off her svelte beach body in a strapless bikini as she frolics in the Australian surf’) and last but not least ‘Battle of the bathing suit beauties!   Kendra Wilkinson and Katherine Webb flash the flesh during diving practice for US tv’s flash!’

Whatever her gifts as a writer,   Hilary Mantel is not the kind of woman to find a place in the Mail’s pantheon of femininity, and her photograph was included twice alongside Middleton’s, with the clear implication: how dare someone who looks like this have the temerity to insult Her Royal Fragrance?

The Sun is another newspaper that likes to gawk at women and knows what kind of women it likes to gawk at.     So naturally it rallied to Middleton’s defence today,     with a piece entitled ‘Bump..1 Grump..0, Radiant Kate laughs off hurtful attack by author.’

Celebrities and royal women are always ‘radiant’ when they’re pregnant, even seen through the Sun’s baleful gaze.    What can match such radiance?   Maybe Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pitorius’ dead girlfriend, posing in a bikini on its front page last week the day after she was shot, so that male readers could salivate over a murder victim.

Mantel was never likely to win the affections of the Sun or its readers, and no one will be surprised that she was dismissed as a ‘ snooty writer’ who ‘insultingly dismissed Kate as a baby-producing machine with no personality or emotions.’

But there was also a shrill outpouring of manufactured outrage from former MP and expatriate narcissist Louise Mensch, now rewarded in her transatlantic exile for her stalwart defence of News International during the ‘hackgate’ hearings, with her own Sun column.

And what did La Mensch have to say on this crucial matter?   After raging against Mantel’s ‘breathtaking intellectual snobbery’ and the ‘leftie intelligentsia’ that she supposedly comes from,   she delivered this killer blow:

‘But the controversy had her books zooming up the Amazon charts yesterday. No such thing as bad publicity, eh, Hilary?’

Well, ouch.     Some might say that a bestselling novelist who has won just about every award she possibly can and already sells books by the truckload is not particularly desperate for publicity.   But the same cannot be said for Mensch, who rarely missed an opportunity to make some banal public utterance when she was an MP and still can’t seem to kick the habit.

Mantel was in fact engaging in an activity that has become alien to the tabloid press for many years now – she was inviting her audience to think critically.    And tabloid journalists are not the only ones to have refused this invitation.

Over in India, the PM took time out from flogging weapons and dismissing suggestions of corruption in a high-profile arms deal, to draw his Etonian sword and defend the honour of our wounded princess.

A true prince of the spirit, if not in blood, Lord Snooty conceded that Mantel writes ‘great books’ – something he no doubt knows a lot about – before dismissing Mantel’s remarks as ‘misguided’ and ‘wrong’ and insisting that ‘Princess Kate’ is in fact ‘bright…engaging…a fantastic ambassador for Britain.’

And last but not least, there was good old Ed Miliband, plodding dutifully along to make his contribution to the sycophantic chorus, with the pithy observation, ‘These are pretty offensive remarks, I don”t agree with them.’

Had he read these remarks or considered what they mean?   Probably not, but who cares, when there are tabloids to please and votes to be won?

So all in all a pretty dismal performance from the British media and political establishment, which would clearly love it if we could all just continue to   gaze at our photogenic ‘fairytale princess’ in these difficult times – and watch that bump grow until   the great moment of national rejoicing finally arrives, and hallelujah, a new prince is born.



1 Comment

  1. Michael Cox

    21st Feb 2013 - 7:36 pm

    Your comments are so right and fall into the same category as those regarding “Help for Heroes” in your previous article. On a number of occasions I have been taken to task for expressing opinions which are contrary to those expressed in the tabloids; I have nothing against the poor sods who have had to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and any number of misguided military involvements in the past 100 years but I disagree totally with the pathetic creeps who have sent them there.

    Any criticism of the Royal Family which I occasionally make, especially along the lines of those you have mentioned, means I am treated as someone who is “strange” and not 100% English! God forbid that I should be English,
    but only at the expense of thinking,
    Best regards

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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