Tuesday, 28 February 2017
The difference between good royalty and bad royalty is accountability. The senior members of the British royal family quietly go about doing countless deeds of service to their country. The cost of maintaining the royals - or maybe it was just the Queen - has been calculated as amounting to as little as 53 pence per citizen per year. At the other end you have royalty that takes and takes and does not give back. This was how France's last King, Louis XVI, was perceived, and his young Austrian wife Marie Antoinette, before they were both executed in 1793. This is the kind of royalty that says: 'let them eat cake' in response to the populace starving for lack of bread. Marie Antoinette most probably never said that, but it encapsulates an attitude and so it lives on. To this bad kind of royalty we must now add Hollywood royalty. For several years now they have been openly contemptuous of the plebs who pay to see their products and hence make their inflated salaries possible. The other night at the Oscars, their attitude could not have been clearer. Privileged celebrity after privileged celebrity derided the concerns of the common man. They portrayed themselves as essential (the once brilliant Viola Davis, now overblown with fame and adulation) or as 'migrant workers' (Mexican Gael Garcia Bernal) who, by implication, feel the pain of the working man. 'Let them have no walls or borders' said the diminutive Bernal, in response (presumably) to the genuine concerns about immigration, sovereignty and security that were partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, their great figure of hate, the Louis XVI of the chattering classes. And then there was the disgusting stunt with the plebs themselves, a carefully orchestrated 'impromptu' moment when a group of forelock-tugging - sorry, I mean smart phone-wielding - tourists from flyover country were ushered into the super-privileged gathering of movie stars to gawp and marvel, and to be marvelled at in turn by the celebrities as if they were dear little creatures from a travelling zoo. There was no difference between this stunt and Marie Antoinette's 'Petit Trianon', her theme park replica of peasant life on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles: a pastiche of 'real life' for those who no longer know - or have never known - what that is, contrived and tightly controlled so it poses no threat whatsoever, as real life so often does. Marie Antoinette had the grace to grow in stature and understanding during her harsh imprisonment before execution. Hollywood royals, who unlike their 18th century predecessors, have access to all the means of modern communication, could be afforded the same redemptive opportunity by a simple expedient: us plebs boycotting their products. Viewing figures for this year's Oscars suggest there might already be a trend in that direction.