Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: The British Monarchy
November 14, 2022 3:32 AM - Season 9, Episode 29 - Subscribe

This week.... the Democrats did unexpectedly well in midterms, perhaps helping to staunch the gaping chest wound the US has been suffering since 2016. Republicans seem to be turning against Trump (FINALLY) and towards Florida governor Ron Desantis (still pretty awful). And Now: Steve Kornacki Is Never Not At The Big Board. The main story involves the British Monarchy, "the best thing to happen to white actors since literally everything else." But these days, what really is the point of the monarchy? And while most British people support the institution, the monarchy has some serious baggage attached to it. On Youtube (28 minutes).
posted by JHarris (3 comments total)
I dunno, I had some issues with the way he presented his anti-monarchy argument here. He does open by creating the distinction between the head of government and the head of state, and notes that the monarchy as head of state is ceremonial - but then proceeds to blame the purely ceremonial royal family for actions of the actual parliamentary government: particularly the atrocities in Kenya in the 1950s. Which I feel is kind of like blaming Elizabeth II for Brexit: in some theories, she could have spoke up and done something to stop it, but every time someone makes that suggestion it gets swatted down by others saying if the monarch/crown were to actually try something like that it would somehow be a government-ending crisis. So, if the monarch/crown is not allowed to meddle in political affairs such as Brexit, or dissolving this obviously untenable Tory parliament and demanding general elections immediately - then how can you lay the blame on them personally for actions of the government?

Ok, yes, this does point to a different oddity of the monarchy in that somehow the royal family is somehow the symbol of the essence of the country, and how can they be that, if they're not allowed to intervene in heinous actions the government might undertake? I just don't feel that Oliver made his argument in this way. His whole argument is basically that the monarchy is on the hook for anything the British government has ever done, even though a) the royal family tree is more complicated than he ever mentions, meaning it's arguable whether the family on the throne today should be considered the same one that was there hundreds of years ago during the slave trade, and b) that they're to be considered guilty of crimes committed by the elected government when all experts state that they are specifically forbidden from doing anything to interfere in the actions of that elected government.

Look, I understand conflicting ideas about the UK monarchy, but I just don't feel like Oliver has framed his argument well here. I mean - if you want to point to serious fuck-ups on the part of the UK government, go look into the crap they pulled in dividing up the Middle East circa World War I. I'd argue that's far more atrocious and has had more negative impact on the world at large than the Kenya situation Oliver spends lots of time on here - but how much ar any of those the responsibility of the actual monarch, when everybody agrees they're just a pretty figurehead for handing out medals while the prime minister does all the actual warmongering? There's blame here, for sure, I just don't think the Crown is where it goes.
posted by dnash at 7:10 PM on November 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I seem to recall when there was a vote to become a republic here in Aus one of the anti talking points was 'Do you trust a popular vote for head of state?'
posted by Marticus at 3:45 PM on November 15, 2022

I think the problem here is that symbolic doesn't mean insignificant, or meaningless, or powerless, or ineffectual.

An analogy - let's say that instead of a crown Charlie here wore... a mascot outfit. A big ol furry smelling-of-gym-sock costume. Gave it his all working up the crowds every Saturday night like his forefathers before him. Wearing the suit that symbolically made him the face of the entire franchise; on the court, on the mercy, on the building.

Yup - not a player mind you, not score goals/tricks/touchdowns what have you but right in there part of the action. Even gets paid by corporate to shill the home team pride. Pretty good deal for a high school kid making a few bucks before college right? Well, ok, yeah, true - until you find out that the Team isn't so... unproblematic. Not so much a milkshake duck as actively making milkshakes from ducks. Yup - things might have been worse in m'granddaddy's day and we can't even speak about his granddaddy's day. Oh and several notable events here and there rising above the tide of awful. But hey! Funny hats & cheering!

Oh did I mention that, by a funny quirk of history, this mascot makes a little more than minimum wage? And owns the stadium? And charges rent for the parking lot? And the parking lot next door which used to belong to the Wendy's but they fought a bloody war (or wars) for it? And the scoreboard was stolen from Shelbyville?

Yeah about that being a symbolic part of the picture - a privileges, profiting, amoral, unrepentant symbol. Carries some weight y'know?
posted by mce at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

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