When Prince Philip left hospital a few weeks ago, it was obvious his days on this earth were severely limited. Appearance wise he looked like he had just departed an audition for a remake of Night Of The Living Dead. The media had been alerted and obituaries and tributes were hastily readied, lying in wait for that ratings moment when his death was inevitably announced.
Here in Australia newspapers, radio and television went into a frenzy with a story that dominated headlines and news programs for days on end – and is still shamelessly cranking. On Saturday morning one television presenter announced that, “Australia is in mourning with the sad announcement of the death of Prince Philip.” Now hang on – let’s qualify that. No doubt some of Australia is grieving at the loss, but for others his passing is almost irrelevant.
Let’s start with the 30-odd percent of Australians born overseas, most of whom have had little reason to embrace the British monarchy after immigrating here. Throw in all those born here from a non Anglo-Saxon background, a large number of fervent republicans and those who find the idea of a British aristocracy repugnant, and the number of actual ‘Aussie’ mourners is greatly reduced.
In the immediate post-war period, prior to the waves of mass migration, Australia was overwhelmingly of British origin, with 99% of the population identifying as European. These were the glory days of the British monarchy, when we all sang God Save The Queen and the young Elizabeth and her dashing consort were worshipped like modern day deities.
A lot has changed since with the largely dysfunctional British Royal family racked by continuing controversy and scandal. Yet here in Australia the media still treat the current population as if nothing has really changed since the late 40s and 50s. With the vast majority of media here either owned, operated and staffed by white Anglo-Saxons, this is not surprising. These are the people who dictate the ad nauseam coverage of the British royals, eating up countless hours of TV coverage, newspaper and magazine space.
The soap opera antics of the Royals makes for great tabloid coverage but there is still a deep rooted monarchist agenda that survives in even the more progressive media like the ABC. You have to ask why SBS for example, ran a Prince Philip tribute program, when the Duke was clearly an old school racist whose numerous racial slurs filled a compendium of so called gaffes. Witness his trip to China in 1986 when he told British students there, “if you stay much longer you’ll all be slitty eyed.”
Perhaps in coming weeks, when the mourning and grieving has finally dissipated, we will start to read and hear some more objective accounts of the life and bad driving record of the Duke. As a PR exercise his death is a timely bonus for the Royals and the ‘firm’ that shapes it. It takes a lot of heat off family members such as alleged sex offender Prince Andrew, not to mention the added revenue from the sale of memorial tea towels and coffee mugs.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what happens to the cult like Prince Philip movement located in a remote region of Vanuatu. A tribe on the island of Tanna have long believed that the Duke is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior spirit, worshipping him as a god. We can easily dismiss this obsession as some kind of quaint ethnic curiosity but the parallels with the media’s own reverence for the Royals are hard to ignore.