The birth of the “Royal Baby” seems a good moment to consider the function of the supposedly “liberal-left” media.
How well does a paper like the Guardian do in expressing the worldview of much of its readership when confronted with this kind of news event?
The answer: it offers almost wall-to-wall sycophancy. Headlines include:
All royal baby name bets are on
Royal baby: to breastfeed or not to breastfeed?
Royal baby memorabilia – in pictures
Royal baby weighs in at UK average
Royal baby stirs excitement in Middletons’ home village
Welcome, Baby Cambridge (editorial)
Fight to give boy a normal childhood
Prince faces future of gloom and wonders
Future king will be 43rd since William the Conqueror
Crowds gather at palace to celebrate royal baby
Tracing the royal baby’s lineage
Royal fans endure a day’s wait in the heat to glimpse new arrival
Was your baby born on 22 July?
Royal family tree: from James I to Baby Cambridge
What kind of grandmother will Carole Middleton make?
But the Guardian wouldn’t be the Guardian unless it indicated it was offering something different – and that (tiny) difference is star columnist Zoe Williams.
Williams is clever, witty and readable. More importantly, she makes you feel clever and witty when you read her. There’s a touch of world-weary, postmodern cynicism to her take on events that makes you feel like you and her have managed to rise above the fawning excesses of the rest of the media. For her the royal-watching is “lunacy”. Wow – I feel almost subversive reading her.
But it seems subversive only because everything else we are being fed is so craven towards the royals. Read her more slowly and carefully and a deeper message, one reflected in the rest of the Guardian’s coverage of the royals, shines through.
And that is that the royals might be preposterous, or at least the media circus around them is, but in reality they are well-meaning folk like you and me. And that, if anything, they are the victims of all our intrusiveness and appetite for celebrity gossip.
The effect of Williams’ piece is not to inspire outrage at the “lunacy” of Britain remaining in awe of the royal family in the 21st century; it has quite the opposite effect: it dissipates our justified anger at the injustice of it all.
That, it seems to me, is the deeper function of columnists like Williams and of media like the Guardian. They keep us in our armchairs, tut-tutting.