Rich, old prince dies – the media, on cue, loses it

Then the audience switches off the TV.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth waits to read the Queen's Speech to lawmakers in the House of Lords
Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, passed away on April 9, 2021 [File: Reuters/Oli Scarff/Pool]

Apparently, discerning BBC viewers have had enough.

Britain’s public broadcaster gave a famous 99-year-old, pampered, rich prince’s long-anticipated passing the kind of coverage sensible editors usually reserve for much more profound and consequential news.

So, viewers did the wise and, I suspect, in the myopic minds of BBC editors, shocking thing – they turned off their TVs in droves.

Then, scores of ticked-off Brits reportedly forced the BBC to set up a “dedicated complaints form” on its website to help the public register its outrage that their favourite TV shows and sports have been pre-empted in favour of a 24/7 funeral dirge.

It appears that many Brits preferred to watch the final of MasterChef or a football match between the English and French women’s teams than to endure the cavalcade of mournful pundits, historians and journalists reminding them ad infinitum about the debt and gratitude they owe to a dead, pampered, rich prince who sacrificed all to serve his beloved country and queen.

Insensitive, ungrateful proletarians.

Could it conceivably be that despite all the tortured columns and made-for-posterity-soliloquies on TV about how vital Prince Philip was to their history, identity and lives, most Brits could not give a sod that an old, pampered, rich prince had finally died after holding out with Francisco Franco-like determination?

Could it also conceivably be that most Brits knew what Prince Philip did, charitably put, for “a living” and why he allegedly did it, but that his life did not touch their lives even remotely in the ways that the cavalcade of mournful pundits, historians and journalists keep insisting, with such cocky certainty, that it did?

Still, I reckon most Brits may lately have had a fleeting thought or two about Prince Philip. But has the cavalcade of mournful pundits, historians and journalists considered that, at the pressing moment, most Brits are preoccupied with staying alive during a rampaging pandemic, trying to pay bills and doing their best to protect and provide for their families – the stuff of life that an old, pampered, rich prince and his pampered, rich extended royal family have never had to fret about?

Of course, the cavalcade of mournful pundits, historians and journalists have not entertained these largely rhetorical questions.

Instead, they do what they always do when a celebrity even as insignificant and forgettable as Prince Philip dies: they reach into their ready bag of pedestrian sophistry to transform a ludicrous, squandered life magically into something significant and memorable.

It is a predictable sleight of hand designed, in Prince Philip’s case, to erase his marquee-sized nastiness, intolerance, racism, and retrograde folly, and fashion an agreeable portrait of a selfless man who championed conservation, public service and the one woman he loved.

Perhaps the most nauseating example of this rank, cliché-ridden, revisionism – and, I assure you, that there is ample and equally emetic competition – was penned by the hagiographer-in-chief to the stars and royalty, former Vanity Fair editor, Tina Brown.

In her dispatch for the New York Times about the riches-to-rags-to-riches arc of Philip’s life, Brown avoided any reference to the prince’s documented, unflattering history of nastiness, intolerance and racism and wrote a love story about a poor refugee and a shy, besotted princess.

“It was a love match from the start,” Brown wrote of the courtship between the “rootless” prince and the English princess.

Alas, by her own account, the “love match” may not have endured, since, cliché alert, the “devastatingly handsome” prince often strayed.

“Though his eye was rumored to rove, his devotion to the queen cannot be questioned,” she wrote.

Ah, all is well that ends well, I suppose.

Brown ended her icky column with this embarrassingly-worded, cringe-inducing vignette about Prince Philip’s decision to give up his royal duties in 2017.

“When he finally realized he was running out of steam, the queen’s frail liege lord of life and limb formally asked the monarch if she would release him from her service. Gently, and with love, she let him go.”

My goodness.

Who knew that Romeo and Juliet had not only survived their suicides, but aged and morphed into Philip and Elizabeth?

Brown has lots of company in the badly written Prince Philip eulogies department. One smitten Guardian columnist suggested that the dearly departed prince was a model of the “masculine ideal” whose deference to his wife reflected his inherent feminism. Sure, it did.

Meanwhile, a despondent Canadian writer worried that Prince Philip’s death was a disturbing omen: that the monarchy and Canada itself may not survive the 94-year-old queen’s inevitable death. Another offered up this sorry chestnut: “We will not see the likes of Prince Philip again in British, Commonwealth or world politics.”

Gee, I hope so on both counts.

Amid all the grovelling, several fawning eulogists did find a little space and time to allude to Prince Philip’s disagreeable habit of making “reactionary” gaffes.

Mind you, the gaffes were not so much prima facie evidence of Prince Philip’s sinister side, but the unfortunate musings of an “irascible” curmudgeon who, according to Tina Brown, was simply “impatient with fools”.

Here is a sampling of the catalogue of the royal family’s nutty-but-oh-so-endearing patriarch’s “wicked wit”.

During a visit to China in 1986, the “irascible” prince shared the following definitely not racist advice with a British student: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.”

In 1994, the jolly elderly prince made this definitely not slanderous remark to his Cayman Island hosts: “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?”

While on a royal tour to Papua New Guinea in 1998, the cheeky, but definitely not racist prince, asked one lucky Brit : “You managed not to get eaten then?”

As if to prove that his penchant for ugly stereotypes extended to his loyal subjects in Scotland, the prince posed this definitely not racist question to a local driving instructor: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”

As if to prove that his penchant for ugly stereotypes also extended to his loyal Commonwealth subjects part two, in 2002 Prince Philip asked an Australian Aboriginal leader another definitely not racist question: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

And, finally, the so-called feminist prince made this definitely not sexist remark to a female solicitor in a reception line: “I thought it was against the law these days for a woman to solicit.”

I could go on and on and on, but any sentient person should, by now, be able to gather the disgraceful point.

On cue, Brown and bowing crew have worked hard to sanitise Prince Philip’s execrable nature and elevate his life-long part in the high-brow travelling circus known as the British royal family.

Let them wallow in their contrived grief, while the rest of us enjoy a good game of footy on the telly.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.