The Queen vs. The Olympics

According to various ads I’ve seen scattered about, this is Britain’s Greatest Ever Summer. They can’t really specify why, unless it’s a reference to HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, because that other event that is drawing attention to this island is unmentionable by all but a select few who paid large lumps of cash to be able to do so.

My wife’s Jubilee mug, a famous grouse on HM the Queen’s head

This is in bold distinction compared to HM the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which had local manifestations that anyone could organise and advertise and use the words ‘Elizabeth’, ‘the Queen’, and ‘Jubilee.’ Not only that, if you want a commemorative mug or something related to HM’s 60th anniversary of monarchy, all sorts of companies have produced them, not just the ‘official’ (?) ones you can get at the palaces — which have a very fine china pattern but are out of my price range!

As well, every biscuit maker on the island made commemorative tins. McVitie’s seems to have cut a deal with the Royal Mail (or Machin himself?) for this:

As a stamp collector, I couldn’t resist this one.

For tea-drinkers such as ourselves (a subject upon which I have waxed eloquent at least twice on this blog — here and here), the Jubilee has provided us with many lovely souvenir tins. Only that on the left is officially monarch-sponsored:

Three out of five tins contain English Breakfast

The other big, British event of the summer, on the other hand, controls its sponsorship very tightly. A friend recently posted this to Facebook, and it is probably true, although I hope it isn’t:

Wearing purple caps and tops, the experts in trading and advertising working for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) are heading the biggest brand protection operation staged in the UK. Under legislation specially introduced for the London Games, they have the right to enter shops and offices and bring court action with fines of up to £20,000.
Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including “gold”, “silver” and “bronze”, “summer”, “sponsors” and “London”.

This is pretty silly. I understand that cities waste lavish amounts of money putting on this spectacle of sport. So, besides excessively high-priced tickets and government sponsorship, they also recruit commercial sponsors, sponsors who can help pay back some of the debt accrued (which is usually not paid back; apparently, these High Holy Days to the gods of athleticism actually do economic damage to the city that hosts them most of the time).

But this would not be necessary if the event being hosted in London this summer were actually about sport and athletes coming together from around the world to set aside other differences and compete for nothing but the honour of having gone head-to-head and done their best.

But I don’t know that it is. I think it’s about prestige, and a bit about money (they hope to make some, even if they won’t), and a lot about prestige again. And so they need to guard anything financial very, very closely. If this were about sport — as it was the last two times it visited this island in 1908 and 1948 — this event would not be obsessed about the paraphernalia and the sponsors and the money. It would not require building a single building. It would simply ensure the presence of regulation-sized venues and garner accommodation for the athletes.

Would it even be televised?

HM Queen Elizabeth, on the other, as one of the last remaining members of the land-based aristocracy, does not need commercial sponsorship. If people who love the Queen want to print posters of her to celebrate her event, fine then. If they wish to create commemorative tins of tea, they are allowed. But this other event, the one to honour Zeus and the Pantheon, needs money to put on a good show. (So does the Queen, but being a. Filthy Rich and b. the Queen whose Government it is, she has access to funds.)

What this means is that, although she, too, is in London, although many of her events are exclusive (but not exclusively so), although it costs a lot of money to put on a monarchical event, you can celebrate with HM the Queen without having to shell out a lot of cash, without having to worry about the sponsors. Like when she visited St. Giles’:

This photo taken by my lovely wife through the haar

In the end, although to many she is a symbol of the power of the few, of an inaccessible monarchy, of the unfortunate mediaeval inheritances of the modern world, I think that the Queen is, in some ways, more accessible than the to-most-appearances accessible Olympics.

And I think this is part of the role of the monarchy in (post)modern society. The monarch is there to be a unifying symbol, a rock of ages, a reminder of the solidity of our society and customs, a living symbol of strong values and timelessness. The monarch is to be a rallying point for those who want more than short-term politicians with short-term ideals, a person to unify everyone but republicans.


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