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Sorry, newly-minted Vic Politics Society, but we all know that in the 21st century, all meaningful political debate now takes place on Facebook. Case in point—the other day someone on my news feed noted that, as much fun as this whole flag thing admittedly is, why has our national anthem been given a free pass?
Our flag’s a bit dumb, sure, and obviously we would all much rather be represented by a kiwi firing laser beams from its eyes, but why has this been the starting point? Our national anthem is a funereal dirge in which we beg God to protect us, to “put our enemies to flight”, and to “guide us in the nation’s van” (whatever the hell that means). And if you didn’t recognise those particular lyrics, that’s because they’re from the four extra verses nobody even knows exists because we didn’t have to mumble them every week at school assembly.
Perhaps nobody wants to start that particular conversation because deep down, we all know we’d probably just end up with “Pokarekare Ana” instead, which would be super awkward for those of us who only know the lyrics as “pokarekare ana, I found a squashed banana, I threw it at the teacher, she said ‘come here’.”
Anyway, one nation under hypnoflag, singing about squashed bananas—it doesn’t exactly scream “long live the Queen”. Talk of changing the flag or the anthem is of course part of a wider conversation that has, as its logical endpoint, New Zealand becoming a republic.
Last week Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest-serving monarch. She’s truly an inspiration to anybody whose sole aim in life is to stay in the same job for a really long time without achieving anything (public servants, then. Zing!). Of course, the monarchy is symbolically fucked; the current royal family are little more than the less-than-genetically-diverse descendants of usurping Germans, they’re totally anachronistic, and obviously no civilised, rational nation would decide that hereditary monarchy is a good idea. Clearly we should get rid of the Queen as our head of state. And yet. And yet.
The monarchy is just so benign that even going to the effort of getting rid of them doesn’t seem worth the effort. After all (see above), they don’t actually do anything. At worst Lizzie is simply a blank slate, at best a kindly old biddy. Harry’s a bit dim, but who isn’t these days; that inbred one with the famous kids is okay I guess; and, well, then there’s Charles. The best that could be said for Charles, I think, is that there’s always the chance he could fall off his polo horse before Lizzie chokes on her Earl Grey. Hang in there, Liz. Do us a solid.
It’s not just that the monarchy is harmless; it might actually—albeit unintentionally—be a good thing. I can’t help noticing, for instance, that most of the societies I admire the most—the most equitable and least corrupt—are, like New Zealand, constitutional monarchies.
I’m not entirely sure why this is. It might just be a quirk of geography—most of these countries are from northern Europe or are former British colonies. But on some level, I also suspect it has something to do with republics coming to believe their own bullshit. Countries in which the people have reclaimed the symbolic power of the state away from an arbitrary monarchy seem, in many cases, to lose the ability to critically examine that symbolic power. Which is to say, we don’t want the rah-rah patriotism of the US or France. Having an absurd and arbitrary monarch as our head of state helps to remind us that, in fact, most entrenched political power is absurd and arbitrary. It keeps us humble and grounded.
So however far we distance ourselves, culturally and politically, from Britain, I hope we at least keep the monarchy—if only for the lols. Maybe we’ll keep them even longer than Britain itself does. In which case we should invite them to move over here and teach us polo, and we’ll all chuck squashed bananas at each other and remind ourselves that we’re all just full of it.