Queen Elizabeth II on Television Discussion (Sept. 1997)


Queen Elizabeth II on TV Disc/Sept 1997

[Editor Note: Due to the mingling of topics in the posts re: the Queen, the royal family, Mother Teresa, Diana, et al, I have tried to separate them into several categories. Some of the thread topics overlap. Please read all threads for a complete view of the discussion on H-Women. Thanks. Maria Elena Raymond]

From Darlene Wilson dgwils0@pop.uky.edu 08 Sept 1997

To H-Women,

I was struck today by the incredible 'gender-ed' spectacle that took place in London today--the British female monarch speaking live on television for the first time (which is especially stunning, I think, when one realizes that her reign commenced almost simultaneously with television's emergence as a major force in global journalism) *because* millions of her 'subjects' are gathered outside her windows to demonstrate fervently their penultimate devotion to Diana Spencer--the Woman she and her son are seen to have rejected. BBC videotaped the Queen against the backdrop of an open window--behind her and around her head, clearly visible, were the teeming throngs of people--the scene could have been taken to mean either that the Queen is 'among' the people or that the people were holding her hostage. (That Tower of London thing.) Having cable television, I got to watch it several times and, by George (I,II, or III)! her upper lip never deviated more than a millimeter.

On PBS/Lehrer Newshour tonight, I listened to a discussion that included references to Diana being viewed by many women as the victim of spousal abuse, albeit one with 'assets' unimaginable to them personally, and thus have been/are more apt to be 'tuned in' to television's coverage of Diana's death and funeral.

I am but a graduate student (and decidedly non-royal in background) so please advise--as a student of both British history and that of women in general, should I give in to my gut's screaming and turn off the television, or should I be taking notes? I was tempted to do the first--especially when I heard one commentator suggest that the death of Mother Teresa in Calcutta should be viewed as 'an example of God's sense of humor, i.e. a challenge to the world's press to have to decide which funeral it will cover.'

But then I was struck again by the incredible 'power' Diana's death has had over the Queen, who had, as I noted above, never heretofore appeared on national television to deliver an address to the nation on any* topic. Any thoughts? Comments? Is it all too bizarre for contemplation now? If so, I can wait for responses. Thanks.

From Patricia E. Carey pec@acsu.buffalo.edu 08 Sept 1997

First, we should clarify that it is not the Queen's first appearance on national television. She addresses her subjects annually each Christmas. I think the singularity of her appearance is the "live" aspect and the fact that it was a remarkable "unscheduled" appearance.

Second, Yes, I do think we should be taking notes. For anyone interested in history and culture, what happened this past week was very important. I'm sure it will raise many questions and provoke much discussion. Your comment about the spectacle of the Queen placed deliberately in front of the throngs of people is a good one. Is she "with" them or "held hostage" by them? Only time will tell. But the implications for the future of the monarchy are significant to say the least. The possibilities are mind-bending. If Parliament decides to dismantle the monarchy can it be done? What would the public response be? How would civil war manifest itself? Is such a thing possible?

Certainly these are questions more pronounced this past week than in a long, long time. Will people be so enamoured with the idea of bringing William to the throne in the belief that he will be Diana's final victory over her royal rejection
that they will stand by the monarchy in spite of their current dissatisfaction? It's been the table talk at my house. How about yours?

And last--but not least, the two most famous women on the planet have passed away--possibly the two most famous/recognizable people of the modern age. And I think two very fine representatives. What about that?

From Sheila FFolliott sffollio@osf1.gmu.edu 09 Sept 1997

As a student of modern images of queenship and court behavior in the Early Modern period, I find much to study in this week's events.

From Sue Schrems schrems@postoffice.worldnet.att.net 09 Sept 1997

In response to Darlene Wilson's post on the Queen: My plan is to use the events of the last week to demonstrate to my class the "royal culture." I think it is difficult for Americans to comprehend the ideals of the monarchy and how they set themselves apart from the "common people." To understand the attitudes of the royal family is instructive in trying to relate to our students an understanding of the colonists and colonial life, and how the political, social, economic and religious assumptions held by the colonist changed over time. Also, I thought it was interesting that the outcry of the English people evidently moved the Queen to change royal behavior. It is not the first time the people have caused the King or Queen to acquiesce to popular demand. This is also instructive to our students and good for discussion.

From Julie Siebel siebel@scf-fs.usc.edu 09 Sept 1997

The greatest tragedy is that it took Diana's death for so many to recognize her value. In death, as never in life, she commanded the respect of the royal family, male politicians and the "legitimate" press. I am struck, like so many others, that she was finally designing a role for herself that was both powerful and personal.

Diana had to overcome not only the difficulty of her marriage and her eating disorder, she had to fight worldwide popular consensus that confined to her role of a modern-day Cinderella (did anyone else notice the constant clips from Disney's _Cinderella_?) There is clearly much that the events of the past week hold for analysis in terms of gender, popular culture, British history and community service. I, for one, hope that we can keep in mind the direction Diana was trying to take in the months before her untimely death. Her community outreach was clearly the most important thing to her (after the welfare of her sons). Let's try not to let the family that rejected her in life overwhelm our memories of her death. Then again, is it possible to separate the two?

From Kathleen Rawls krawlshx@aol.com 09 Sept 1997

The drama unfolding this past week over the death of Princess Diana has raised several issues which I believe the British public is responding to.

One issue may be a public response to the rejection of Diana by her husband, Prince Charles. Possibly the public reaction reflects a sympathy for Diana's plight as a woman exploited by the royal family for her ability to bear children, then dumped when that duty was fulfilled. Interestingly, Diana's support cuts across class, ethnic, and even gender lines. I am reminded of another public outcry against a British monarch in the Queen Caroline affair which, in some ways, parallels the issues raised by Princess Diana's death. In this case, which occurred in 1820, the estranged wife of George IV tried to assert her rights as his wife and claim a role in Britain. George IV would have none of it. But, the British public, from middle class drawing rooms to working class taverns, rallied in support of Queen Caroline. An interesting treatment of the Queen Caroline affair is presented by Anna Clark in her work, _The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class_. Anyway, for those interested in exploring significance of the events unfolding in Britain today, I would suggest reading up on the Queen Caroline affair for historical perspective.

From K.E. Lacey klacey@globalnet.co.uk 09 Sept 1997

Dear Sisters,

As someone resident in England, a doctoral student at the LSE, whose supervisor is the constitutional historian, Dr. David Starkey (who has spoken frequently on the media since the Princess of Wales' death) I'd like to add a few brief thoughts regarding the events of the past 9 days.

I personally have been conscious of seeing history "in the making." For example, on the morning of Diana's death, Dr. Starkey spoke on television about her interview with Martin Bashir, and how she herself used manipulation of the media to attack the Royal family. He characterized her as calculating. By Tuesday evening, he was quoting Keats and saying that she was one of the two most important women this century (the other was Margaret Thatcher). Such a transformation of attitude reflects the change of opinion regarding the Princess of Wales. The crowds are still gathering outside Kensington Palace, and the books of condolence there remain open until Friday. Over 30 million people watched her funeral in GB. This is in a population of 60 million! Unfortunately, I missed the TV coverage, but listened to the events after the minute silence on the radio, and witness her funeral cortege pass along the M1 in Northamptonshire-thousands of people lined the motorway carriages and motorway bridges and clapped as she passed. The reaction to her death has been extraordinary. Dare I suggest that the response has approached something like mass hysteria? So many millions of people feel grief, and have openly cried-men have broken down when being interviewed on the radio...Our newspapers are still obsessively printing stories about her life, her death has certainly eclipsed that of Mother Teresa, and at least one commentator suggested that how the Princess's life was being reported was suggestive of the process toward canonization!

The Queen and her family stayed at Balmoral, until, it was widely believed, the pressure of public opinion forced her to come to London. The tabloid newspapers ran headlines asking why the Queen was silent...it was in response to this that the Queen spoke publicly expressing her sorrow and regret at the loss of Diana. The Queen did not appear, in my opinion, to be a hostage to the media or Her subjects. Her public response was personal, that of a grandmother who had lost a family member-the mother of her grandchildren. There is certainly pressure in the media for constitutional change and changes in protocol. Certainly the clapping in Westminster Abbey after Charles Spencer's speech broke protocol. Yes, the English upper classes are regarded as having a stiff upper lip-should we be critical of them for this peculiarly British cultural manifestation? Perhaps it would have been better if the British media had left the Royal family to grieve in peace and seclusion. It was, after all, the intrusive nature of the media which contributed to the deaths of three people on 31 August. The lack of privacy caused the Princess of Wales much personal grief. So, yes, we are watching history in the process of being formed..whether lasting constitutional change will result is doubtful-the Queen's
powers are, in any case, largely symbolic.

From Joseph Tohill jtohill@yorku.ca 09 Sept 1997

If I remember correctly, the Queen appears on television *every* year for a state of the nation/Christmas address. In addition, I believe she addressed the nation after Churchill's death.

On the coverage of Diana...I'm struck by the differences in the coverage of Mother Teresa's death and Diana's. Diana's death, I would suggest, is more tragic in human terms--she was young, in her prime, seemed at last to be 'finding herself', left behind two teenage boys, met a violent and sudden end, etc. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, was in her eighties, had lived a full life, had done all (more) than she could for her cause during her lifetime. Her potential was fulfilled. Yet, the lionization of Diana is surprising. One need not canonize her to acknowledge that she did good work for many causes. But an important difference is this--Mother Teresa was famous because she did good works; Diana did good works because she was famous. Mother Teresa got down in the trenches (so to speak) and lived among the people she helped. Diana lent her face, her image, to causes. Yes, much more than others with wealth and prestige have done, but on a different level than the actions of Mother Teresa.

The events of the past two weeks will keep pop-culture historians occupied for many moons. Perhaps a paper entitled, "Mother and the Princess: Gender, Representation, and the Deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana."

From K.E. Lacey klacy@globalnet.co.uk 09 Sept 1997

I'd just like to add a brief note in reply to Darlene Wilson's comments about the Queen's lip not deviating a millimetre on her live broadcast-another academic friend who watched this speech, this evening commented to me upon the Queen's composure, saying that she thought the Queen's eyes showed more emotion than on previous TV appearances. Indeed there is a photograph published today in The Mirror newspaper of the Queen at the funeral service, she is wiping away a tear from her right eye and her lips are pursed. Like others who participated in the funeral service, she seems to have had difficulty in controlling her emotion. The Royal display of emotion is unprecedented. However this cannot be seen as indicating that changes in protocol are likely. Whilst the present government is keen to do away with the trappings of formality in government, such as the introduction into cabinet meetings of ministers being addressed by their Christian names (as opposed to surname as in the previous government), and the rejection by the chancellor of formal dress at the Mansion House dinner, where the new office holder is introduced to the Mayor and the City of London, this does not imply major change. It would be alarmist at this time to suggest that the monarchy would be dissolved or that civil war would be provoked by such constitutional change. The British are phlegmatic, and seem with the demise of pride in being British, to be remarkably indifferent to anything which celebrates the Imperial past, or even to acknowledge commonwealth connections. Britain is not part of the EC. Previous EEC law weakened Britain's sovereignty, and with it, both the role and legal power of the Monarchy.

This evening it was reported on Teletext (a TV news service) that the TUC (Trades Union Congress), whose annual conference is currently being held in Brighton (where I live), had announced that the Princess of Wales death must herald in a new era of compassion. Is this an unprecedented announcement?

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 09 Sept 1997

Actually, I believe the Queen did a national TV address in 1959, the first and only time until last week's address. She was deliberately placed with a view of the crowds behind her, instead of using a TV studio backdrop.

I think those historians who are interested in the monarchy, QEII, Diana, British history, et al have been taking copious notes...probably while sorting through their own feelings about Diana's death. IMHO, it's too simplistic (thank you, the media) to assume the reax to Diana's death is a gendered outpouring. Observers could clearly see the gender-mixed, ethnic-mixed crowds for days on end. And there has been more than one quote (from men) in print that the reax is *not* a "female" thing. Men of all ages felt as strongly about Diana as did women...tho' whatever she brought to their lives might be greatly different than what women felt...or, it may all boil down to distinctly individual reactions that converged on the residences of the monarchy. Remember, of course, that those who are mourning Diana probably have their feelings quite deeply entangled with their feelings (and possibly mourning) about the monarchy. FWIW.

P.S. Patricia Carey is absolutely right about the Queen addressing her subjects at Xmas, in a taped address, done with a plain TV studio backdrop. The address
last week was only the second "live" TV address to the public during her reign. I think Patricia's query about the two most influential women of the century passing away is interesting. If you add Jackie Kennedy Onassis, that's quite
a triumvirate.

From Lauren Coodley laurenil@napanet.net 09 Sept 1997

What does the Diana-mania say about people's longing for women heroes, even if she was not one? Their longing for goddesses, even if they only fantasize about her good deeds? People's terrible confusion about what constitutes "goodness" and whom we should value? Their remarkable lack of cynicism about her fortune-hunting and photo-ops?

Perhaps if education about women in history began in nursery school with folk tales, continued through K-12 with holy/holidays marking women. and an equal attention to women heroes as to male Presidents, none of this would be happening.

From Jeannie Francis sukjef@suk.sas.com 09 Sept 1997

In response to your message, Darlene, the Queen does appear each Christmas on television to address the nation, and also appeared at the end of the Gulf War to sum up our feelings of relief and gratitude that losses hadn't been greater.

I personally believe we should resist the temptation to jump to conclusions regarding the speech and the impact that Diana's life and death will have on the very nature of the Royal Family. It is apparent it will, ... in years to come when William is King, we may see the sort of Royalty that responds to public opinion on a more day to day basis, rather than one which is steeped in tradition...

The constitutional impact of these events we can only wait for during the next few years. However Parliament is given sanction to open, and Prime Ministers given the authority to govern by the Queen-I can't imagine that they would ever challenge the monarchy directly (bearing in mind the House of Lords has a good proportion of pseudo-royals in it!). I do believe, however, that instead of being the princess that could mark the end of the Royalty, as many accused her of during the divorce, she and the way she brought up her children could be the ones who saves it (or gives it an opportunity to save itself)!

From Jeanette Keith keith@planetx.bloomu.edu 09 Sept 1997

I have found myself all too fascinated by the spectacle of Diana's funeral, mostly (I tell myself) for what it reveals about changing culture in Britain. Personally, I kind of admire stiff upper lips and hate demands to emote in public or share one's feelings; I can't see why the Queen, an elderly woman reared in a very reticent tradition, is being urged to put her emotions on display. Why do people seem to assume that the loudly emotional are in someway superior to those who suffer in silence?

I'm not comfortable either with the idea that these two women are emblematic--one a former royal fashion plate doing Lady Bountiful charity work, and the other a Mother of the suffering. Sounds 19th century to me.