You know that friend on facebook who had a kid, and it’s seriously annoying? The one who you went to school with seven years ago, or who was friends with your brother and feels the need to share every single thing that happens in their tot’s life. Their profile picture is a baby, maybe their name has ‘Mummy’ inserted into it (seriously), or they have a day-by-day photo montage of a shrunken face that really doesn’t seem that different. The sane response is obviously to divest oneself of such friends. However, I’m not without the foresight to see that this is not an isolated incident, and I might soon be left adrift in a lonely world of my own making. Alternatively, you could helpfully remind them that this kind of behaviour is exactly what Twitter was made for. But really, the only socially acceptable option is to try and ignore them and move on. Hell, you could even unsubscribe if it becomes particularly annoying. Imagine a world where you couldn’t turn off irritating updates like that.
You may have anticipated where I’m going with this.
I should prefix all this by saying that I’m happy for Kate and William, I really am. Well actually that’s not true, I’m completely indifferent, as I would be for any child of strangers that I’ll probably never meet. I certainly don’t wish them anything other than happiness. It’s just that, well, it’s going to be a nightmare. The royal wedding speculation writ large, for seven months, with newspapers churning out baseless speculation on everything: names, sex, schooling, even position on immigration. This has happened already, and for the tabloids it’s a real boon: nobody can know these things, at least not yet, so there’s no real effort involved in finding out the ‘facts’. Anybody is as right as anybody else, save perhaps the royal couple themselves.
Maybe the baby will be called Frances. Oh, it’ll probably be called Henry, or Charles if it’s a boy – wouldn’t it be lovely if they called it Diana after his mother? No. Shut up. They’ll probably call it some boring royal name, certainly, but there’s literally no point speculating. For all you know, they could call him or her Plantpot unit B 57.4. They almost certainly won’t (otherwise, I’ll be expecting royalties, no pun intended), but technically it’s as valuable and insightful a comment as anything anyone else is making – which is to say, not at all. What school will they go to? What university? Will they be a good King/Queen? All essentially harmless, but extremely irritating in a world where so much news is meaningless guff already. It’s an infinite vacuum of content, a nuclear bomb of nothingness.
The only thing worse is the broadsheet reaction. There’ll be one chin-stroking op-ed piece after another marvelling over the continued propagation of the story, cheerfully ignoring the incredible hypocrisy of their publishing such an article (the irony of me also doing so must be blithely set aside for the sake of my own sanity). Following that, somebody may burp out some self-consciously ‘wacky’ reasons why they’re looking forward to the royal birth. Maybe somebody will have legitimate, ‘serious’ reasons for their interest. Then of course, some worthy, humourless republican will wade in and suck any vague sense of whimsy from proceedings with a long drone of anti-royal rhetoric. If anything, this behaviour is worse than the self-consciously inane response of the tabloids; the Guardian G2’s ‘anti-royal wedding special’ just came across as spiteful, and was more irritating than any of the normal coverage.
This will be seven months of relentless insipidity. I checked, and that is a word, but even if it wasn’t it would have to become one, such is the barrage of shit journalism we’re all going to be subjected to. At least the royal wedding coverage had a half-life; the media’s warped view of relationships as dominated by fairytale romance or drama meant that once Kate and William were boringly married, people (comparatively) lost interest. But excitement for this child can only grow. Just imagine the birth itself: as if the ‘womb-watching’ pre-pregnancy wasn’t unsettling enough, we’ll presumably be treated to blow-by-blow gory coverage on what might be going on in the hospital room by a trio of experts on the Breakfast sofa. And when he or she is born, there’ll be first steps, first days of school, first swan head-shot. The usual things any kid gets up to, but magnified and placed before our unwilling eyes. It’s like the world cup, but (unbelievably) somehow worse – it’s snuck up on us all, and there’s no special ‘baby’ section of the newspaper to avoid.
Maybe that’s the answer – specially allocated sections of the press for this kind of coverage to be easily avoided. I’m not a monster – this kind of coverage wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t some market for it. The Guardian made great steps in this direction at the royal wedding by introducing a ‘republican’ button so any dyed-in-the wool monarch-bashers could avoid the offending nuptials more easily. But this hasn’t gone far enough in my eyes, especially in the print media. A ‘section’ of the newspaper could still be stumbled upon by accident, like an irate spider in a bag of satsumas. The only logical response is for every newspaper to have lurid, plastic-wrapped sections of the paper that could be eagerly ripped open by interested parties, and gingerly dropped in the bin by everyone else. The theme should be made obvious: something suitably innocuous, like yellow duckies wearing crowns in a sea of royal blue, or something. Everybody wins – the baby watchers get their fix, everyone else can go about their business unmolested by dross.
The years will pass. The sun will rise and fall. And one day, we might realize there’s a coronation going on. The monarchy limps on. And if my conditions have been met, I’ll hail King Plantpot with the best of them.