Longtime readers will recall my monograph of 2012, which discussed the episodes in which compromising photos were taken of Harry Windsor and Catherine Windsor. In that, I argued that paparazzi in general was a bad thing because it undermined consent, and because resorts to the ‘public interest’ defence were pathetic. I further argued that Britain (or the elusive ‘Middle Britain’) had a peculiar double-standard regarding gender differences (printing Harry photos fine, Kate photos TANTAMOUNT TO TREASON) and class differences (printing paparazzi photos of Sienna Miller, unremarkable or deserved, printing paparazzi photos of Kate EQUIVALENT TO MURDER).
There have been two more events that warrant discussion along the same lines. Firstly, Charles Windsor, first in line for a chair (and a hat and a stick and quasiconstitutional power) said, in a private conversation to a Holocaust survivor, that Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s recent takeover of Ukrainian Crimea was “just about the same as Hitler” (who annexed the Czechoslovakian Sudentenland and half of Poland). Russia reacted very angrily to this comparison.
Secondly, Kate Windsor was walking in Australia on official business and the wind blew and a photographer took a picture of her bottom. Together with a German tabloid, an Australian newspaper, the Sydney Daily Telegraph (owner, one R. Cuddles-Murdoch), published that picture, along with a defensive editorial explaining that, outside Britain at least, Kate had no more right to privacy than anyone else. This reasonable republican line was hopelessly undermined by the paper’s slut-shaming tone, which simply removed Kate from the ‘Madonna’ category and dumped her in the ‘Whore’ bucket along with everyone else paparazzied: “If the Duchess can’t be bothered protecting herself by having hem weights sewn into her garments, why should the media protect her?”
One might ask, of the former, “Why doesn’t Charlie keep all opinions to himself, even in private or alone – if he can’t be bothered to protect himself from hidden microphones and PRISM surveillance, why should the media not paint him (further) as a buffoon?”
This article probably reads rather confused, because I hope it’s clear that I’m not a massive fan of the monarchy, but I seem affronted by these exposures. Yes, that’s all true, and neither is it contradictory. Kate and Charlie (and Hazza and Brenda and Phil) are all people , and people both a) fuck up, and b) should have a reasonable level of privacy expected of them.
If Charlie had said “Putin’s as mad and bad as Hitler” during the speech of an official engagement, or if Kate had bared her bottom Braveheart-style when reviewing the Australian armed forces, then these would be stories, important stories. In these hypothetical cases, members of the Windsor family, acting in official capacity as figureheads for the British state, would have been intentionally causing outrage. As it was, the former was misquoted (and for the record, I’d say his original statement was pretty reasonable if sweeping), and the latter was momentarily undone by the weather. If the Windsors (and celebrities, politicians etc.) are expected to self-censor 24/7, lest they bring unwanted media attention on themselves, then they are living much less protected lives than the rest of us.
When Donald Trump tweeted that Kate had “only herself to blame” and a Washington Times editorial remarked “Princess Kate needs to remember there is no privacy, so keep your top on”, the were not striking blows for either common sense or media freedom. They were showing that we’ve completely normalised the erosion of the private sphere, everyday invasiveness, and that’s terrifying given how extensive we now know both media and government surveillance can be. We shouldn’t worry about the Kate and Charlie episodes as attacks on Royal standards – but as attacks on privacy itself.