Meghan and Harry meeting fans at Albert Park Primary School in Melbourne. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool/Getty Images
Meghan and Harry meeting fans at Albert Park Primary School in Melbourne. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool/Getty Images

The most important lesson of the royal visit

IN case you've been living under a rock, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex - aka Harry and Meghan - are in Australia and, in fact, today they're on Fraser Island, soaking up some Queensland sunshine.

Reactions to the royal visitors have ranged from hysterical devotion, and endless and mostly inane media coverage and commentary (especially on Meghan's fashion choices), to bitter and acrimonious ruminations on the cost of the visit, the purpose of royals in contemporary society and, of course, their baby news. This is accompanied by constant and often ridiculous speculation (one psychic in Britain claimed the baby will "have great communication with Diana", while former butler to the Princess, Paul Burrell, tweeted that Harry and Meghan should, if the child is a girl, "be brave and call her Diana").

Yet, for many people, whether they be devout monarchists or staunch republicans, the visit of these newly wedded and prospective parents has also afforded unexpected delights. How can one fail to enjoy the sight of a young (yes, ridiculously rich and entitled) couple in love? Or to be touched by little Luke Vincent giving them a hug and stroking Harry's beard, or the apparent joy on Harry's face when he was gifted a pair of baby Ugg boots at Government House.

The royal visit showed it’s possible to believe the monarchy is an anachronism, but also love the common touch shown by the young representatives of the throne. Picture: Phil Noble/Pool Photo/AP
The royal visit showed it’s possible to believe the monarchy is an anachronism, but also love the common touch shown by the young representatives of the throne. Picture: Phil Noble/Pool Photo/AP

And then there's the reason the couple are here: the Invictus Games.

The brain child of Prince Harry, the games are an international sporting event for sick or injured armed services personnel and war veterans.

If nothing else, the ambivalent and mixed reactions to the visit reveal something about how the majority of us respond to, not just the royals, but many really important issues. That is, not with an extreme view alone, but one that lies somewhere in the centre, and with a degree of ambivalence.

Not that you'd know this with the way most events, political or otherwise are discussed/reported. It would be too easy to be persuaded that we live in a hostile, terrifying and very angry world, where "outrage" is the default position and abuse the only response.

This is what the media mirrors back to us, where being for or against an issue is the only option. You are either Left/Right, positive/negative, wrong/right or for/against. So much so, as Lisa Zyga argues on phys.org, it "becomes the dominant social ideology".

As Adam Hamdy wrote in the HuffPost, "the language of extremism has entered the mainstream". Add to that the insults, denigration, self-righteousness, blame and acrimony.

Hamdy also argues that while it's easy to get angry about what we read and see in the world (mostly through the lens of the media), "it's worth keeping in mind that today's fact-lite, opinion-heavy media is reflecting and sometimes magnifying the tone of our national debate".

Look at Australian politics at the moment. Instead of ideas being debated in Parliament, insults are readily traded - the more personal, the better. Social media has become the home of bullies and trolls, and the comments sections of newspapers are littered with those too busy affronting someone for having a different point of view than giving their ideas any consideration.

Writer Claire Lehmann made the observation that the type of journalism to which we're becoming accustomed (page view on digital platforms), "incentivises polemics that are of questionable quality".

There have been calls over the years to preserve what's been called the "sensible middle" in politics and other walks of life, where moderate positions dominate. Yet, "the middle", as Tim Dunlop writes on abc.net.au, is always a "contested political position".

No matter your politics or thoughts on the monarchy, seeing a young couple so touchingly in love was impossible not to enjoy. Picture: Chris Jackson-Pool/Getty Images
No matter your politics or thoughts on the monarchy, seeing a young couple so touchingly in love was impossible not to enjoy. Picture: Chris Jackson-Pool/Getty Images

It, too, is subject to variables. That's because even those who hold firm views in one area (Left or Right) won't necessarily in another.

Furthermore, the danger in identifying as a "moderate" is that every other position outside that then becomes "extreme".

Rather, the point is, that "moderates"/the "sensible middle", have to argue their case to create change as well. It's worked in the past - look at the same-sex marriage vote.

As many studies have suggested, we need the "sensible middle" because it's what keeps government and countries stable, even if it is made up of differing opinions. As Hamdy warns: "If people abandon the sensible middle, our media will leave it too, and the messages we get will push us further apart."

Which brings me back to the royals. When even republicans, who abhor the cost of these titled, privileged people to taxpayers, and the anachronism they represent in a first-world country that prides itself on equality and equity, can also acknowledge the positive role they play historically, for tourism and as somewhat quirky, apolitical figures of pageantry, it demonstrates our capacity to move beyond polemics and take a reasoned (but not necessarily comfortable) middle ground.

Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.

@KarenBrooksAU



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