Who would want to be George?

Last updated 08:41 27/07/2013

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Martin van Beynen

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We have witnessed this last week perhaps the most bizarre reaction to the birth of a human child we will ever experience.

On a day when there were millions of other births, and deaths, not to mention tragedies of monumental proportions, the English-speaking world seemed to stop at the news that a baby had been delivered to the wife of William, Duke of Cambridge, heir to the throne of the fracturing United Kingdom.

Despite polls showing the British are not wildly enthusiastic about their monarchy, enough royalists and Kate and William fans showed up outside Buckingham Palace, Facebooked, tweeted, and gave interviews to give the impression no greater event had occurred in the green and happy isles for centuries.

Like the biblical kings, world leaders sent their congratulations and gifts. The predictable onslaught of media analysis followed.

There are many obvious lines to take on the royal birth.

The first is that the reaction displays a touching recognition of the role of the monarchy in the formation of a modern state. It is an appreciation of the connection it represents to the heritage of nation building and transfer of power from the few to the many. This is treating royalty like a heritage building. They are part of what we are.

Then comes the notion that we should put aside our miserableness and reservations, shout hoorah and celebrate what everyone can relate to as a joyous and life-affirming event.

Those who demur talk about the contrast between the fuss made of a one, white, upper class, English baby compared to all the babies born every day to a life of poverty, disease, civil disorder and lack of opportunity. The unfairness of life is seldom shown in such stark reality.

This week, for instance, we had the disturbing news nearly 800 New Zealand newborn babies were taken from their mothers and put into government care in the past five years.

Republicans will be saddened at how the reaction to the royal birth puts back the cause of nationalising the monarchy and having a head of state actually elected by the people who are the state.

Others will mourn the silliness of treating a human being as someone special and sacrosanct simply because of being born to parents whose hereditary claim to exalted status relies on the often chequered achievements and talents of those long since gone.

Many will feel sorry for the royal baby. These people will appreciate the recent article in the online magazine Slate entitled "Why it would suck to be the royal baby". It cites reasons such as, "Your parents will be very busy, you're going to boarding school, heirdom is a burden and you're a celebrity".

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Whatever your point of view, the royal baby will have been one of your main talking points this week.

A birth when all goes well is a marvellous event - and babies, even to this cynical and damaged soul are wondrous beings. But why do we seem to care so much about this particular one?

As a republican and egalitarian, I am naturally shattered by the reaction and I've spent the week trying to figure out why it should happen in the 21st century in developed parts of the world.

It's got to be something to do with a nostalgic view of the monarchy. If the baby's parents were very popular young sportspeople or pop stars some interest would be expected but nothing like the fanfare we saw this week.

I can also appreciate how some see the monarchy as the cornerstone of the British state and be prepared to perpetuate the institution because it bestows legitimacy on our present system of government.

I doubt, however, this factor loomed large for the enthusiastic crowds throughout Britain.

Another relevant point is the genuine, good-natured, down-to- earth yet glamorous image portrayed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They seem like nice people.

So we have a charming young royal couple producing a darling baby. That's a pretty good start. Yes, and he is heir to the throne.

The reaction also says something about the residual power of Britain, a country which, despite its proud legacy to the rest of the world, seems mired in the swamp of history. The birth of the heir to the Danish throne, for instance, would rate hardly a mention in English-speaking countries.

We should also not underestimate the fact people are just silly and buy the fairy tale or soap opera that royalty (some anyway) are superior and in a better world would reign with real power.

It's harking back to simpler and more certain age when you knew your place and it wasn't much, but then not much was expected of you.

So I wish young George well. It's certainly not his fault he was born to an institution that should have been abolished long ago.

- Fairfax Media

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