Monarchy's undemocratic war on The Chaser


Chaser royal wedding ban

Clarence House's ban on ABC2's The Chaser's Royal Wedding Commentary has irreparably undermined the House of Windsor in Australia.

Until the ban, monarchists and the ambivalent masses alike could argue that monarchy was an effectively powerless symbol of the Commonwealth's cultural longevity and propriety, which did not impinge on liberal democratic values.

Ironically, its effective ban on democratic media representation provides a welcome jolt back to reality.

British monarchy is not the benevolent and benign institution we pretended it was, but a neurotic, self-perpetuating liability. It was their benevolence alone that guaranteed our unquestioned support, or at least tolerance, of their persistence as anachronistic figureheads in our parliamentary structure.

The BBC says royal wedding footage is not to be used for 'drama, comedy, satirical or similar entertainment purposes'. It claims this has forever been the standard, yet the 'satire' clause was added just days ago.

Under directives from royal spokespeople, the BBC is comfortable ignoring the fact that the media's exploitation, and our consumption, of contemporary British royalty is far from reverent. They are a real-life melodrama, ripe for the picking.

Lush and grotesque royal housings provide 'women's magazines' the ideal backdrop for the painful divorces, scandalous speculations and failed diet regimes that drive magazine and advertising sales. We consume the Windsors as we do soap operas. We want them to get fat and to struggle. Celebrity culture is fundamentally about schadenfreude, even where it is disguised as idolatry.

The Chaser's response to the monarch reads, 'To ensure that our coverage was respectful, we were only planning to use jokes that Prince Phillip has previously made in public, or at least the ones that don't violate racial vilification laws.' The ban has revealed that the royal establishment in all its pomposity is above criticism, and highly capable of implementing censorship to enforce this.

Recent polls reveal Australian support for a republic is at a 17-year low (although outright support for republicanism is still more common than for monarchism). One can only hope the swinging monarchists will be dissuaded by this propagandist interference. But is it enough to dissuade dyed-in-the-wool types?

Since WWII, the Windsor House has played a strategically emotional role in the hearts of the English and, to a lesser extent, Commonwealth subjects. Without doing much, they presented and preserved England and Englishness through post-war trauma, the rebuilding of cities and the collective morale.

Monarchists usually present unimaginative legalistic and touristic arguments for their case and often miss the gravity of their own romantic irrationality: that monarchy ordinates England and reminds the English that England will be okay. It represents a romantic idea of collective identity.

Like religious faith, faith in monarchy need not be a rationalised experience. Indeed, to admit irrationality itself is powerful because it is honest and apolitical, lifting the debate from the banal. Rationality is only required in negotiating the public role of belief.

Perhaps, then, romantic supporters of the House of Windsor should pay a levy for their maintenance, and push for the removal of royal constitutional privileges, leaving the Windsors to do what they do best: indulge the popular imagination and sell tabloid media. Then republicans would be spared their expense, and would not be subjected to fascist pre-digestion of royal representation.

The problem with romantic irrationality for the monarchists is that is lacks solid political grounds. In a 'knowledge is power' culture they are forced to rationalise the irrational, and universalise the personal. In this culture they happily turn a blind eye to the reality of monarchy: that it is hereditary, patriarchal, legally enshrines the peerage system, is expensive, and exclusive — Catholics are excluded from participation by the prohibitive Royal Marriages Act of 1772 (legislated long before Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists and Jews were even a factor in ordinated British society).

It is as anti-modern as you can get without growing a beard and burning effigies of progress.

Hopefully, Clarence House's censorship of our beloved 'Chaser boys' will pave the way for a creative and critical conversation in Australia about what institutions might best represent what we look like now, and how we collectively imagine our future. I don't believe it will ask to have an inbred, welfare-dependant WASP family above the law and above democratic criticism. 

Ellena SavageEllena Savage is a Melbourne writer and the immediate past editor of the Melbourne University student magazine, Farrago

Topic tags: The Chaser, royal wedding, Prince William, Kate Middleton, Julian Morrow, Chas Licciardello, Chris Taylor



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Existing comments

The Chaser show about the wedding was in very poor taste. It is one thing to do a satirical comedy about politics and entirely different to satirise a wedding, royal or not.

Karen | 29 April 2011  

I do not think this bit of writing is a sensible thing to be in any way associated with the Church, as is Eureka Street. How would one respond if the topic was the Pope or Bishops rather than the Crown.

Henry Burley | 29 April 2011  

Ellena's article on the subject of the welfare-dependant inbred WASP family in England may be the best I read as far this year. Australia needs a true democratic system far more than the welfare-dependent inbred WASP family from England.

Beat Odermatt | 29 April 2011  

Underneath the pomp, excess, and exploitation are two real people who are entitled to be treated humanely and respectfully (dare one say charitably?). I feel sorry for them in their no-win situation. I enjoy the Chaser boys' antics, but their royal wedding plan was cruel and heartless, even more exploitative than the wedding itself. I'm a republican myself, but let's have some ordinary decency.

Michael | 29 April 2011  

I find the "Chasers" to be living proof that Aussie TV comedy is just crude, low life, immature, Smart Alec juvenile and vulgar. (Think of the Cancer Children episode.) Quite frankly, all this fuss being made over the royal wedding bores me to tears. But, I have no problem with the royal family’s decision to impose a media ban on the proposed so-called satirical coverage of the event by Australia’s cringeworthy & humourless bores known as The Chasers, because: . a) It’s their event and their property: The royals are not the first celebrities to restrict media access to a wedding, in fact a lot of celebrities only allow coverage by those outlets who have paid big bucks for the exclusive rights (which is really a crass way of commercialising your own wedding but a right nonetheless). b) The Chasers are not funny: They’re just plain ignorant and insulting. This ban couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of under-grad, humourless, pseudo intellectual, private schoolboy type prats.

Trent | 29 April 2011  

My response to the Chaser story is to take a step back and ask , What were the ABC management thinking when they decided to spend the taxpayers money at this time on such nonsense?

The Monarchy is sad and a part of our past that we must move on from if we can ever decide what should replace it.

The ABC is sad and a part of our past that we must move on from so the needs of real Australians can be met by the taxpayers .

john crew | 29 April 2011  

nice work ellena- "inbred, welfare-dependant WASP family above the law and above democratic criticism." spot on as usual, except that i'm afraid that many australians more are easily taken with pomp and tabloid frenzy than we might wish.

would free discussion of royal doings come under the freedom of political communication implied in the constitution, or not because they're not elected?


louise | 29 April 2011  

I am a fan of your writing - its style and subtlety when dealing with complex issues is great to read. I am wondering about this latest piece on 'the Windsors'.

I understand that it is undemocratic and seems terribly unfair that the royal family enjoy all that priviledge and power without having earned it. I find myself annoyed at the hype surrounding the wedding as so much of it seems to be transparently about the wish fulfilment of viewers.

However, on the Q and A show last night, across the bottom of the screen came a viewer question: how come all this is not an issue in Canada? I think that is an excellent question. What lies at the heart of Australian anti-establishmentarianism?

One of the ironies is that the reason for the rule you cited about Catholics being barred from occupying the throne - whilst clearly an injustice esp. after the act of toleration 1828, was always about the monarchy being a check and balance over and against Papal power being imposed upon England - a concern not too dissimilar from Australian resentment about Monarchical power being imposed upon Australia. Australian resentment is a very interesting thing, I think, and whilst it makes many good egalitarian points, many know intuitively that the politics of resentment itself is fallible.

Dave | 29 April 2011  

Ellena, great article. This ban on The Chasers has has changed my view on retention of the monarchy as Australia's head of State.

Gerard | 29 April 2011  

Of course the monarchy is not irreparably damaged! And how would Aussies feel about a bunch of Pommie commedians taking the piss out of Anzac Day?

Rosie Young | 29 April 2011  

Ellena's article is a disapoointing demonstration of the free speech that Australia enjoys. With every freedom does come a responsibility to that freedom. This article does not do freedom of speech any good service. The ABC signed a contract; did the ABC believe that it could breach that contract without comment?

We all have the right to be treated with respect and courtesy, being a member of the British Royal family does not remove them from that basic right of any member of the human race. The key issue for me is not about the monarchy and its role in the Australian constitution, but rather how do we treat people. Surely that is a key value that Eureka magazine supports?

Kevin J Pattison | 29 April 2011  

I must admit difficulty in understanding why a large section of Australian society are monarchists. Much more support here for the Sax -Coburg-Gotha Battenburgs than in my native Scotland. And the banning of the Chasers will have little effect on this support. The people who support the monarchy do not I think watch the Chasers.

It may be true that there will be a Scottish Republic long before there is an Australian Republic. The 5th of May 2011 may go down as a seminal moment in Scottish and UK History if the opinion polls are anything to go by. And if anyone reading this wonders what is going on in Scotland on the 5th of May then the British establishment has succeeded with this smokescreen of a wedding. How can the marriage survive when the chosen date of the wedding was
a political exercise as was the decision to ban a TV satire.

I imagine some aristo from within the Royal circle will observe the bedding to ensure that another free loading brat is conceived to ensure the continue this grotesque exercise in 21st century feudalism. Come back Oliver Cromwell - all is forgiven.

Drew Grozier | 29 April 2011  

It is beyond my comprehension that Australians with any trace of Irish or Indigenous blood in their veins can continue to support the English monarchy as the assumed pinacle of "civilised "society.

It is less than two hundred years since they executed any opposition by brutal process of Hung ,Drawn& Quartered (a literal description ,not the poetic analogy we have used it in ).Then here where they slaughtered the Indig population who attempted to defend their nation .

John Kersh | 29 April 2011  

Thank Heaven that some things still Command Respect. The publicity has also given the Chaser people an international profile. It's a win all round I'd say.

Lynette Murphy | 29 April 2011  

Let's be realistic. The AFL, NRL and Tennis Australia would never allow a 'live feed' or their broadcasting to be used by a show such as The Chaser. There is no reason Clarence House should be any different.

This also does not ban The Chaser from doing a show during the wedding without a live feed, nor does it stop them doing a show after the event with video from the wedding.

Philip | 29 April 2011  

Aren't these the same tasteless mob of yobbos who " satirised " childhood cancer victims?
Perhaps that's why they've been singled out ?

heather dalgety | 29 April 2011  

"Savage" by name and savage in your criticism but do we know what THE CHASERS HAD PLANNED? In the past some of their skits have been very tasteless.

JOHN KENNEDY | 29 April 2011  

Ellena, great article. Clarence House's ban on Chaser commentary of the Royal Wedding shows that, not only is the monarchy a ridiculous and undemocratic institution, but it can't even live up to its promise of bread and circuses.

Circuses without clowns? One of the great global jokes and we're not allowed to laugh? Chaser are the best satirists in the business but perhaps, stripped of the comic commentary that this overrated event so richly deserves, we'll see who the real clowns are.

I've had my fill of this pomp and censorship. Bring on the Republic.

WicketWatcher | 29 April 2011  

There is a thing called freedom of speech. Have we forgotten???

Deanne | 29 April 2011  

To Heather Dalgety, if you watched the Chaser satirisation to which I think you refer, you might find that it is not a satirisation of childhood cancer but rather a satirisation of our way of dealing with childhood cancer. Do you think it is fair to put forward an argument that we should be concerned about the levels of childhood leukaemia, for instance, and whether it might be more useful to get at the cause of this terrible tragedy rather than sending kids off to Disneyland, which might be a typical materialistic response? If we are allowed to argue that - and I think that argument should be allowed to be made, whether you agree with it or not - then satire is an effective way to make that argument. I was appalled at the knee-jerk reaction against that Chaser segment.

Sure, it might have made some of us uncomfortable but isn't that what satire is supposed to do? What is the use of freedom of speech if we are only allowed to use it where everyone is comfy with it and if if only aligns with everybody's sense of taste and their comfort zones?

WicketWatcher | 29 April 2011  

The Royal family is the Conservatives' greatest asset.
President Obama, Mr. Gordon Brown and Mr. Tony Blair, for instance, were not invited to the wedding.

The Chasers too are one of the Conservatives' greatest assests. With their lame jokes and triumphant sneers they have so many of us sympathise with their vicims.

Joyce | 29 April 2011  

It does seem likely that by banning Chaser and therefore antagonising so many under 35 year olds, that Clarence House has personally contributed to the Australian Republican campaign far more than if they had just ignored it. It was very short-sighted of them.

Beth | 29 April 2011  

The issue is not about whether or not The Chaser's antics are in "good" or "bad" taste, or whether on not one likes them. This issue is that a foreign power can and still does exert a political influence over events in Australia - in this instance freedom of the press. The Pope is frequently satarised on television but unnlike the Royal Family, is unable to do exert a political influence to have such content banned.

Andrew | 29 April 2011  

The criticism of The Chaser team I think is well justified, and the many comments below reflect this. I found the episode in the Vatican over a year ago to be tasteless and offensive as well as the "smart alec, juvenile & vulgar" [thanks Trent] take on royalty the same. Surely Australians can do better than this. Wit and humour are one thing but showing no respect for people's beliefs and institutions are beyond contempt.

Brush up your game boys and learn to be really witty!

And what is more, thank goodness for a little glamour, love and ceremony in the world...The Royals have a hard job doing what they do in the media spotlight all the time, but it is a breath of 'fresh air' in a world tormented with wars, disgusting politics and disasters.....Go Royals!!! and thanks!!!Thanks Eureka Street too for having a forum in which to vent ones thoughts on events.

penny | 29 April 2011  

The Chaser 'Boys' make me cringe, but this censorship by the Monarchy Machine is outrageous! They are not terrorists. Surely Dame Edna Everidge can be just a tad tasteless? I wonder if the Little Britain Boys are dressing up and commenting on the occasion? I enjoyed the article, as it was thoughtful and I felt, realistic. Sure it's all about 'the dress' but lets not take ourselves too seriously; take in the spectacle, and wait for the next Royal scandel eh?.

Helen Lanyon | 29 April 2011  

to: ROSIE YOUNG: Anybody trying to compare a sacred day like the ANZAC day to a wedding of some rich English people should try to read a few history books.

Beat Odermatt | 29 April 2011  

Ordinated?? In this day when oriented has become orientated and preventive has become preventative I suppose we have to expect ordained to be similarly upgraded.

Gavan | 29 April 2011  

Come on. Is there anyone in the world who wouldn't ban the Chasers from their wedding?

Lyndel Caffrey | 29 April 2011  

Bill Windsor should be congratulated: he comes from what may be Western Europe's most dysfunctional family, and his immediate antecedents have been among history's most successful public adulterers.

Despite this rotten background, he has managed to get himself a commission in the armed forces, hold down a day job, and he seems to have met a nice girl to marry. For us, that is where it should start and finish.

All the rest of it is an obscene, privileged, undemocratic fairy tale, which should mean nothing to the women and men of Australia.

Peter Downie | 29 April 2011  

Interesting: this is an issue addressed by this social justice - oriented blog, but the issue of the outrageous comments by Larissa Behrendt regarding Bess Price has (AFAIK) been treated here with the de rigeur Fairfaxian blackout.

HH | 29 April 2011  

I have no problem with the Chaser folk being banned from the wedding. Perhaps they could have a look at the truly cringeworthy phenomena that is the paparazzi.

David Arthur | 29 April 2011  

Hear, hear! The Chaser commentary was the only thing about the Royal Wedding I was looking forward to. The upcoming nuptials have proven highly effectual in bringing out all the silliness in the media and its thoughtless consumers, who seem to imagine the antiquated institution of monarchy bears any more relevance other than being a source of gossip and in performing idle ceremonial functions. Why is Australia - whose sleeping colonial servitude has suddenly woke up with a start - taking any interest in two people who have achieved very little, and in their tedious ceremony?

I hope this censorship might lead to some reflection on the part of Australians on why we even value the monarchy at all and why we allow the media conduct ridiculous carnivals around such trivial events!

Robert | 29 April 2011  

oh forget the beards, two drab grey 'nuns' obviously anglican because henri viii killed the rest. The Grace Kelly look worked (wrong faith??) Why not a good old cath & wim joke. charles is sad, lost a gorgeous wife & now 'censors' oz comedy. Aren't we all a bit lacking? But the big question is why did the boys get the Bentleys & Kate only a Roller?

Kathleen Burraston | 30 April 2011  

Really, you are outraged about this? Banning Chaser = the end of civilisation as we know it?

What an over reaction. You are getting worked up about a group of a group of grown men who need to get a real job. Anyone, no matter who they are, is entitled to hold their wedding without a pack of talentless clowns in taking the mickey out of it, especially at taxpayer expense.

The ABC would be happy, they are short of funds as it is, not airing this rubbish saved them a few bucks.

Bill Calvin | 30 April 2011  

I am amazed that a publication that purports to be Catholic would openly sanction the public satirising of a sacrament! This is not an issue of free speech at all; it is an issue of taste and decency.

What a shame that Ellena Savage didn’t express disappointment that the Vatican didn’t ask the Chaser crew to host the Australian coverage of the canonisation of St. Mary MacKillop. But then that’s what you get when a publication can only attract writers that used to edit a student magazine.

Fatuous demands that four angry young comics be allowed to publicly undermine and ridicule a sacrament taking place in a church.

Paul Chigwidden | 30 April 2011  

Would I be right in deducing from the number and variety of the comments on Ms Savage's article that Eureka Street's readers represent the educated middle-class? And that it is the more liberal and the more conservative of those readers who take the time to submit their comments on freedom of speech, the nature of humour, the monarchy, the nature of republicanism,etc.?

I accept that in the grand sweep of history hereditary monarchies have played important roles - some to good purpose, some not so good. So too have despotic dictatorships.
As I watched the wedding of Will and Kate, the Royal and the commoner, I thought, please God bless them and may they have a long and happy married life together.
But I also thought an enormous burden was being placed on their shoulders. They have become a living fairy story for the British public. And maybe even for the British Commonwealth of Nations.

But Prince Charming and his Snow White bride are not the ones to sprinkle fairy dust over the troubles of this world. That power lies in the hands of political realists and demagogues and the grey men (and women)who live in their shadows.

Uncle Pat | 30 April 2011  

If Ellena would like her nuptials to be held up to ridicule and mockery, good luck to her, but I see no reason why the royal wedding should not be treated with respect (or at least, common decency) whether one is a republican or not.

Simon Lewis | 30 April 2011  

It seems everyone remembers the bad and, for some reason, doesn't even know the good that The Chaser have done. I'm a regular watching, they went after Qantas because they wouldn't refund a woman because she got pregnant, went after politicians, you don't feel sorry for them, do you? and have gone after corrupt Judges.

If people stopped going on Bullshit Media reports and did their own research, maybe then their point of view would be valid.

andrew | 30 April 2011  

It was worth tuning in if only for the glorious music and hymns. John Rutter's setting of the psalm was lovely. And good that Catherine of Sienna got a nod in the homily!

Will | 30 April 2011  

I'm a republican who thinks the royal family is an irrelevant waste of time and money for Australia, but that does not excuse the embarrassing childish drivel of the Chaser.

If Australia is ever to grow up, cut ties with the monarchy and become a truly independent republic, then we also need to distinguish between wit/humour/satire and tasteless/unfunny/puerile Chaser-style crap.

Michael | 30 April 2011  

Thank Christ the Chaser program was pulled. Their work is about appealing to me as dog excrement on your shoe.

telfer cronos | 01 May 2011  

There are more important things to write about - chaser needs to look at itself.

boo hoo. | 01 May 2011  

I am an Australian of Irish ancestry, so tend to associate the English royal family with 500 years of tyrannous occupation. In honour of my persecuted ancestors, I chose not to watch the wedding. I doubt I'd have been interested in watching it, even if my ancestors were Engish, because I try not to value people for their wealth, beauty or fame, but only for what good they do in the world.

Yet, when I read that: 'The BBC says royal wedding footage is not to be used for 'drama, comedy, satirical or similar entertainment'; I began to wonder:

1. why did the author impute an anti-Chaser opinion to the royal family, rather than to the BBC?

2. what footage of a wedding reasonably belongs to the couple - eg. film taken inside a venue, as distinct from film taken in a public place, at a discrete distance, when the subjects are aware they are being filmed;
3. should royal wedding footage be treated any less favourably, in terms of privacy, than the wedding footage of ordinary people?

If the Chaser had only used footage taken on the street then we'd have something to complain about.

Tasha Corr | 01 May 2011  

I love the Chasers most of the time, but sometimes think they are over the limit of good taste, and I was surprised that I was glad they were banned from commenting on the Royal Wedding. I thought that it embodied the best values we have inherited (there are plenty of lesser ones) it was beautiful, a first-class production in all respects, with two protagonists who demonstrated humanity, intelligence, reverence and dignity. Best of all was the joy (for a change) of thousands of ordinary people in the streets, an outcome which will have uplifted the morale of lots of us in this age of so much distress. So there!

Christine Wood | 01 May 2011  

There is nothing more comical than watching a bunch of comedians take themselves seriously who spend the rest of their time sending up the pretensions of those who take themselves seriously. Five minutes of tasteless Dame Edna on Friday night was enough to make me reach for the remote and turn to the civilised pitter patter of Simon Schama et al.

HANCOCK'S HALFHOUR | 02 May 2011  

How many times have we read comments such as this one by Ellena Savage. Seems as she took some material from a somewhat cruder article by Trixie Wellington in the New Matilda. It only shows a single and narrow minded attitude to an instution that most of the world's population would love to live under, rather than their unelected tyrants which they have little or no hope of getting rid of. One would think the Chaser programme is some great cultural and educational event, instead of the infantile work it is..

Bill | 02 May 2011  

As opposed to the Chaser's "democratic" war on the Royal Family?

Perhaps our "beloved" chaser boys could do something on sick kids instead - oh, hang on, they already did!

Murray | 22 July 2011  

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