Six anti-monarchy protestors were arrested at the Coronation of King Charles III on Saturday morning.
The six were arrested as they were unloading placards and loudspeakers from their van close to route of the coronation procession where they had planned to stage their protest. They were detained for 16 hours under the very new Public Order Act 2023 which allows the police to arrest people if they have equipment that could be used to lock onto buildings or vehicles in order to cause disruption to the public.
However, there was no such lock-on or other significantly disruptive action planned by the six people arrested, and there was no lock-on equipment in the van.
One of those arrested was the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic and he believes that the police had planned to arrest them in advance of the protest even though they knew they were planning a peaceful event. His suspicions come from the fact that they’d had 4 months of prior conversations with the police telling them what the protest would entail, and the police had said they’d been fine with it, right up until the stealth arrest on Saturday.
Of course some people made it to the protests and in reality, all the protestors did was gather in a relatively small group sporting anti-monarchy placards and T-shirts and shout ‘Not my King’ as Charles went past in his gilded coach.
There were more widespread arrests of protestors during the day, 52 in total, 60% of which were arrested under suspicion of causing a public nuisance.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a good example of a state crime: here the police are preventing people from exercising their right to protest and free speech which is against the UN convention on human rights.
So the Tory government no longer respects human rights and the MET police are prepared to abuse human rights to attempt to make the monarchy seem more loved than it is on the global stage.
It shows us the power of the media in relation to protest. In reality, had the police done nothing, the mainstream media probably wouldn’t have even shown the protestors. It was a relatively easy thing to cut-out of footage, given how small it was.
But now these arrests have been made and the state has shown itself to be against human rights, this is becoming big news, as is the anti-monarchy debate that’s being represented!
Young people are twice as likely to NOT support the monarch as old people, but why is this?
Attitudes towards the British monarchy vary significantly by age.
According to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the BBC’s Panorama (1)only 32% of 18-24 year olds think we should continue to have a monarchy compared to 67% of 50-64 year olds.
So more than twice the proportion of 18-24 year olds are against the idea of continuing the monarchy compared to 15-64 year olds.
When you stretch the age gap further you find the difference is even greater: Only 26% of 18-24 year olds think the monarchy is good for Britain, compared to 72% of over 65 olds:
The difference is certainly significant, but why is there such a remarkable difference in attitudes towards the monarchy between younger and older Britons?
Lifecycle or Cohort Effect?
Is this stark difference in attitudes towards the monarchy down to a lifecycle or cohort effect?
A lifestyle effect would mean that all younger people in general, from any generation, start off viewing the monarch less favourably and as they get older view the monarchy more favourably.
A cohort effect would mean that there is a difference in attitude across the younger and older generations, in which case we can expect younger people to keep their more negative attitudes towards the monarchy as they get older.
Of course it is also possible that BOTH of the above effects are at work: intuitively it makes sense that the monarchy is becoming less relevant over time AND that as people get older they are more likely to defer to authority.
One way determining the relative strength of each effect would be to ASK older people whether they used to support the monarchy or not (although there are potential validity flaws related to memory in this), so a more valid measure would be to look at PAST opinion polls on the monarchy.
What is surprising is that 52% of 18-24 year olds reported wanting a monarchy only three years ago…
To my mind this possibly suggests what is known as a ‘period effect’ – where a significant event effects public attitudes, and this case the event was the death of the Queen and forthcoming coronation of the new King: people simply aren’t that keen on King Charles compared to the Queen, and maybe this has had more of an impact on younger people.
Also there is the negative press associated with Prince Andrew and his love of sleeping with teenage girls, which probably didn’t do the institution many favours in the eyes of 18-24 year olds!
In general there is broad support here for there being a cohort effect – if we go back 20 years we see nearly 80% supporting the monarchy, compared to just over 50% on average today, and given that we’ve got an ageing population clearly people aren’t changing their minds and becoming more pro-monarchy as they get older!
In some of these polls people are even asked ‘what should happen to the monarchy after the Queen dies’ and it’s clear that there was less support for the monarchy in that previous hypothetical situation compared to when the Queen was alive, and we see that being played out in the statistics now!
Why do young people show less support for the monarchy?
I don’t know of any research looking at WHY the younger generation are less likely to support the monarchy compared to the older generation, but decades of surveys give us some kind of idea and we can theorise about why more broadly, based on social changes over the past decade.
First of all it seems there has been an immediate decline in support for the monarchy based on the death of the Queen. We see this in the relatively rapid decline in pro-monarchy attitudes in 2023 compared to 2020.
This makes intuitive sense: even teenagers today would have ‘grown up’ with the Queen, and more so for older people. Media coverage of the Queen was always very positive and she’s been a mainstay of British popular culture for decades, whereas our new King Charles has received much more negative press (‘the crazy organic guy’) and Camilla isn’t that popular, and he simply doesn’t have the historical kudos of the Queen: he doesn’t link us back to this warm and toasty (albeit mythical) 1950s feeling like the Queen did.
And then think of the turmoil the Royal Family has gone through over the last decade: with Meghan and Harry leaving and Andrew’s taste for teenage girls, it’s all a bit sordid, they’re just a bit all over the place, they simply don’t represent wholesomeness in the same sort of way the Queen did.
So it kind of makes sense that once the Queen is dead, there’s not a lot positive within the monarchy to support anymore.
Younger generations may also be less inclined to support the monarchy because they haven’t grown up with just television: personalised feeds mean younger people are probably much less exposed to BBC representations of royalty, less likely to get news items about royalty and when they do they will be presented more as media celebrities rather than anything special.
Possibly national identity means less to younger people in a global age, and royalty are ‘British’, so maybe they are less supported because of this.
I’d like to think that there’s a sense of injustice about so much tax payers’ money being spent on this defunct institution when they are already so wealthy, but I doubt this is much of a thing, maybe for a few percent it is though.
Signposting and Sources
These statistics seem to be evidence of the broad shift towards postmodern society. The fact that young people have such different attitudes towards the monarchy than older people suggests a degree of social fragmentation, certainly not anything like value consensus.
Declining support for the monarchy also suggests we are less likely to defer to authority and hierarchy based on tradition, and presumably more likely to decide for ourselves what we should be doing with our lives.
How might Interactionists, Functionalists, Marxists and Postmodernists interpret the death of The Queen..?
The Queen died on Thursday 8th September 2022, ending her reign as the longest serving monarch in British history.
Events like this are rare and the offer sociology students a good opportunity to practice applying perspectives and concepts to the event itself and the societal reaction to the event.
NB to be honest we are probably considering below the societal reaction to the event for the most part – both on the part of the media and the people themselves. This isn’t unusual as the Monarchy is a social construction and kept alive by people recognising its significance.
How would the main sociological perspectives understand the death of The Queen…
A good starting point for thinking about the Monarchy could well be Interactionism – the Queen, after all, is a symbol, rather than an individual that we know, even if millions of people may have convinced themselves they know the ‘person’ rather than the symbol.
In terms of symbolism The Queen, as the media have been very keen to point out, represents a ‘point of stability and continuity’ over the last 70 years, really THE ONLY person in all that time to have always been there in the public eye, an ever ‘reassuring presence’.
And of course she does represent (as a symbol) ‘Britain’ and ‘British Identity’ itself – so many symbols of the nation are linked to the Queen – obviously Buckingham Palace and her other residences, but also the Grenadier Guards specifically and the armed forces more generally, but also pretty much ANYTHNG you can point to as being British – because her role over the last 70 years has been to attend various national events, and to give awards (such as Knighthoods) to those deemed to be worthy, such as Captain Tom Moore.
Not to mention the fact that she’s on our bank notes, coins and stamps as well!
And of course The Queen as (as far as I know) always been police, apolitical (in public engagements) and attended a diverse range of events and met it could well be as many as millions of people over the last 70 years, so it’s very difficult not to ‘like the presentation of herself’ because she has come across as extremely, well ‘nice’
And she has been the most visible outward facing symbol of British National Identity – when people abroad think of Britain they probably think of The Queen as one of the most pre-eminent symbols of the nation.
So I’m not going to criticise anyone for feeling a sense of loss at The Queen’s death, we have lost our most important National Symbol, our longest serving, most continuous symbol of national unity – and even if the idea of national unity is a myth, even if people are mistakenly mourning the person rathe than the symbol (thinking they know here when they don’t) all of that doesn’t really matter – from the Interactionist point of view our society is constructed of symbols, and that’s what matters.
And it is highly unlikely that Charles can replace The Queen – he’s been too political over the years, too ‘odd’ with his views, Dianna is dead, Camilla is somehow a bit fake, and most importantly he hasn’t got youth on his side.
We could well be witnessing, with the death of The Queen, the death of the British Monarchy, effectively, something lost, never to be replaced.
One final word on Interactionism – about Impression Management – it’s worth remembering just how much backstage work has gone into prepping The Queen for her outward facing public visits – dozens of servants, hundreds of millions of pounds – and yes she has worked every day for 70 years more or less but there has been a lot of backstage prepping going on too!
The Mainstream Media seem to be interpreting the death of The Queen in classical Functionalist terms from the 1950s, but personally I think this is inaccurate.
For a start there is a TOTAL lack of criticism of the monarchy as an institution in the mainstream media in general, and especially now, and the ‘discourse’ is very much one of treating the Monarchy as if it has played a vital function in British society over the last 70 years under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
And the main ‘function’ that The Queen has performed is that of being a symbol of national unity, helping maintain a sense of national identity and a sense of social solidarity, especially during The Pandemic, when in a now famous line she said ‘we will meet again’.
And now that the Queen is Dead it’s as if we are about to plunge into a time of radical uncertainty, of anomie, of rootlessness in a time when all in the world is chaos – political change in the UK, the cost of living crisis, the war in the Ukraine, AND NOW THE QUEEN!
HOWEVER, it might be better to view the monarchy as something of a ‘defunct institution’ – something based on ascribed status which harkers back to pre-modernity, and, in its postmodern incarnation is increasingly dysfunctional with it’s Divorced and Paedophile Princes.
One thing the monarchy isn’t is meritocratic, that’s for sure, and the one recent opinion poll from YouGov reported that only 6/10 Britons want the Monarchy to continue, so the idea that the symbol of the monarchy promotes social solidarity simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny…
It is more likely that the media reporting on the death of the Queen and what a great loss this is for the nation is ideological – it reflects the views of the conservative and older people who set the media agenda, this doesn’t reflect the views of younger people or Labour supporters.
The Marxist Perspective on the Monarchy
One of the key concepts of Marxism is social class, and one of their key aims is develop a class-based analysis of society.
And the monarchy is just about as elite as you can get. They are among the largest landowners in Britain with a crown estate worth £14 billion and the Queen is (or was) personally one of the wealthiest individuals in the country.
The children always go to Elite schools and the boys become men do a stint as officers in the army, navy or air force, and as the Queen’s 96 years of age are testimony to, the royals are very long lived – and the higher social classes to tend to live longer overall!
And despite their huge wealth, the monarchy still receives a state subsidy from the British taxpayer, which is, for them, completely unnecessary.
The media, however, NEVER comment on this old-school-elite-class fact of life, but we have got to see this in effect with the old restored images of the Queen’s Jubilee back in the 1950s – with all the gilded pomp and ceremony.
One wonders whether there will be a toning down of this when Charles is coronated, this kind of upper-class parade seems extremely distasteful in our modern/ post-modern meritocratic society.
A final word on Marxism – you might want to think how far the Queen’s death preforms an ideological function – in that it distracts us from other MASSIVE political issues – we have a new even more neoliberal government in power, and there is a cost of living crisis that is now slipped down the agenda for a few days at least.
Post and Late Modernism
I have already considered some of these concepts above – but one additional concept worth considering in relation to The Monarchy is that of hyperreality – the media seem intent on making The Queen’s death into more than it is, ‘milking it for all it is worth’ – this is the best profit-making event newspapers are likely to see this century, for example, and they’ve probably had their ‘memorial supplements’ ready to go for years.
The Newspapers were late being delivered on 9th of September 2022, obviously because of last minute modifications being made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the reporting is going to be any more accurate, it probably just means adding to the hyperreal construction of the event, making it more than what it is.
That isn’t to say The Queen’s death isn’t real, of course it happened, but think about it – there is a LOT of constructing the narrative around the event, creating its significance, THAT is what is hyperreal.
Individualisation is another highly relevant concept when it comes to the way the media treat The Queen – focusing on HER as an individual rather than the institution of the monarchy as a whole – thus simplifying the narrative and preventing critical discourse around the wider institution.
Finally, this is certainly a ‘reflexive event’ with the media calling on the nation to reflect on what the passing of The Queen means and where we go from here…
You can read this post on Postmodernism for a more in-depth look!
Signposting and how to use this material…
Teachers of A-level Sociology might like to use this as a refresher with their Second Year students – you could get students working in small groups each focussing on one of the perspectives above and then get them to feed back their findings to the class.
It would probably fit best with the Theory and Methods part of the course, the theory part especially.
How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media?
This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.
Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.
NB Social class is a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.
Representations of the Monarchy
According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.
Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.
Media representations of wealth
The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.
The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.
The Middle Classes
Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.
Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.
Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.
The working classes
There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.
Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes
Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.
Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)
Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.
Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.
Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.