This week, the most reviled people in the world are a pair of Australian disc jockeys who made a prank phone call.
Mel Greig and Michael Christian phoned a private London hospital where Kate, the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, was staying while suffering morning sickness. The pranksters, impersonating Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth, inquired after Kate’s health.
Despite ludicrously bad accents, they were able to obtain a capsule health report. Kate was doing just fine, thank you. The prank triggered an international uproar. Then the nurse who put the call through died of an apparent suicide. And it seemed almost everyone was united in laying blame.
Was the prank really so dastardly?
Greig and Christian have appeared on newscasts, weeping and berating themselves. Such a reaction would be more in keeping if they’d driven drunk and mowed down defenceless pedestrians. Or if they operated a meth lab that sold drugs to high school students.
But they didn’t.
No, they had the temerity to inquire after the health of a royal personage. That’s it. They didn’t cause anyone’s death. If someone commits suicide over a minor breach of security — and despite what monarchists might say, it was minor — then it’s mostly a reflection of that person’s fragile mental health.
This tempest in a royal teapot even has local ramifications. This week, Vancouver’s JACK-FM announced it has decided to halt prank phone calls, citing “sensitivity issues.”
John Shields is senior program manager for The Zone, the Victoria rock radio station. He says there has been no similar veto on DJ phone pranks, but then again, at The Zone, they don’t do many.
He notes news reports suggest the Aussie disc jockeys ran their prank past management before broadcasting.
“Would I fire these guys?” said Shields. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
The situation is rooted in the absurdly inflated importance society still bestows on British royalty. Why do we do this? Britannia no longer rules the waves. And royalty no longer rules Britannia.
Some might find fault with Will and Kate as much as anyone else. The hospital treating the duchess was poorly equipped for paparazzi. So why didn’t the royals beef up security? After all, they’re all too familiar with the furor they regularly stir up.
There’s something very Downton Abbey, something improbably melodramatic, about this case. Here we have a duchess in a “delicate condition.” Her honour is besmirched by commoners posing as royalty. The world roars in protest … and there is a self-sacrifice of the most grotesque kind.
As a national newspaper pointed out, if a poor-taste prank is viewed as a criminal offence, then “most of the Internet may as well call it a day.” The same could be said for TV and movies.
So what’s really behind the furor? Perhaps we’ve elevated Duchess Kate to Princess Di sainthood because pop-culture vulgarity has become the all-pervasive fabric of our everyday lives.
Perhaps the world desires one thing that seems absolutely pure and unsullied. Right now, the story of a fairy-tale princess is exactly what fits the bill. And those who dare defile the myth do so at their own risk.
© Copyright 2013