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“Morrissey is a dick” – indeed, but he’s right about royal pressure

I’ve spent the past few days weighing up whether to write about the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who committed suicide after transferring a phoney Queen and Prince Charles to the bedside of the Duchess of Cambridge. The blame dished out to Australian DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig has been absurd – as has the ritual attempted-catharsis of their streaming faces on TV and the newspapers.

There are more ethical targets of prank calls than nurses, for sure. She was not a celebrity – and so dealing with any unwanted publicity was inevitably going to be that bit worse. But the idea that one can hold humourists responsible for the death of someone they only spoke to for a matter of seconds just doesn’t follow. Indeed, it is ridiculous to say that anyone should take the blame for such an irrational act as suicide.

Until yesterday, however, I wasn’t sure whether I had enough original contribution to the debate to warrant an article on an event I find pretty distressing to think about. Then Morrissey, that well-known bastion of sensitivity, took the liberty of commenting.

His opening comments, reported in the Guardian, are quite outrageous. “[She] was in the hospital, as far as I could see, for absolutely no reason,” the singer told the paper. “Does she have a health condition? Is it anorexia or is it pregnancy? … I mean morning sickness already? So much hoo haw and then suddenly as bright as a button as soon as this poor woman dies she’s out of hospital? It doesn’t ring true.”

Quite the medical expert, so it seems. Somehow his previous loud-mouthery makes this dismissive misogynistic outburst fail to surprise. You’d think an anti-monarchist like Morrissey would deplore the media’s obsession with the looks of female royals. But he doesn’t seem to have found the space in his narrow mind to find a meaningfully different attitude, or indeed to understand what pregnancy actually involves.

The Labour leader of Camden council, Sarah Hayward, tweeted:

I’m minded to agree with her – for these comments and mouthing off about “no shame”, yes he is a dick. But he did make one point that stands. He argues that “the pressure put on the woman who connected the callers was probably so enormous that she took her own life”, which is the most logical explanation, unless there were other factors at work which we have yet to hear of.

The pressure on Saldanha was not a result of professional misdemeanour. It was a result of the untouchable status of the royal family in our culture, where more than any other group the outrage provoked when a single toe is placed across the line of decency. The same press now baying for the Australian DJs attempted to make the hospital staff look like insensitive fools.

The taboo of obtaining details of a royal’s medical conditions via a prank call was such that BBC Radio, at least on the occasion I heard, did not play the recording of the ward nurse unraveling the story to the DJs. Instead, they only played Saldanha’s exchange of a few seconds, as if this was a disgraceful act in itself.

The point is not whether individual members of the royal family should feel shame – and it is certainly not to question the medical condition of a plainly ill person.

But if it were David Cameron in that hospital bed, or even David Beckham, it is unlikely it would have come to this. Media, and public opinion as a result, elevates the royal family to a superhuman status. Never mind what the Australian DJs will have to “live with for the rest of their lives” – Saldanha was probably thinking about what she would have to live with for the rest of her life. She was made out as breaching the sanctity of the untouchable, even though she had only made a silly mistake.

In a constitutional monarchy, divine elevation of the royal family is a hierarchy that does not even serve its historic (and obviously wrongful) function of governance. But there is no escaping it – unless we do away with the royals altogether. If there is anything that demonstrates the absurdity of royalty, it is this.

Meanwhile, perhaps we should step back from the media obsession with finding a culprit for everything – this was a tragic act, but undoubtedly an irrational one.

5 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Your twisting it, this person did not find the little joke being played as funny, many of us enjoy laughing so long as the joke is not on us of course, if it is then we feel angry let down and in some cases depressed. Like it or not the fall out from these two morons phoning up a hospital has or would have been the sack moved on with the royals demanding blood. No need now the nurse gave her life and a few tears and a few bit of blubbering and I’m sure these two prankster will be back on the air, the nurse will not.

    The only people who find these pranks as crimeless of course are the one who are not affected.

  2. john reid says:

    I don;t think he;s right it was the royals fault that the poor nurse was huliliated

  3. Robert says:

    Well yes John get Blair back then I’m sure the queen would enjoy him the nurses would have been hung strung and quartered with him…

  4. Rob says:

    I feel that the two DJs are to be blamed to a level as they played a prank on a total stranger not knowing the mental state or sensitivity level of the victim. If they had not played the prank then she would not have taken her own life and two children would still have a loving mother.
    If you play a prank on a celebrity and know what kind of response you are likely to get then fair enough but in this case that didn’t happen. What you are saying in a way is that if you walked up to a stranger in the street and insulted them then you are not responsible for their reaction. In reality you are responsible because without the prank in the first place the sad death of a nurse would not have taken place. I hope the two DJs remember for the rest of their lives that as a result of the prank a nurse hung herself. They should be facing a court of law.

  5. Chris says:

    “Somehow his previous loud-mouthery makes this dismissive misogynistic outburst fail to surprise.”

    Sigh. Everything’s “misogynistic” to the modern left, isn’t it?

    Bring back the USSR.

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