The Art of Distraction

Nicola Biggerstaff – 30 September 2022

The Queue to End All Queues, Britain’s Endgame… The Queue to see the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lying in state at Westminster Hall was at one point so long it could be seen from space, with waiting times exceeding 24 hours. The eyes of the world descended on London, transfixed by the patriotism and grace that has came to define this country.

However, not everyone saw the viewing as quite the same. Television presenters Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby caused controversy when it was alleged that they queue-jumped while preparing footage for an upcoming segment of their ITV show This Morning, which they both deny.

Meanwhile others of celebrity status who proudly took their place in The Queue, including footballer David Beckham, TV journalist Susanna Reid, and actor Tilda Swinton, have been branded as ordinary heroes. But who is in the right here? Should people who have worked hard for their status be afforded these privileges?

Had you there for a minute, didn’t I?

This farcical display of ‘British culture’ has served its ultimate purpose: to distract us from impending doom. I hate to add yet another voice to the ever increasing dissent (now that the threat of arrest has passed for doing so), but isn’t it so typically British to brush over the legitimate conversations regarding our global legacy we should have been having during this time, with wall-to-wall coverage of… a queue?

While entertaining for the first few hours, we have to seriously ask ourselves: when is a distraction merely a form of escapism, and when does it become insidious?

I think we reach that point, as we have done, when the distraction comes from somewhere that has something to hide. It’s one thing to decide to watch a bit of television instead of working on a project because you can’t face finishing it for whatever reason, and quite another to have a distraction put in front of you, forced to consume it for want of anything else, while our economy and civil society begin to shake at the foundations.

These crises which currently have this country in a chokehold took a back seat for almost two weeks, all while we received updates straight to our phones, multiple times a day, about where a coffin was, then and how long it would take to see it. And now we will begin to suffer for this delay.

Several anti-monarchy protestors have been arrested this month and some even charged under the Public Order Act. As we discussed last week, pomp and ceremony has attempted to paper over the cracks of the crackdown on free speech, and it’s not just over the monarchy. The individual protestors have highlighted further the problems presented by the new Policing Bill introduced in England and Wales earlier this year. And this was only one of the issues that wasn’t foreseen in the preparation plans.

The queue for the lying-in-state wasn’t even mentioned under the London Bridge plans, it was simply a product of media and public hysteria in the face of the relatively unknown. An online ticketing system would not have been impossible, even with high demand. Who decided mourners should instead embrace uncertainty? Queuing in dropping temperatures to prove how supportive they are of a family who doesn’t know they exist? People might say the adopted system levelled the playing field, but if the current discourse I mentioned at the start is anything to go by, it clearly wasn’t. It instead shone a light on our perceptions of privilege: in my opinion, it’s always good to know exactly how many people have too much time on their hands at once (about 250,000, It turns out).

The infrastructure to maintain it came out of nowhere: food and drink stalls, facilities, a consistent media presence. And yet we could never do the same for the homeless people of the same area? The people who were intentionally moved on from the area to accommodate a queue? The people in London’s poorest areas are going to be some of the hardest hit by the upcoming crises, but the media has moved on from them. No one dared to use this opportunity to point out the glaring disparities among the boroughs, out of fear of alienation and dissent of their own.

Yes, it was a humorous stereotype. A coping mechanism for the genuinely upset. But let’s not let it become the single defining moment of the enforced mourning period, or indeed of this year as a whole. The Cost of Living crisis is going to kill people. Our government has just tanked the economy to make their friends and donors richer. And yet we will still be expected to treat every minor royal update from now until the coronation as lifechanging. The new royal cypher, unveiled yesterday, was the news notification I woke up to yesterday. Today, I wake up to the stark warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the government’s strategy.

I guess my point is, stop reading this and go read everyone else’s articles this week. There are bigger things going on in the world right now. Don’t let me distract you.

1 thought on “The Art of Distraction”

  1. Our Pomp and Ceremony is a distraction. A deliberate and expensive distraction too. It serves also to remind us that we are not “ them “. The Queue was intended for the same purpose.

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