The British are Coming! Well, not quite. Whether you love us or hate us, you never seem to be able to escape the media interest in the UK and her Royal Family. For one thing these upper class, well-bred patricians seem to have a stranglehold on the media whenever they get married, divorced, die, go to a restaurant or wear a trendy designer label. If you put the prefix ‘Royal’ in front of something, it’s going to be talked about.
This time it concerns that most natural of things – the birth of a child. Needless to say, it will go on to be another soldier for privacy in the fight against media exploitation. Already people are dividing themselves into two camps – those who adore the celebrity status or Royals (which attract many of whom are not ‘ruled’ in a loose sense of the word by the UK Royal Family), and the naysayers. We could examine our (at times) unhealthy obsession with the Royal Family, our celebrity obsessed culture, privacy in the public eye, the feminist implications of the birth, or even that most favourite of topics with our democratic european cousins – why the UK doesn’t have an elected head of state. Instead I’d like to suggest an altogether different and novel lens from which to view the Royal birth.
So we have a new Royal baby, a male baby to be precise. Whilst message boards and social media go both gaga and to ‘war’ over over this unwitting soul, I’d like to impose an impartial thesis over the significance of the child’s birth. Whilst monarchists will breath a sigh of relief that succession has been successfully secured for another generation and republicans brandish words such as ‘fairness’, ‘liberty’ and ‘undemocratic’ around, the UK has gained a powerful new weapon – a ‘soft power’ weapon.
Professor Joseph Nye of the Kennedy School at Harvard University helped coin the term ‘soft power’. It is the concept that a country can achieve foreign policy goals through subtle persuasion and attraction, rather than resorting to ‘hard’ military power. Soft power could be giving aid, foreign direct investment and even the exportation of culture and values through various media sources. Improving your image in the world, pursuading the people and governments of other countries to like you, sealing a trade deal – these are all examples of situations where soft power is more appropriate than hard power. This is where the Royal baby fits in. A cute child helps to enhance the ‘fairytale’, or more importantly, the humanity and popularity of our Royals abroad. The effects are already obvious. The widespread global interest drummed up by the 24 hour news media where ‘no news on the Royal baby’ is apparently news, and is indicative of what our own intense human curiosity has caused. The fact people from outside the Commonwealth are talking about him (regardless of their position on him) shows the powerful effect of this child.
Whether it is right or not, this child is enhancing the image of the Royal Family and thus the popularity of the UK. It is increasing the attention other countries are giving to the UK, and it makes the UK appear like a ‘happening place’. Any press is good press, especially Royal press. Of course, many will discount ‘soft power’ and this argument. But first ask yourself – what’s the one thing that everyone, no matter their location, nation or ethnicity, has been talking about over the last few days, and will capture their attention for days to come? That’s right, a small child born on a small North Atlantic island with the prefix of ‘Royal’.