Prince of Fools

Anna and I are watching the BBC World News over breakfast. The show airs nightly on PBS, and we record it to watch in the morning. We're constantly a day behind, but we don't have cable, and day-old news from the Brits is still better than any of the fresh stuff cooked up by our home networks.

One of the top stories this morning concerns mounting anxiety over the scandalous photo of Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi soldier (a member of General Erwin Rommel's German Afrika Korps, to be precise). When I first read about this a couple of days ago, the reports indicated that Harry was photographed at a "fancy dress party," which is British slang for "costume party." The theme of the party: Colonials and Natives. Apparently, these "bad taste" parties are quite popular among the British elite, so much so that a London costume rental shop manager remarked, "the Nazi uniform is a frequently-requested costume." Of course, there is no mention of this in last night's BBC News report. With the third in line to the British throne squarely in its sights, the BBC joins a host of international critics expressing univocal disapprobation and condemnation of the young prince. Et tu, BBC?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending Harry's costume choice on any abstract grounds. My complaint isn't that BBC News failed to consider the question of Harry's right to free expression, or even more daringly, his right to privacy. Harry's life has been a media spectacle since conception, and I presume he long ago came to grips with the fact that the luxurious trappings of royalty are paid for at the expense of perpetual publicity. That awareness alone makes his choice of costumes injudicious, to say the least. Even the shit this kid does that's in relatively good taste gets scrutinized and criticized by the media. Anything that approaches bad taste is like a bucketful of chum thrown into shark-infested waters. Dressing up as a Nazi demonstrates really poor taste. But then again, isn't that the whole point of a "bad taste" costume party? It just seems to me that young Harry pretty much knocked the ball out of the fucking park as far as bad taste is concerned. The hailstorm of criticism just confirms it was a brilliant choice for the occasion. I'm not saying that I expect BBC News to applaud the choice or pat the kid on the back for his brash, impetuous wit. I just think it's a shame that they're content to take their turn in the feeding frenzy over Harry's indiscretion, chomping on the remains of the prince's bloodied carcass. That's just too easy. A post from the London News Review points out what is glaringly absent from the BBC News report, arguing that Harry shouldn't shoulder the entire burden of this public outrage:

"The theme of the fancy dress party, thrown by famous horseman and friend of Prince Charles, Richarde Meade, was – believe it or not – ‘Colonials and Natives’. Oh lordy. Colonials and Natives? What the **** are these people on? What century are they living in? Colonials and Natives? It beggars belief. Why not ‘Imperialists and Nig Nogs’? Or would that have been bad taste? So anyway, a fair share of the blame for Harry’s outfit must surely go to the imbecilic Richarde Meade and his appalling choice of party theme."

I mean, we have parties with similarly distasteful and racially insensitive themes on this side of the pond, but we try to keep them contained to the frat houses of our southernmost universities, and a few of the Ivies. According to the folks who run costume shops in and around London, these parties are fairly widespread over there. I think this might be the bigger story BBC News is somehow missing. If only the media sharks would swim away from Harry's meatless torso for a moment, they'd find plumper game bobbing in the waters around them.

Of course, missing the big picture is only the most glaring and significant of the problems with the media coverage/construction of the Harry-as-Nazi fiasco. So many interesting and important aspects of this story have simply been left unexplored. Harry's big brother William came dressed in a skin-tight leopard costume, complete with tail and claws. I don't believe for a second that somebody didn't get a picture of that. As a general rule, if a guy shows up to a party dressed in a full-body leotard, you get pictures. That's seriously effective blackmail material, even if you're not a friggin' prince. Where are these pictures? More importantly, how exactly is a leopard costume appropriate in the context of the Colonials and Natives theme? If this is some kind of half-hearted protest, the symbolism escapes me. If not, the elder prince has some strange ideas about the colonial/native relationship. This seems like at least as significant a costuming concern as Harry's gaffe, given that this guy is second in line for the goddamn British crown. I'm just saying, if I'm BBC News, I'm asking a different set of questions.


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