The Media, The Queen and The Gentleman
I’m dating a grown-up. He is a gentleman. Although he’s only five years older than me, he has his own apartment, did military service back in his first country, opens doors for me and never leaves clothing on the floor. But his adulthood only really came into focus when he invited my parents over for dinner. Although my house has always been open to my boyfriends, none of them had had us over in return.
“You don’t need to do that,” I told the Gentleman.
“But I want to,” he answered.
He got me to check their schedules, after checking my schedule, and I reported the best day. Then he made a point of phoning and inviting them officially. Then my parents forgot what time he said to arrive and I said, “Don’t ask me! You’re the ones he talked to.”
I went to the apartment early to help him cook, but it was already done, so we drank wine instead. I was a little nervous about the evening. Not that it would be anything but pleasant, but it felt like a watershed moment in my young-adulthood: I was co-hosting a dinner for my parents at a partner’s house. I wore a tie.
Between the red wine, my empty stomach and the heat, I was a tad tipsy when my parents arrived. My mother carried a loaf of banana bread and a houseplant. My father explained how, because I didn’t answer my phone (in reality, neither one of them had bothered to update their mobiles with my new number) they had to wait for some tenant to let them into the building like burglars. When guests arrive at a house for the first time, it is customary to do a tour. In an apartment which is essentially one room, everyone just stands around looking at the walls.
Dinner was exquisite. The Gentleman had spent two days on it. My mother especially understood how much effort had been put into it, and oohed and awed. The Gentleman opened up about his family back home and my parents gave him resume advice for a job he wants. All in all, I felt quite lucky.
After they left and we cleared up, we cuddled on the couch (conveniently in front of the air conditioner). Don’t ask me how, it’s not very romantic, but we started talking about governments and conspiracy theories and the media. The Gentleman confided that he didn’t always trust the official version of events. Now, my basic feeling about conspiracy theories is that human beings are way too unorganized to pull off anything that complex. Like, I’m not naive and I know that giant international conglomerates do sneaky, sketchy things every day to increase their billion dollar businesses by even just a cent. But I need facts to believe something, not just coincidences and gut feelings.
Eventually, when the Gentleman was discussing how “the Media” does this and “the Media does” that, I had to interrupt. “The Media doesn’t do anything! The Media doesn’t exist! When you say ‘the Media’ what you’re talking about is a huge collection of owners and editors and writers all just trying to get papers sold and the job done. They’re not organized. They have no plan.”
I quoted Chuck Klosterman (in a chapter from Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs) when he wrote that “the single most important impact on any story is far less sinister [than political agendas]: Mostly, it all comes down to a) who the journalist has called, and b) which of those people happens to call back first.” He goes on to explain that media owners, while often rich and right-wing, barely seem to read books let alone their own publications, and you don’t need to worry that journalists are trying to force their version of right or wrong on you because “anyone who’s been a reporter for five years forgets how to tell the difference.”
After I was finished my little rant the Gentleman smiled at me with his calm-Buddha face. He told me a story about the war that began in his country just after he was born. The newspapers had blatantly lied to the people, and they had done it again and again. And I realized that he had grown up in a world where no one, not the government, media or clerics, was trusted. A world in which, at a very young age, you were sceptical of everything you heard and felt safer drawing your own conclusions. Our newspapers may get things wrong, or our politicians might bend facts, but native Canadians can’t understand that level of propaganda.
So I cuddled back under his arm and we started our movie.
I brought over The Queen because the Gentleman has a weird thing about Elizabeth II (always joking that he has met her or wants to be her representative, the Governor General). I enjoyed it, although I worried that the Gentleman missed a lot of the great dialogue because it was mumbled and too quiet. I viewed the actors in a different light than when I first saw it; Helen Mirren’s performance fell in my opinion (I thought she was a bit too smirky, and the Gentleman announced “It’s kind of bullshit, because she doesn’t look like the Queen!”) but thought the actor who played Prince Charles got his well-meaning nervous nerdiness spot on.
When the Queen and her family were holed up in their Scottish castle, while the rest of the country was mourning Princess Diana, the newspapers smelled blood. They ran headline after headline attacking the Queen for not releasing a statement, not lowering the flag of Buckingham palace, not returning to London, even suggesting the Royal Family had something to do with Di’s death. The movie treats the newspapers as the unfiltered voice of the British people, being taken at face value by both Tony Blair’s government and the Royal servants. Only the Queen suggests that sales may be a motivating factor for the papers’ melodrama. But finally she relents, returns to London and gives an unglamorous (I remember my shock at the vision of the Queen wearing her big glasses, looking just like anyone’s grandmother) television address.
“So,” the Gentleman said. “The Media made the Queen return to London.”
“Shut up,” I said.