When Something Fascist Happens: What the Queen’s Nazi Salute Shows Us

The biggest
thing in today’s news is the video that has emerged from 1933-4 showing the 7-year-old
queen raising her hand in a Nazi salute along with her mother and her uncle,
who would go on to become King Edward VIII. The
Sun,
who uncovered the video, made a point of focusing their criticism away
from the young queen and onto her uncle, a man who has a history of Nazi
sympathising and is certainly more deserving of criticism than a playful child
copying her mother. However, all the headlines unsurprisingly focus on the
queen herself, and it’s difficult to imagine that this level of media and
public shock would have met the emergence of the video had she not been present
at the ill-fated salute. The media is awash with comment on the subject,
debating whether or not the paper was ‘right’ to publish the material, but no
one has noted the importance of the timing of this video and no one has
assessed the public and the media’s almost paranoiac reaction to seeing the
footage, both of which tell us important truths about our particular
contemporary moment.

It is
fairly evident and well documented by the left that nationalism and patriotism
have risen to another wave of prominence in our ideology over the past five
years, not so much with the recent attempt to dismiss the SNP on account of
their nationalism but as a result of the political agenda of our own government
who have systematically placed a focus on British tradition since they came to
power in 2010. In that time the British Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee, the
Royal Wedding and the birth of two royal babies have been culturally central,
whilst anti-European policy is back on the table in the House of Commons and in
political media discourse.

Slavoj
Zizek has written that people can respond to capitalism and its global and
universal scope by resorting to ‘paranoiac overidentification’ with people, things,
or concepts. In other words, the more capitalism tends to universalise and
bring everything and everyone into its scope, the more we seek identification
with things that will group as unique identities, the more we might reach for
something like nationalism.

It is into
a moment characterized by this overidentification with Britishness (the dangers
of which are testified to by UKIP and by several dangerous Tory policies) that
this Nazi salute video emerges. This makes its emergence shocking for several
reasons. First, it reminds us that we are very much part of a European history
and that whilst we try to distance ourselves from any involvement in fascism,
there may be parts of our history and our present that are not as far from
these dangerous ideologies as we like to think. Many contemporary attitudes
towards immigration and Europe testify to this. Second, the footage reminds us
of what nationalism and patriotism can lead to, making it a very unwelcome
reminder for those politicians and media outlets looking to harness patriotic
attitudes to sell their own agendas.

The family
setting of the video may make it doubly unsettling; in some way it mirrors the
images in the papers over the last few weeks of the perfect royal nuclear
family of William and Kate. Whilst that family embodies the Britishness with
which we are supposed to identify, this footage shows a child with its mother
and controversial uncle, an unusual combination making a controversial and
unusual gesture. It provides a timely reminder of the dangers of
overidentification and of the path that patriotism can take us down and
operates as a thorn in the side of those who want to encourage us to identify
with each other through images of Britishness, hence the instant paranoid
reactions of both the Palace and the BBC.

This article was written by the Everyday
Analysis Collective. Their new book, Twerking
to Turking,
is out now.

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