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Updated 30 August 2013

Why people go gaga over royal babies

Prince George is already a celebrity. CyberShrink can't really understand why.

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I've become curious about why so many people get excited by a royal birth.

Just this week, many international news channels and newspapers chose as a headline story a brief interview with Prince William in which he revealed to a breathless world that young George was managing to need frequent nappy changes.

I suppose this could be considered news in a peculiar way, as it is probably the first official court confirmation for centuries that royalty excrete in exactly the same way the rest of us do, rather than relying on osmosis or something similarly decorous. But did it really deserve more prominence in the world's news than the horrors in the Middle East or global economic problems?  

It was probably a relief to the world's press after all the weeks in which they solemnly pointed cameras at each other, and told us that the news was that there was actually no news.

Gosh, remember the Good Old Days when the news media told us things that were interesting and significant, which we hadn't already guessed, and which we had a real right to know?  

Heir-style  
Add this to his earlier admission that the imperial mite already had more hair than his father, and maybe it's faintly interesting.

Find it interesting if you wish, or boring – but why would anyone outside the immediate family, find it ‘exciting’? One guy seen on TV news proudly announced, "It makes me proud to be British". Why?  A normal, healthy, young couple managed to produce a baby, something that happens remarkably often every day in every country. Why should someone else feel proud of it?  Did anyone have serious doubts that they could produce an heir, to add to the line of heirs?   

A visitor to Cape Town told a reporter she was "ecstatic". Some say "It's not something that happens every day", but surely it does?  Maybe not every day to any specific couple, but why does she not feel ecstatic when Mrs Ndlovu gives birth, too?  I'm pleased, when my attention is drawn to it, when any couple has a wanted and healthy child, but the child's heritage or wealth doesn't add to my pleasure.

There was also the start of the coming frenzy of sad people desperately struggling to duplicate in their own empty lives the stuff the royal kid uses. Already sales of the specific infant car seat have rocketed, and there have been massive endeavours to buy dresses similar to the little blue frock Kate wore on leaving hospital, though it turned out to be an original one-and-only.

Infanticipation
World media went gaga for ages, from "Is she Pregnant?" stories to a steady stream of reports on the progress of the "bump" as the pre-born seem now to be called. (Maybe my autobiography could be called: "Confessions of a Former Bump"?)

Then came the Great Kate Wait, as we were urged to bother about exactly when the birth would take place. And thus the headlines : "It's a BABY!" screamed one paper, presumably disappointing all those who were hoping for a panda. Then: "It's a Boy!". Barring extreme rarities, surely we had a 50/50 chance of guessing that one right.

Then there was major excitement to glimpse the child as it left hospital. I confess when I accidentally caught the hospital-leaving coverage, I chuckled when it appeared as though the swaddled Windsor Jr. was satirising his parents' royal waves (Brittania Royals the Waves?)  Then we were instructed to be agog about what string of names the poor kid would be lumbered with. At least he didn't get a cheap joke like the Kardashian child named North West.

Now that the media have milked every last drop of manufactured excitement out of these events, we are starting to see snarkier pieces asking what all the fuss was about. I'm more interested in why so many people, even many from around the world, got caught up in a flood of false excitement.

Your granny used to teach you how to respond appropriately to major events, but now it's the media themselves who train us in how we're supposed to behave.

The website of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, offered its Republican readers a button they can click that will limit the amount of royal baby coverage on the website. It’s a nifty idea to be sure, but why is it even necessary?

It's reminiscent of when the royal family visited South Africa back in 1947, and Dr Verwoerd, then editor of DieTransvaler, was determined not to publicise them in his newspaper at all, and ordered his staff to ignore them. The sole exception, during their visit to Johannesburg was an item warning that "The presence of certain visitors today will cause some dislocation to the traffic."

The royal male  
There were surprisingly sexist comments from some, expressing serious disappointment that the royal child wasn't a girl, though serious efforts had been made to remove the old limitations that gave precedence to male heirs over female.

There was also a most peculiar statement by a CNN correspondent. Anyhow, Victoria Arbiter said, "This is how brilliant a royal Kate is... There are women throughout British Royal Family history who have panicked over not being able to deliver a boy and here we are. Kate did it – first time." What a clever uterus! A more promising sign was a Yougov poll which found that some 83% of Brits wouldn't mind if the new princeling turned out to be gay.

The coverage teetered on the brink of being intrusive, an exaggeration of the odd way we tend to treat pregnant women, who become open to comments, queries and unsolicited advice from passing strangers.

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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