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

Jul 18th, 2015 | By | Category: Articles

royalheilThe 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.

heilbabyThe 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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