A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Today, February 6th, 2012, is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. For sixty years, Her Majesty has been the Queen — and that’s the gist of it, really. She is not a queen, one of many queens, although there are still many queens in the world. She is The Queen – universally recognized. This is partially to do with the enduring power of the British monarchy – nearly 2,000 years old – but mostly it’s to do with the Queen herself.
In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, Britain was still an imperial power. Winston Churchill, who had served Queen Victoria, was the Prime Minister of Britain and Harry S Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri, was President. He was the last President who did not have a university degree. Joseph Stalin, a peasant from Georgia, was the ruthless master of the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao, a librarian from Hunan, ruled China. Vladimir Putin, Sarkozy, Merkel and David Cameron weren’t born yet; nor were Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama.
People wrote letters to each other. Telephones were attached to the wall, and long distance calls were an event. People still sent telegrams. In 90% of the British Commonwealth (as it was called) television was an intriguing rumour. Most people didn’t fly, and great distances were covered in boats and trains.
In 1952, the majority of Queen Elizabeth’s British subjects earned (in American dollars) less than $250.00 per month. However, beef was 85 cents per lb, chicken, 56 cents and apples (when you could get them; Britain still had wartime rationing) were only 19 cents per lb. Fresh fruits and vegetables were outrageously expensive out of season, and there was no such thing as fast food.
In 1952, walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction; Sir Edmund Hillary hadn’t even walked on Mount Everest yet. Although transistors had been invented by Bell Laboratories in 1947, it would take Sony, a Japanese company that didn’t exist yet, three more years to commercially market the Transistor Radio.
In 1952, Queen Elizabeth was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and nobody thought that sounded strange.
In 1952, automobiles didn’t have seatbelts. Cyclists didn’t wear helmets, and consumer products didn’t come with warning labels. There were repair shops for household items. Doctors made house calls, and lawyers didn’t advertise.
In 1952, the world was halfway through the 20th century. The good old days were vanishing and our contemporary society was just being born.
It is a testament to Her Majesty that, despite the upheavals of a world that now seems to be spinning faster than most of us can understand, she has maintained an unassailable dignity. For sixty years, she has represented the best of what we are supposed to be. Quietly and continually, she has done what was expected of her, not perhaps what she herself wanted to do. She has spent a lifetime dedicated to her task — without comment or complaint or the flares of ego so common these days.
Few, if any, institutions have survived intact from 1952. They’ve all been swept away by history. Yet, Queen Elizabeth II remains The Queen.