Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Lost Prince

The nation seems to be divided over Prince Harry's most recent antics and two positions on his drunken Las Vegas behaviour have emerged. The first argues that Harry has every right to behave as he sees fit in the privacy of his own hotel room, and in Britain, after the scandals of press intrusion and faux moralising, the pro-privacy argument seems to carry a lot of weight. The second argument is that Harry is a citizen like no other, he is an ambassador for Britain, showing off to the world all that is positive about Britain and emphasising British values. He should therefore be on his best behaviour at all times and the recent scandal over naked photos taken of him in a hotel room is just another embarrassment that the House of Windsor periodically inflicts on the nation. Coming so soon after the success of the London Olympics, where Britain truly showed off in its opening and closing ceremonies and in its record of gold medals won, what British values at their best are. There are merits in both these arguments, yes, Harry is entitled to privacy and there is no journalistic reason worthy of mention to publish embarrassing pictures of him; despite the Sun's defence of 'public interest' there is a gulf of difference between 'what interests the public' and public interest itself. Also, anyone in his position with an iota of common sense would protect themselves from embarrassment far more rigorously than he does. Perhaps there is a third perspective to view this recent debacle from? Is it possible that we can feel sympathy for Harry, a lost young man with immense privilege but no role or purpose. It is easy for us in recession hit Britain to look at Harry, a man who seems to live a life of endless opportunity and fun and feel no sympathy at all, but that is to deny a few human truths that apply to all of us, irrespective of wealth. There is no role for Harry in the future, not even the position of Duke of York, not in the next few decades at least, direction, purpose and contribution is something human beings cannot live without. He has lost the guiding hand of his mother at an early age and exists in a culture that was defined by the stiff upper lip and emotional repression of aristocracy and wartime national service. He has few achievements of his own to point to, the controversy surrounding his art exams at Eton College, where the work was shown to be someone else's, speaks volumes about how far Harry's real abilities have been tested. Similarly his deployment in Afghanistan was cut short after an article in a magazine announced his presence there, once again emphasising his differentness and hampering his ability to be counted for who, not what he was? Acting the fool in these circumstances isn't perhaps as aberrant as we might think, for all intents and purposes, he might as well, there clearly isn't anything better to do. What does this story tell us about our own times? Look at the countless Prince Harrys on every high street on a Saturday night, engaged in an alcoholic nihilism, seeking for a few hours to negate their very beings. Their existence is a powerful indication of a hopelessness that exists in the core of our society and in the very fabric of our thinking. it existed long before the recession, it hasn't been helped by the lack of jobs for young people, but unemployment and high university costs aren't the sole cause. Instead there is a massive desire on the part of our youth, just like Prince Harry for annihilation and humiliation instead of engagement. There is the desire for anaesthetic experiences where people sleepwalk drunk and hungover through swathes of their lives, instead of aesthetic experiences where they feel at their most alive. Why is this so? We don't fully know because there is no meaningful debate about our relationship between drink, drugs and ourselves. Until we start talking about this most pressing of national concerns we will have no right to judge Prince Harry because we will not be demonstrating that we are committed to finding alternatives and solutions to a generation lost to alcohol and other drugs.