The Big Issue : Edition 458
THEBIGISSUE9–22MAY2014 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman The 20th and 21st centuries have seen off many monarchies, including in Russia, Egypt, Germany, India, South Africa, Albania and Pakistan. They are becoming rarer, and according to the evolutionary phenomenon known as ‘negative frequency dependence’, the more rare something is, the more attractive it is. The idea of negative frequency dependence has just been thrust into pop-culture prominence by the Australian evolutionary ecologist Rob Brooks, who has used it to explain why hipster beards are on the way out. They’ve certainly reached critical mass. There is hardly a barista to be found who doesn’t have a beard, a sleeve tattoo, and a leather, ankle-length, apron. But basically, on a genetic level, ladies of whatever species are attracted to rare traits, because it keeps the gene pool strong. So when beards are rare, chicks dig them. When beards are everywhere, ladies go “meh”. Rarity, let’s face it, translates to allure. That’s why diamonds get stockpiled, that’s why it sucks to see someone wearing the same outfit as you, and that’s why in 1961 the Swedish singer Ann-Margret sang a tune called ‘Thirteen Men’ – which detailed a dream in which she was ‘the only gal in town’. She had, needless to say, a good time. I swing dance in Melbourne, where the lead/follow ratio is skewed heavily in favour of the men, and follows can end up practically begging for dances from the most ragtag of leads. So with royalty thin on the ground, all of a sudden we’re looking at the Windsors in a new light. Weak chins or no, they’re an endangered species, and once they’re gone, like the Thylacine, we can’t have them back. Despite a residual English fondness for the royals, wit and dripping on toast, I’ve always thought Australia won’t mature as a country until it pulls up its big-girl undies and becomes a republic. But even though Tony Abbott has declared that Downton Abbey is his favourite show, and reintroduced knights and dames, I suspect we’re stuck with the royals. It’s genetics; William doesn’t have a beard. ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH Royal Rarity » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman. MAYBE IT’S THE popularity of Downton Abbey. Maybe it’s the palate-cleanse of a royal couple with a functional relationship. Perhaps it’s just nice to have people with good posture fly in occasionally and remind us what manners are, and how to wear block colours and a hat. But right now, Australia seems no more likely to kick the monarchy to the curb than go vegan and let the cows roam free. Support for a republic is now at its lowest point in 35 years, and we’ve got a decade, minimum, of photogenic royal children ahead of us. The republican movement has missed the wave, and while it would be rude to suggest that my mother – who is as staunchly royalist as I am pro-cheese – is gloating, she totally is. But given that Australia was founded on riffraff and rum, it seems odd that we’re clinging to the royals and their next-in- line, no matter how chubby-cheeked and adorable they are. We don’t ‘do’ class here, or certainly not in the painstaking way of the mother country, where to say ‘toilet’ instead of ‘lavatory’ is enough of a gaffe to exclude you conclusively from polite circles. Having an Australian accent doesn’t get you far, either. Most Brits love a historical grudge, and to many of them the accent still means ‘convict’. Even though I didn’t leave England until I was 18, when I go back now I’m seen as Australian. If I had to sum up how the British view us, I’d have to say ‘special needs’ or – on a good day – ‘labrador’. There’s affection there, but it’s tempered with pity: for our lack of culture, our penal past, our self-expression and inability to observe social niceties. An English friend of mine kindly explained, with a shrug, “It’s tricky for us. We now know that Australia is a paradise. It’s just that, well, it’s full of Australians”. The royals are less popular in the UK than they are here, and I suspect our enthusiasm for the monarchy does nothing to diffuse our reputation as a bumpkin colonial outpost. But Australia has always been a haven for rare species. Our fauna is outlandish by international standards, and I suspect what we like about the royals is that they’re colourful, harmless and unique. Monarchies, once the dominant way of organising a country, are rapidly becoming extinct as people wake up and go, “Hey, hold on a minute, there’s really no reason why you, squire, get to ponce around and make up the rules.” THE KEY TO THE APPEAL OF WILLS AND KATE MIGHT BE THE FACT THAT THEY BELONG TO AN ENDANGERED SPECIES.