September 26, 2022

God Save the King? Becoming a Monarch in the Internet Age

by John Livesey

What does it mean to be a monarch in the digital age? When the news of the Queen’s death broke last Friday, social media was abuzz. Advertisers and marketers scrambled to mark the event, whilst users across the globe asked what would happen next. There’s no denying that few individuals could trigger such a response. The Queen is a figurehead who, for the last 70 years, has represented a form of continuity amid the turbulence of national and international politics.

As a brand ambassador for the idea of Monarchy, Queen Elizabeth has served above and beyond her station. She has overseen a drastic modernisation of the institution: engaging enthusiastically with televised media, reforming the laws of succession to ensure gender parity, and upholding the values of reflective and respectful diplomacy.

Whilst in recent years the Royal Family have been embroiled in numerous scandals, the Queen has always remained above the fray. As Eleanor, a 25-year-old Marketing Executive from Brixton, told us, ‘The Queen is a symbol of consistency’. Whilst ‘Boris Johnson skirts around rules, manners and principles,’ she described, ‘there is a real contrast with the queen, who for so long has provided a stabilizing context’. 

For all the above reasons, there is no doubt that Gen-Z - who have never lived under another Monarch - will mourn the passing of the Queen. But in a moment of transition, questions are also bound to be asked about the future of the Royal Family. It is difficult to tell whether King Charles will be able to command a similar level of respect, particularly from young people.

In the past, Charles has avowed himself to many issues that matter to Gen-Z, such as his efforts to lobby for environmental protection and his outspoken criticism of Islamophobia. However, no public figure can avoid scrutiny in the age of hot takes, funny tweets, and internet speculation.

The majority of social media takedowns of the Royal Family since the Queen’s death have been creative, irreverent and, for the most part, harmless. Gen-Z content creators have filled this online space with an onslaught of memes. Camilla has been crowned the queen of side-chicks, Liz Truss mocked for her awkward curtsy and the National Anthem replaced by Carly Rae Jepsen. However, does this response reveal a deeper resentment toward the idea of Monarchy? 

What Gen-Z really think about the Monarchy

“All my friends are anti-monarchy,” said 22-year-old Freya from London. Anna, a student in translation studies at UCL, relayed a similar opinion. “She seemed like a nice lady and I’m sad that she’s dead,” Anna told us, “but the Monarchy doesn’t mean much to me, other than as a symbol of unnecessary privilege and colonialism.” 

Source: YouGov (2021)

This declining popularity among Gen-Zers is borne out in statistics. According to polls by YouGov, 41% of 18-24 year olds in the UK now think the Monarchy should be replaced by an elected head of state. Only 12% think that Charles will make a good King. Barely 8% described themselves as ‘very proud’ of the Monarchy, compared to 40% of adults aged 65 and above.

What is the reason for this stark generational divide?

Many young people see the Royal Family as too often on the wrong side of history, particularly on hot-button topics like colonialism and wealth inequality. James, a 23 year-old brit living in Norway, expressed his frustration at the response to the Queen’s Death: “It’s a bit of a slap in the face at a time when politicians are debating the rampant cost of living crisis with concerns that people might die of cold this winter because they can’t pay their heating bills”.

The idea of Monarchy will always be a divisive topic, particularly at a time of National unease. The new King has a huge task ahead of him to secure the same positive brand-image as his predecessor. Whilst it is hard to imagine the new sovereign scrolling through Tik Tok, he would do well to take note of young people’s cynicism. 

Re-thinking the Modern Monarchy

A model of what a modern tech-savvy monarchy might look like comes in the form of the Sussexes, Harry and Meghan, who have proved adept at managing their public profiles. The couple have allied themselves to thoroughly modern public figures like Oprah Winfrey and continue to engage with new forms of internet media. They have conducted Instagram interviews, produced podcasts, and are working with Netflix on a slate of releases.

As Eleanor told us, ‘young people tend to sympathise a lot more with Harry and Meghan’. This is not purely down to a sense of allegiance but a reflection of how effectively the couple have modernized their public relations strategy.

Convincing Gen-Zers of the Royal Family’s continued relevance will require a re-think of the way their duties are fulfilled and how the value of their service is communicated to the public. If Twitter feeds are anything to go by, the Monarchy means something very different in the age of the internet. It is going to take more than a coronation to secure the respect of Gen-Z. God Save the King: he’s gonna need all the help he can get.