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Britannia now rules the Web

Queen Elizabeth has a YouTube channel, and it is, of course, quite royally stiff-upper-lip.

December 29, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

The Queen of England has her own YouTube channel now, the Royal Channel (The Official Channel of the British Monarchy), located at com/theroyalchannel. If you go there hoping to see Her Royal Highness demonstrate a rude noise she can make, or the Prince of Wales begging in tears for everyone to leave Jamie Lynn Spears alone, or some unfunny comedy short princes William and Harry made, you will be sorely disappointed.

The royals have opted instead for dignity and restraint (to keep it that way, they have disabled the "comments" function on their posted videos); and if this is not exactly in the look-how-many-beans-I-can-stuff-up-my-nose spirit of the place, it does acknowledge, as much as anything possibly could, its cultural eminence. It is one thing to have American politicians rooting around there for votes -- beans up the nose are their stock in trade, figuratively speaking -- but when the august Elizabeth II, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, signs on, that's truly the Old World knighting what looks like the New.

The Royal Channel opened for business on the Sunday before Christmas, in time to post the queen's annual Christmas message, alongside short films about royal garden parties, what the Prince of Wales does with himself all day, the accession and coronation of the current queen, and various other historical tidbits, some of them fairly fascinating, from an anthropological standpoint. And this isn't the royal family's first adventure in cyberspace; streaming video and audio were already available on the official website of the British monarchy, at .uk), where one may also subscribe to the "royal podcast."

This year's Christmas message marked the 50th anniversary of the first televised Christmas message, which also has been posted on the site and like the new one addresses issues of change and constancy. In the earlier clip, the 31-year-old Elizabeth sits beside a desk, her notes incompletely hidden by a flower arrangement, saying, "I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct." (In 1957 television was not quite new, of course, even in Britain.) "It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you . . . . But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home."

That TV can seem to be a real shared space -- that the queen could be in your home even as you were in hers -- was part of its magic from the beginning; and unlike the Internet (so far, at least) it has a real social component. "My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you now."

In the new clip, HRH did not mention that this was the first Christmas message to be officially distributed via YouTube, something Anderson Cooper would have been sure to point out had he been there. Possibly it was thought that the words "YouTube" would not sit well in the queen's mouth. (Undoubtedly they would not.)

As a community, the Web is something more like the Matrix -- a network of isolated individuals plugged into some corner of a common dream. And were she to imagine the audience, what would she see? Not a family gathered around a lighted box as if it were a hearth, but a hunched and solitary figure, with perhaps an open bag of potato chips for company -- crisps, I guess she'd call them? Some salaryman stealing a few minutes from work?

Still, it gets the word out, all over the world: More than half a million views of the Christmas message were logged at YouTube alone. It brings the light: The clip ends with footage from the 1957 broadcast, as the old queen becomes the young. "And so I wish you all, young and old, wherever you may be, all the fun and enjoyment, and the peace of a very happy Christmas," she says, in close-up. Then she looks up to her right at something off camera, looks back at the camera and smiles a smile to conquer time and space and pixelation. Not a single bean does she stuff up her nose.


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