Monday. 12/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Art of silence

One oddity of the death of Queen Elizabeth II is the scramble to establish what this timeless but taciturn monarch’s reign really meant. What’s certain is that the late queen’s tight-lipped take on diplomacy and tendency to be equivocal over thorny issues (from EU membership to the crumbling of empire or foreign spats) kept her above the fray for 70 divisive years on the throne. The British people loved her as much for what she didn’t say as what she did.

Since her death reams of UK newspapers and broadcasters missed this point. Many slipped into mawkish recollections of the queen’s warmth, the twinkle in her eye and incredible sense of humour. It’s a pleasant thought – and perhaps natural to be nice in a moment of national mourning. It may even be true. But eking out the idea of the queen as a comedian defined by her charisma rather flies in the face of arguably her biggest success: an almost inhuman ability not to joke, blab or betray exactly what she was thinking. In fact, it’s her utter seriousness, reliability and sense of duty (rather than her one-liners or the time she met Paddington for a marmalade sandwich) for which she’ll be remembered.

Image: Getty Images

Today anyone with half a brain – and many with seemingly far less – are happy to expound views on complex topics to almost anyone who will listen. Her Majesty – knowledgeable, wise and a first-hand witness to much of recent history – was an advert for the often overlooked art of staying schtum. The most that the queen could muster on the issue of Scottish independence before a crucial referendum in 2014? That voters should “think very carefully”. Bravo. This laconic, less-is-more sentiment, along with a track record of good manners, tested political instincts and moments of muteness, helped her mean so much to so many. It was Queen Elizabeth II’s selective silence – rather than her pronouncements – that often spoke volumes.

Josh Fehnert is the editor of Monocle.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Hong Kong

Fond memories

Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said that Queen Elizabeth II was “greatly respected, admired and praised by the British people” in a message of condolence following her passing – but with no mention of Hong Kong’s status as a former British colony. After 156 years under British rule, China assumed sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. The queen visited just twice in her 70-year rule but sentiment toward her remains largely positive there. During the 2019 protests against Chinese government over-reach in the territory, colonial nostalgia spiked: Union Jacks and British Hong Kong flags wafted above the crowds at large demonstrations. And in the past few days mourners have gathered at the British consulate in Hong Kong’s admiralty district to place flowers and write messages of condolence. With many there still considering leaving the city-state, Queen Elizabeth II, who is affectionately nicknamed “Boss Lady” in Cantonese, remains a symbol of a freer and more optimistic era.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / UK

Magnetic monarch

While the full economic effect of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing will only become clear in time, the immediate impact has been muted. The pound was little moved after weeks of being hammered by economic and political uncertainty; many sporting and cultural events will be delayed rather than cancelled and the suspension of planned strikes will soften the productivity loss of what will effectively be an unofficial bank holiday during the monarch’s funeral.

But there will be more ephemeral effects: apart from the 800 companies that benefit from royal approval, the queen was an irreplaceable soft-power magnet for investment, tourism and goodwill for the UK. “Long-term, the attraction of the UK may not be as great,” economist Vicky Pryce tells the Monocle Minute. “Queen Elizabeth II represented something that King Charles III might not be able to emulate. Brand Britain, given Brexit and everything else, is not as great as it was before and the monarchy is one of the things that still defines it.” The king’s mantra as prince was that he wanted “to make a difference” in people’s lives without meddling in politics. He should do his best to fill the void.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / North Korea

Going nuclear

It’s official: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared his country a nuclear-armed state. A new law, passed last week, enshrines Pyongyang’s right to conduct pre-emptive strikes to protect the nation; this has been declared an “irreversible” law and bars denuclearisation talks. In a recent statement, Kim accused the US of weakening his country’s defences and “collapsing” his government. All of this has left world leaders rightly concerned.

The next step would be for North Korea to provide further proof of its new power and Washington is increasingly worried that the country will conduct its first underground nuclear test in years. “For a threat to use nuclear weapons against South Korea to be credible, Kim would need tactical nuclear weapons, which he has not yet tested,” John Everard, former UK ambassador to North Korea, tells the Monocle Minute. “But the test site is ready, making the risk of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula very real.”

Image: Emile Askey

Culture / USA

Eye on the world

For more than 30 years, Wolfgang Tillmans has used the medium of photography to experiment and engage with the world he saw through his lens. Opening today at Moma in New York, Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear is a retrospective dedicated to the German photographer and gathers 350 of his works, including photographs, videos and multimedia installations.

Early images by Tillmans from the 1990s, capturing youth subcultures and scenes of ecstatic nightlife in Berlin and east London, are particularly worth keeping an eye out for, as are intimate portraits of musicians like Frank Ocean and Smokin’ Jo, and evocative photographic still lifes. “My installations are a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” says Tillmans. “They’re also always a world that I want to live in.”
moma.org

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Water, water everywhere

We investigate how water interacts with populations around the globe and how cities have learnt to work with it.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Companion

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