OPINION: Make no mistake, what we watched this week was propaganda.

Listen to this story being read by Jessie Stephens, here.

Last night, we watched a funeral that will likely become the biggest global television event in history. 

Four billion people were expected to watch the state funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II, who was the monarch of 15 countries at the time of her death. 

Costing an estimated AUD$9 million, Queen Elizabeth's funeral came with an invoice larger than what the average British family will earn in a lifetime. Significantly more. 

And who pays for it? It doesn't come from the royal family's fortune, which is worth an estimated $28 billion. 

The tax payers will foot the bill. The tax payers, whose cost-of-living expenses have sky-rocketed. 

Without knowing any of that, there might have been moments over the last 10 days that have made you somewhat uncomfortable. 

There have likely been moments of grief, too. There are few people alive who know a world without Queen Elizabeth. She worked until the very end, displaying a remarkable sense of duty. She represented stoicism and hard work and exhibited impeccable leadership over her 70 year reign.

One might wonder if the queues, the tears and the sharing of memories are also about the moments over the last three years we've not been able to grieve. The funerals that never happened. The bodies buried surrounded by only a handful of loved ones, lockdowns prohibiting the ceremony so many deserved. The pandemic delivered us unimaginable loss – captured by Queen Elizabeth herself, who sat alone in St. George's Chapel wearing a black cloth mask, at Prince Philip's funeral in April last year. 


Queen Elizabeth at Prince Philip's funeral. Image via Getty. 

We are a world in need of catharsis. A communal cry. Funerals are about the person being laid to rest, sure, but they are also about death itself. The losses we've experienced concertinaed together. Funerals are public but also deeply personal. 


But the discomfort about the Queen's funeral remains. 

Because what was being broadcast across the globe was not actually about Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor the person, who leaves behind four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

This is a ceremony about the death of a queen. And those two identities are distinct. 

Her Majesty the Queen is not a person. She is a symbol. And this ceremony, with its uniforms and processions, its English oak coffin and a tenor bell tolled every minute for 96 minutes, would have happened regardless of who the queen happened to be. We can talk about her sense of humour and her love of corgis all we like – that is not why gun salutes sounded from the grounds of Windsor Castle.

No. This funeral is not about a flesh and blood woman so many feel affectionately towards. The "pomp and ceremony" – two words we've heard on repeat over the last 10 days – is about conserving the monarchy, at a time of great instability. 

These are traditions with their roots in Britain's long colonial history. The greatest function of a monarchy is self preservation – and what better time than a funeral to remind your loyal subjects of why they need you.

The bigness of last night's spectacle is the monarchy in action. A five kilometre procession. At least 1650 military personnel. A coffin that weighs a quarter of a tonne. The Imperial State Crown encrusted with diamonds and sapphires and emeralds and pearls and rubies. 


The Imperial State Crown. Image: Getty.

This was being broadcast in front of all the former British colonies, and the 15 countries where Queen Elizabeth was still the Head of State. This spectacle is, at least in part, a device of law and order. Subjects watch and they mourn and they reflect "I want to remain a part of this". 


The very best propaganda makes you feel something. The music and the readings and the footage of powerful men and women shedding a tear stir within us a sense of meaning. This institution must mean something, right? Look at how big it is. 

But propaganda of course only tells one side of the story. 

That's why there has been pain and dissension in Australia over the past week. The loudness of the Last Post drowns out the voices of those whom this very establishment has harmed. Television anchors all over the world wearing black is a visual signpost that this is a death that matters more than all other deaths. Mandatory grief – a public holiday and wall-to-wall coverage – is serving a monarchist agenda. 

We are seeing, in real time, how you sustain a 1200-year-old institution whose current purpose is unclear. An institution that has, quite literally, gotten away with murder.

We become so distracted by the vision of St George's chapel that we forget the British monarchy is a symbol of everything western culture allegedly rejects. 

Nepotism. Privilege. White supremacy. 

Last night, we were not just watching a funeral.

This spectacle is a piece of royal propaganda. It's important we remember that.  

Image: Getty.