Tuesday, September 28, 2021
HomeCOVID-19The Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale for our times

The Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale for our times

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POSSIBLY the most egregious aspect of the coronavirus saga is the unedifying spectacle of those involved assiduously toeing the line. Even though it is glaringly obvious that there are gaping flaws in the official narrative, ministers, scientists and the mainstream media have developed a groupthink which will brook no alternative.  

The classic illustration of this blind conformity came in 1837, when the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Emperor’s New Clothes. So to remind ourselves (as if we needed reminding) how human folly has no limits, let’s take another look at this charming fairytale, translated direct from the Danish, that has become a parable of our own troubled times …  

ONCE upon a time, there lived an emperor who was so obsessed with splendid clothes that he spent every penny he had on finery.  

He had a different costume for every hour in the day; and as one would normally say of an emperor, ‘He is in his court,’ in this case people used to say, ‘The emperor is in his dressing room.’  

One day, two imposters arrived in the city pretending to be weavers. They made out that they could weave the most beautiful cloth imaginable. Not only were the colours and designs gorgeous, but garments made from the cloth had the astonishing feature of being invisible to anyone who was unfit for office, or who was unutterably stupid.  

 ‘What amazing clothes,’ thought the emperor. ‘Were I to wear such clothes, I would instantly be able to tell who in my realm is not fit for his office, and distinguish the wise from the stupid. I must arrange for that cloth to be woven straight away.’  

He gave the imposters large sums of money, and the bogus weavers set up two looms and promptly set to work, but in fact there was nothing being woven on the looms at all.  

Boldly they asked for the finest silk thread and the most expensive gold leaf. They put these things into their own pockets, and continued working at the looms far into the night.  

‘I would like to see how the weavers are doing,’ thought the emperor, and then he remembered that for anyone who was unfit for office, the material would be invisible. Although, of course, he himself had nothing to worry about, he thought it prudent that he should send someone else to see how things were coming along.  

‘I will send my old honest minister,’ thought the emperor. ‘He will be the best one to report, for he is sensible and no one does his work better than he.’  

The old honest minister went to the hall where the two imposters sat working at the empty looms. ‘Heaven help me!’ he thought, opening his eyes wide. ‘I see nothing!’ But he never said a word out loud.  

The two imposters bade him approach, and asked him whether he thought the colours were indeed beautiful. The poor minister stared harder and harder, but could see nothing, because in fact there was nothing there to see.  

‘Good heavens!’ he thought. ‘Can I be stupid? Can I be unfit for my office?’  

‘Well?’ said one of the imposters as he pretended to weave. ‘You haven’t told us what you think.’  

‘Oh but it’s simply beautiful,’ said the honest minister, peering through his spectacles. ‘The pattern, and the colours. Yes, I’ll tell the emperor how much I approve.’  

Now the imposters asked for more silk and more gold leaf so that they could continue their work. But of course they quietly put all of it into their own pockets and went on with their pretence of weaving on the empty looms.  

After a further while, the emperor sent another loyal minister to see how the weaving was coming along and how soon the cloth would be ready. When this minister looked at the looms, it was for him just as it had been with the other minister. All he saw were empty looms.  

‘I can’t possibly be stupid,’ thought the loyal minister. ‘I must be unfit for my office! I had better not give the slightest hint.’  

So he praised the cloth he couldn’t see, and assured the imposters that he adored the beautiful colours and the wonderful pattern.  

‘It’s simply spectacular,’ he told the emperor. And soon the whole town began to talk about the beautiful cloth.  

At last the emperor himself wanted to see the cloth while it was still on the loom. With his retinue, which included the two ministers whom he had previously sent, he went to the wily tricksters, who wove even more feverishly when they saw that the Emperor was heading their way, and yet they passed not a single weft through the loom.  

‘Isn’t it magnificent!’ exclaimed the two ministers who had visited before. ‘What colours! What a pattern!’  

‘What on Earth . . ?’ thought the emperor. ‘I can’t see anything. This is awful. Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be emperor? What a catastrophe!’  

Then he said: ‘It’s so beautiful. It meets with my highest approval.’  

The whole entourage strained their eyes, but nobody could see anything more than anyone else, and yet everyone expressed their utmost appreciation for the beautiful cloth, and suggested that it should be made into clothes for the grand procession that was scheduled to take place in a few days’ time.  

The imposters worked throughout the night before the morning of the procession, with 16 candles burning in the hall so that everyone should see how busy they were to get the emperor’s new clothes ready in time.  

At last the clothes were finished, and the emperor came to see them. The imposters gently lifted their arms as if to display the garments and said: ‘Look, here are the breeches. Here is the cloak. They are as light as a cobweb. Why, it will feel as if you are wearing nothing at all, they are so fine and delicate. 

‘If your Majesty would please to get undressed, we will dress you in your new garments in front of the large looking-glass.’  

The emperor got undressed and the imposters pretended to array him in his new clothes; the emperor turned from side to side inspecting himself in the mirror.  

‘My goodness, how beautiful, how superb!’ everyone exclaimed. ‘The colours. The pattern. These are indeed exquisite garments.’  

And so the emperor walked in the procession, and the crowds in the street and the people watching from their windows all cried out: ‘How magnificent are the emperor’s new clothes!’ for no one dared to admit that he could see nothing.  

‘But he’s not wearing anything at all!’ exclaimed a small child.  

‘Listen to the innocent voice of truth!’ said the father, and the whisper quickly went round the crowd.  

‘But he has nothing on at all!’ shouted the crowd at last. And the emperor winced, because he knew they were right, but he thought to himself: ‘I’m going to have to go through with it all the same.’  

And his footmen followed him holding his train, although there was no train to hold.  

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Steve Jamnik
Steve Jamnik (pseudonym) was a student of psychology in the seventies, before ditching it to work in television.

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