© Leon Neal/AFP/Getty ImagesA kiss for ‘Mummy’ … Prince Charles’s term of filial endearment got the biggest laugh of the night at the jubilee concert.
The public discourse on the jubilee did not so much defy analysis as run screaming from it, presumably to hang itself on a string of bunting. Millions of words were written about a woman sitting for 60 years on an inherited throne, and most of them felt insane. The media eventually bashed itself round the head for its treatment of Princess Diana's mortification and deification - it wrote a story about the story - and this was the same but inverse: life, not death. Six million parties, said the Daily Mail - can that really be true? Who cares? It sounded true and most of the media felt like a manic depressive on an up day last weekend, so drunk with pomp that even the prime minister managed to look middle class. (Perhaps he planned it.) It was too much. Even HM looked embarrassed.

How did they play it? The BBC chose light entertainment duh-speak and was punched by the rightwing press for lacking knowledge of every damp dignitary and seagull on the flotilla, which is fair comment if you want an intellectual framework poised over a reverse lynching. Where, they cried, were the superhero Dimblebys, flying through the air with their gravitas machines? That same rightwing press was so prostrate, so drooling, so repulsively horizontal that its coverage felt like a spoof, a four-day-long Chris Morris gag. When national newspapers and broadcasters fight over exactly how to kiss the royal arse, you wonder if the Enlightenment ever happened, and if we must really walk with the gods and monsters again. This courtier factionalism felt rather Tudor. Which Elizabethan age are we in, again? What is affection worth when it is so indiscriminate?

I did pull one strand of meaning out, but it was entirely unconscious. When Prince Philip developed cystitis after standing in the rain - this was too much detail, although it passed for an international story in these crazy days, and I felt for him - the coverage swung, like a ghostly Britannia, from Beloved Queen to Cystitis Explained to Lonely Queen, positioned somewhere between Henry IV - "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - and Ozymandias with big hair. Was it guilt? Because we did this to her? We placed a 26-year-old girl at the head of the state and made her a vessel - for what? Our own inadequacies, obviously. Even a perfectly sane friend of mine, when faced with the flesh-Queen as opposed to the dream-Queen said to her: "I love you." It cannot be easy, reading your retrospective obituary at breakfast. Even so, the ecstasy accelerated. The phrase "Elizabethist" was coined. By Monday, no one looked more of a victim than the Queen.

Some of this was marketing disguised as patriotism. Companies hurried to take out advertising, waving their products beneath a union flag. The demands of commerce have long been an argument for monarchy - Americans like it - and today the demands of commerce are all. It's a dud, though. By the same argument, you could institute a tyranny, because they make the bling canoes run on time. Whether it is really worth designing, or rather warping, a political system for tourist cash, I doubt, but if you are willing to commune around an elderly woman denied the company of her sick husband, why stop there? Why not reanimate King Arthur? Why not send for Merlin the Magician and the chick in the lake? Why not dance round a stone?

More was sheer hack laziness: this was a bandwagon everyone was scared to jump off and, if you have a big story, your coverage must be madder than your rival. I awaited the headline "Queen secretly invented string theory", but in the end had to live with "Sex pest on Queen's barge", featuring a dude with a horribly intense stare. Republicans faced a silent enemy - as Michael White, who calls the Queen Sausage, wrote in this newspaper, wondering what the Queen read: "With Sausage it is impossible to tell." Has she read The Art of War? So they were mocked. Not ignored, still less noted, but mocked, trounced. And why not, when so many republicans say stupid things, such as: Why can't David Attenborough be head of state since he looks a bit like the Queen in the dark? Better a real queen than a monarch manqué.

To embrace monarchy is to deny, absolutely, the very desire for equality. They are at poles, which is why the Queen always looks so odd when photographed with real - I mean merited - popular heroes, unless they are the ordinary glossy Wasps. I have never forgotten the shot of her with Ozzy Osbourne at the golden jubilee concert. It felt like worlds colliding, although Ozzy is perhaps not the best example. This, I think, is why equality has always sat so oddly in Britain and why it so easily ebbs away when we are not vigilant, which we are not. Inequality has been increasing for three decades and we are now one of the least equal countries in the developed world. That the Windsor family are unremarkable, except on or near a horse, is only more offensive. The Queen is not a fool; no wonder she said she felt humbled.

There was much evidence of hierarchy during the jubilee weekend and there will be more at the Olympics, as we all squash behind the flag. (Best Olympic story so far: you can watch the private yachts on the river - for free!) The repulsive spectacle of jobseekers sleeping under bridges, the seven bridges on the Thames (out of the 13 the flotilla passed) closed except to "invited guests", the alleys by the Thames closed too, except to the wealthy or well-connected, the wall of white wealth in the royal box and so on and on, all out of the past. The question, and it was not much asked, was why did this happen? Why were ordinary families, excepting charity representatives, the monarchy's goodness made flesh, excluded from the decent views? It was the wrong question. It should have been, given the circumstances: why doesn't it happen more often? If the person of the Queen were more frightening, the jubilee would be a cheap personality cult. But her good manners bespeak seeming reluctance, which is ever the aristocratic way in Britain. It is effective. It confuses us.

If you prod the screaming, you see more evidence of regression - not the toys, which are obviously Georgian relics, but the behaviour. The vision of the Duchess of Cambridge practising wifely submission during her engagement interview while speaking in a fake posh voice haunts me; on subsequent engagements she spoke only of William, and then it's off to another £3,000-a-night suite in paradise with a £10,000 dress hanging off her shrinking frame. Of Kate's, or rather Queen Catherine's, future miseries, we can only guess: if you live by the mob, you will die by it. Prince Charles, with his 11 private secretaries and his fetish for interfering in government, is called Sir by everyone, except the Queen, whom he calls Mummy, in a parody of Little Britain dysfunction. We were all in on the joke at the concert; it got the biggest laugh of the night. Mummy? Really?

The Queen is ever easy with autocrats. Last month she met the king of Bahrain, currently murdering his own subjects; this month it was the president of Sri Lanka, whose soldiers photograph their female Tamil victims naked and dead. People say you can guess the Queen's pleasure by the arc of her smile and so suppose she is some well-disguised agitator for human rights - read the signs! Well, she greeted this genocidaire as warmly as any. Forget the now-functioning monarchical press office, the brochures detailing good works, the announcement that William and Catherine's first child will inherit, girl or no, the faux friendship with the Beckhams and other newer gods; monarchy is always regressive. To have faith in it is to have no faith in our own reason and talent: we are, in Auden's phrase, "children afraid of the night".

The Queen's catchphrase - duty, not love - was smelted in the abdication crisis, when evil Uncle Useless married dirty Wallis, Duchess of the Singapore Grip, and they both went for tea with Hitler and toured a concentration camp. That most of the blame was laid at the divorcee's door is typical, a smidgeon of misogyny to a pinch of snobbery and xenophobia: better to say Wallis was a witch than admit that hereditary monarchy is inherently flawed and you do not always get what you pay for - allow me to present His Majesty the nutcase. Even Edward VIII's private secretary hoped the king would break his neck, which is not an endorsement of monarchy, from the inside.

The jubilee was a moan, no more, for a benevolent autocracy, every bit as thoughtless and consuming as the celebrity culture, the anti-culture, that haunts the age. We face adult problems and, despite the vapid claim that the pageant cheered everyone up - how do you measure cheeriness? - we need adult solutions, not fantasies enjoyed from the age of plague and an heir who says "Mummy". Even so, the people came.