Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why I Am Immune to Royal Wedding Fever

The other day I spotted a postcard of a familiar-looking palace on my desk. Is that Peterhof? I wondered. But it wasn’t kitsch enough- this was a simple, big gray shoebox with columns on. Suddenly I recognized it: Buckingham Palace, dreary residence of my gracious Queen. Then I spotted the text, written in swirly gold lettering:


Of course, I thought. It’s my old friend William! He’s getting married! Nice of him to remember me!
Actually it was just a flier from American Express, who were cashing in on Royal Wedding fever. They wanted me to blow my reward points at a swanky restaurant. I declined. A day later I caught the opening segment of a TV show dedicated to the news that Prince William was doing something with his dead mum’s ring, I can’t remember what. The hosts were very excited.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t America fight a war to be free of kings and princes? And yet the American hunger for royal nonsense is so desperate that they even permit Sarah Ferguson, surely the most rubbishy royal of them all, to sell things on TV.
Perhaps Americans pine for what the royal family represents: continuity; a connection to an ancient past; pointy gold hats. Overcompensating for the royal void they indulge in gratuitous myth making about dead presidents like JFK, or make absurd films like Air Force One, in which the head of state is not a plutocrat in a suit but rather Han Solo.
If only they could see the royals with my eyes! Growing up with that all that pomp and circumstance, it was hard not to feel bored by it.  My main memory of Prince Charles’ wedding is that I got the day off school. When Prince Andrew got married I went downtown, only to find that half the shops were shut and everybody else was listening to the wedding on the radio. One woman followed me around her store, so distrusting was she of this feral boy.
I also remember the shock I felt when I first went to London, aged 20 or so, and saw postcards of Prince Charles, Lady Diana and the rest of the gang all over the place. Up in Scotland you’d be hard pressed to find a postcard even of the Queen. (You probably can in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace but I haven’t been there since I was 9). But then, Scotland is just a place the Queen visits on holiday, and even then she prefers to hang out with pheasants. It’s not surprising then that many Scots view the royals as little more than a bunch of dim, posh English people.
And yet, I have never seen the point of a British republic. Indeed, there are few things more absurd than a British republican. The problem anti-monarchists face is that the Queen is a nice old lady and her role is entirely ceremonial. Since they are attacking a marshmallow they either whine about cost, or invent torturous arguments about how the British are congenitally subservient because we still have masters before whom we scrape and bow…if we got rid of Queen, we’d have more dignity and be more ‘equal’.
The problem is that many of the most civilized countries in the world have royal families: Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark for instance- while there are a great many hellholes that have presidents, such as Uzbekistan, Cuba, and Zimbabwe. Thus the notion that there is a correlation between republicanism and human dignity is plainly fatuous.
The British royal family may be an entirely toothless institution, but it does provide a pleasant sense of connection to the past: a bit like having a 100 year old grandfather who dribbles. It’s good to have such links. I realize that, now that I’m a bit older, and have lived in countries where the historical continuity has been violently interrupted, or there is simply very little past with which to connect.
Indeed, the only argument against the Royal Family that has ever seemed coherent to me was made by the legendary Stalin apologist George Bernard Shaw- that the monarchy should be abolished on humane grounds, because it is a source of suffering for the individual required to wear the crown.  You just need to think of the many humiliations Prince Charles has endured before becoming king to realize the truth of that statement. And yet, Prince Charles seems intent on ascending to the throne, frustrated even that he’s had to spend 62 years cooling his heels in the royal waiting lounge. So maybe Shaw was wrong about that, just as he was about the Ukrainian famine. 
Meanwhile, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Prince William is going bald. Not that that has anything to do with anything.  I just thought I’d mention it.