by Akim Reinhardt
I have lived my entire life, all 54 years of it, in the United States. Not once have I ever met anyone who cares about the British monarchy. I mean really cares, beyond the fleeting and shallow passions of celebrity gossip, and even that has been rare. This is not to say that I and mine are fully representative of America. Of course not. In a nation so thoroughly segregated along racial and class lines, I, like most Americans, swim in demographic eddies swirling aside the main currents. So even though they might be circling elsewhere, I don’t doubt there are scads of Americans enthralled with the British royals. It almost seems inevitable given the endless popularity of mediocre British soap operas that some Yanks mistake for high art.
But that’s really the crux of it. To be enamored with the royals is fundamentally no different than tracking the inane posturings of the Kardashian/Jenner clan. The main difference, perhaps, is that the American “royals” are far more obsessed with their physical bodies, while the British royals seem to be quite a bit more racist. Not a one of them in either camp has ever publicly uttered a single word that impressed me. So what, exactly is the attraction?
Most human beings, in one way or another, crave avatars of power, beauty, and righteousness. It’s not as simple as saying that most not-rich people see rich people being ridiculously rich and dream about being rich themselves. That’s true, of course. But only the most focused or least imaginative folks hone in on that one material property. Most people want far more for their lives than just wealth. They want to be smart. They want to be beautiful. They want feel important. They want to be loved. And when those things are missing from their lives, or when a person’s insecurities blind them to their own power and radiance, they seek it out in others so they can revel in vicarious fantasies.
But that this clan of racist, buck-toothed, cloistered rich kids should serve as that for anyone is at once hilarious and frightening. Though it does make sense. For I am a firm believer in at least this one axiom: People believe something is true either because they experience it for themselves, or because everyone around them tells them it’s true.
Look up with your eyes. You know the sky is blue. What’s more, there’s a divine being with a white beard living up there. It must be true; everyone says so. For the power of most everyone you love and trust telling you something is true can override your very senses. There are endless examples, especially nowadays, of people believing things that are factually untrue because people they love and/or trust tell them otherwise.
The sky is green, you know.
So of course in a world where the media treat the British Royals (and the Kardashian-Jenners, for that matter) as something to pay deep attention to, many people do. As many people do, they encourage others to do so, which the media pick up on, thereby creating a ludicrous feedback loop. And because the royals are fabulously wealthy, and because they appear on money in some of the world’s more backwards nations, and because they routinely dress in such splendiferously silly costumes, and because their weddings are opulent to the point of spectacular silliness, and because they are forever acting as if they’re above it all (“all” being the pedestrian stuff like money and political will that keeps them afloat), and because the only charismatic one any living person can remember died with her lover in a fiery car crash while fleeing the paparazzi, and because you’re supposed to curtsey or bow or some shit when you meet them, and because British school children are taught to sing about God himself saving one of them, and because they live in palaces, and because they have entire household staffs at their beck and call, some of whom are paid to dress up like fucking chess pieces, and because they still occasionally tap some kneeling, starry-eyed “subject” on the shoulder with a sword and pronounce them a Lord or whatever, and because we all keep pretending that they actually are queens and kings and princes and princesses and what the hell is a viscount anyway, because of all that and much, much more, most of it so absurd as to overwhelm all sense and reason, countless millions of people, dare I say a full billion of them or more, believe that these so-called royals not only matter a great deal, but deep down, somewhere within the dark crevices of their own peasant souls, crave the life these royals live, or rather fantasize that they live, wishing more than anything that they could be, just for a day, beautiful or rich or important or loved.
But of course royals are only beautiful if we believe they are. They’re only important because we indulge them. They’re only rich because their ancestors oversaw a worldwide campaign of rape and pillage. And they’re only loved because most of us fear we are not.
I don’t hate the British royals. Doing so would demand a level of care far beyond anything I can muster for them. These are people and an institution I very rarely ever think about. Though I did enjoy a couple of seasons of The Queen on Netflix. Good acting trumps all (even when the writing is saccharine).
So why these 1,500 words? Why spill digital ink on a woman and her family who mean no more to me than the Kardashian-Jenners, who in turn mean no more to me than Paris Hilton, who in turn means no more to me than anyone else in the in the long line of What-the-fuck-are-they-famous-for? people all the way back to their patron saint, Charles Lindbergh? (Trust me. You probably don’t know what he was actually famous for.)
It is, in part, because the media response to Betty Windsor’s death raises the opportunity for thinking about other issues that might actually be important and do interest me. And, in part, it is because I thoroughly resent the media shit storm I was subjected to last Thursday afternoon. On some level, I’m simply venting after enduring a concerted and overwhelming media onslaught designed to make me and over 300,000,000 Americans care deeply about something I could not give a flying fuck about.
When I hopped into my car just before 2:00 PM, East Coast time, I found that my local National Public Radio station had effectively turned itself into a BBC affiliate, suspending its own programming to offer up a nonstop feed of BBC coverage. I could not even get a top of the hour news break, lest the sincere, baritone, English bleating about “Her Mgesty’s” death be briefly interrupted. Apparently, there was no other news of the world worth reporting. Even here in Baltimore, where I’m quite confident that a sizeable percentage of us can tell you next to nothing about her or her goofy family.
I won’t list all the international, national, and perish the thought, even local stories that are infinitely more important than the death of a nearly-one-hundred-year old make-believe queen on the other side of the Atlantic. I will tell you that a supposedly serious news outlet forsook every single one of them for an orgy of the most misplaced and insipid gravitas I’ve witnessed in quite some time. It was so over the top that I would be shocked if the death of someone vastly more important, such as Vladimir Putin, should receive half the coverage.
So I switched over to a music station. What else is one to do?
Twenty-four hours later, this nonsense still hogged the top three stories on the Associated Press website. We are but rocks, pounded smooth by waves.
But enough of them. Let me close on a confessional note. I am not a special person. I am not immune to caring about silly and unimportant thing. Nor am I beyond the occasional vicarious fantasy. For example, I have spent far too much of my life paying attention to professional sports. However, I do recognize that doing so has been, at best, and dumb, idle past time, and at worst, a terrible waste of my time, energy, and resources, every word I’ve uttered about it a stale and pungent breath, and my very involvement contributing to the ongoing decline and/or retarding (take your pick) of American culture and society. Yes, I speak out every time some billionaire team owner sets about fleecing a city, county, and state for public stadium funding at the expense of better schools and social services. And yes, I’ve long accused spectator sports of inculcating people with a brand of unthinking, fanatical loyalty that is ultimately very dangerous, a threat to democracy, and fertilizer for totalitarian movements (and behold, here we are). Yet, I continue to watch it, read about it, and banter about it with friends, or even strangers on the next barstool.
I am flawed, as are we all. I work hard to gain self-awareness of my flaws, as we all should. And I often come up short in correcting them, as do most of us, sadly.
Which is why, in the end, I do not blame the British royals (or Kardashian-Jenners) at all for being the pathetic, look-at-me! laughingstocks that I and the like minded perceive them to be. I too am ripe for derision. And I too shall eventually breath my last, hopefully not waiting til I’m 96 to do so. But when I do go, thankfully, billions will not take notice, and shitty fast food chains and degraded toy companies will not tweet about how they mourn my passing and send condolences to my family.
I embrace my unimportance, just as I embrace yours, and wish no ill upon either those who live lives of famous delusion, or the crying, desperate fans who worship them. We are all star dust, the remnants of long dead suns waiting to once again coalesce in the black, velvety heavens.
Akim Reinhardt’s website is ThePublicProfessor.com
Riddle Answer: In May of 1919, eight years before Lindbergh’s more famous jaunt, a crew of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard members made the first trans-Atlantic flight, from New York State to Lisbon. It took nineteen days and included stops in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and the Azores. The following month, British co-Pilots John Alcock and Arthur Brown became the first people to fly across the Atlantic Ocean non-stop. Around the same time, Royal Airforce Major George Herbert Scott made the first round trip trans-Atlantic flights, though with numerous stops. In 1926, Norway’s Roald Amundsen became the first to cross the Atlantic via the North Pole. The next year, a crew of Germans made the first nonstop, transatlantic round trip. In 1932, Scotsman Jim Mollison was the first solo pilot to make a nonstop round trip. After Alcock and Brown, Scott, and Amundsen, but before the Germans and Mollison, Lindbergh was first to specifically fly across the Atlantic, one-way, solo, and nonstop, a feat no more important or interesting than any of the others, and none of them as harrowing as the aviation firsts across the vast Pacific pioneered by the likes of Clyde Pangborn, Hugh Herndon, Jr., and Charles Kingsford Smith. Most of whom you’ve likely ever heard of.