Recently, in a movie theatre in Hong Kong I watched the excellent, award-winning The Kings Speech. Seated around me were Hong Kong people who had lived under royal hegemony until 1997.* I have no idea what they thought about the affecting and wonderful performance of Colin Firth as stammering Bertie (King George VI), the man whose face was on their money and postage in the time of their parents and grandparents, back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Bertie became king we will recall when his brother abdicated to party and consort with Nazis and marry a woman, two-time divorcee Wallis Simpson, who was perhaps history’s most famous courtesan. So much for noblesse oblige.
Will and Kate’s wedding will do much bigger business than The King’s Speech. The amazing thing is that we are still living in an age in which attention, money and power are accorded people who believe they have better blood than you. The fundamental falsehood behind the notion of royalty is that they are born better than you. They are “bluebloods,” and you are a “commoner.” That “superiority” and arrogant self-aggrandizement such as, for example, the English royalty’s motto, Dieu et mon droit (God and my right) sets them apart, and above us by divine appointment. Don’t mess with that or “off with your head” you vessel of common blood.
Before we go further we should point out that Kate is of common blood. She will become royal, of course, by a form of social consanguinity. Royalty will lower themselves when the urge takes them (may the motto should be Dieu et mon penis), and Kate, who hails from a family that traces a few generations back to coal miners, will be lifted from commoner to princess this coming weekend. It’s great drama for the social class obsessed Brits. People with non-public school accents will claim her as one of their own. They will fawn over their new royal couple, the pretty and (for now anyway) psychically stable Kate, and the ingenious and exponentially-balding Will seem hard to dislike. They are adept at the aristocratic graces for the photo-op jobs they are about to embark upon. They seem, for the present, non-Charles and Diana.
I don’t dislike them. I wish them happiness. But I would cheer if their whole stupid, arrogant, self-aggrandizing monarchy came to an end in their time. I wouldn’t give a damn if the whole anachronistic national pet system enshrined at Buckingham Zoo and its satellites came crashing down. I know, they are not my pet “royals,” and I owe them no fealty, bow or curtsey (mon droit), but I arrogate to myself a say on the matter on broader, and historical grounds.
It is not that they are a rather pathetic and comical lot that I am an anti-royalist. I particularly enjoy the absurdity of, for example, watching the wooden Prince Philip, consort of the current queen mum, and whose job is to be the “royal gonads.” What a job; he is given a chest full of medals, but was he vetted like some stud stallion by the royal physicians? They got Charles and Edward. When I lived in London I used to pass on my morning run the Albert Memorial, an epitaph to Victoria’s royal gonads, a less sturdy consort who, arguably, the randy regina likely screwed into an early grave. Kate’s job is to be the royal ovaries.,
Royalty has always been about the bloodline, assuring the legitimacy of the right to rule through succession of the sanguine myth. Remember how obsessed Henry VIII was with that, decapitating a succession of breed mares unable to provide him a viable male heir. No matter, the process seems to result mostly in turning out mediocrity of either gender or whackos and weirdos. Oh, it was nice that George VI and his queen went out among the commoners during the Blitz of London in WWII to lift their spirits, but this could just as easily been done by an elected leader. Today’s queen is a dowdy regent with largely symbolic power. So why pick on the royals?
For me the idea that they set themselves above the rest of us is reason enough. But there is history and even present circumstances to buttress the case. Remember how Victoria’s spawn turned Europe into a royal pissing contest we called “the war to end all wars?” All those royal marriage-mergers. Indeed her line, which reputedly included a gene for hemophilia might (carried by her German granddaughter, Alexandra) might have brought down the Russian Romanov line (and ushered in an equally pernicious aristocracy). It was like a pillow fight between royals Nicky, Willie and Bertie, except a few million people got killed.
Then there are those other pesky royals. Twerpy Japanese Emperor Hirhito, who is responsible for a few million deaths of his own, actually got a pass after the fall of Japan because the Japanese regarded the creep as a god. They left him in his palace rather than putting him in the dock. Amazing, he brought nuclear hell to his country and they are still ready to spill their common blood for him. Hey, he’s a god. So militarism, to expand power and domain, or just get a dueling scar or some medals for that spiffy uniform, are a consistent feature of royalty.
Which brings up another contemptible connection: royalty and religion. If they do not declare their blood to be divine, they love to affect a special approval of one or another god’s earthly minions. The papacy, an institution with all the trappings of royalty, and other religious aristocracies, affect the same “superiority” (they talk to gods) and of course, confer their “blessings” upon royal unions and reigns.
Then there is all that wealth, ownership and even powers above civil law that come with being a “king.” There are the Saudis (nice religion connection here, too) who simply have taken all the people’s oil for their personal enjoyment, paying off clerics and purchasing American military equipment. The Sultan if Brunei has amassed a fortune of twenty billion dollars, owns a Boeing 747 with gold plated furniture and reputedly owns between three and six thousand cars, at an estimated value of four billion dollars. In my view, if you have this much wealth and one person in yo9ur country is in poverty or dying if a treatable disease, you are a moral scumbag.**
OK, Will and Kate hardly fall in this last category. They are cute and cuddly in comparison to historical and some contemporary royals. But it is reported that the while wedding business will cost over a billion (some recouped with the sale of commemorative crap) in a nation with an estimated two and a half million unemployed. Expensive pets. But hey, they’re better than you.
© 2011, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 4.26.2011)
*And now live in some political “limbo” until 2047 between some residual “Crown Colony” and communistic autocracy.
**I don’t plan on applying for a visa to travel to Brunei.