On The Royal Wedding!

A Tawdry Anachronism or symbol of the Nation?
 

An American Radical Reflects on the Royals

“I never believed in aristocrats” Paul Laurence Dunbar”

Church bells tolled all over that Sceptered Isle with the unmitigated gall to continue to call itself “Great Britain;” in spite of the fact that their once vast colonial empire had shrunk like a two dollar shirt!  Bugles blared and flags unfurled in the cool morning air; it was a fairy tale affair.  The wedding of the commoner Kate Middleton and Prince William, heir to the British throne, was a stunning display of the British gift for pomp and circumstance.  It was an impressive spectacle even for one who wishes a curse upon the house of all kings…including the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Asantehene, the Alafin Of Oyo, the Emperor of Japan, and the house of Windsor too!  If it was left up to me all Kings and Queens would have long since met the fate of the Romanoff’s of Russia and Louie the 16th and his infamous Queen Marie Antoinette.  But it’s not up to me.  In this case it’s up to the British people, and they obviously love their royals!

After all, the British Monarchy does not now rule as “The Elect of God,” a status based upon the long ago rejected doctrine: “The Divine right Of Kings.”  Today the British people vote to retain the royals, and actually pay them handsomely to perform the role.   But it is all symbol and no substance because as a “Constitutional Monarchy” they have no power: they rein not rule!

I found that the attitude toward them varies with one’s personal perspective on the matter.  Among the professional intellectuals, journalist and commentators, and the college educated middle class in general, the attitude ranges from grudging admiration to open contempt.    I base this conjecture on my observations of, and interactions with, this class.  For a several years I wrote regularly for the best newspapers and cultural journal in England: the Guardian-Observor – which was then the Manchester Guardian – and the Sunday Times Of London.  The guardian is the most widely read English language news paper among progressive intellectuals around the world.

At the Guardian I wrote for both the front and the back of the paper – hard news features, commentary, Arts and an occasional boxing essay.  I was given carte blance to write about whatever I wanted regarding the American scene, and I got to know some top British journalists, editors and intellectuals/scholars.  When I went to lecture at the Sorbonne at the invitation of the European and US Associations of American Studies – headed by Skip Gates and the great French Afro-Americanist Michel Farbre – all the scholars there knew me and some acted as if they wanted to ask for my autograph because they had been reading my accounts of the O.J. Simpson trial in the Guardian.

When the Arts Editor, Jocelyn Targett, moved to the Sunday times Of London as the Editor of “the Culture,” one of the most distinguished journals on cultural matters in the English language, I was given the green light to write a piece every Sunday if I wanted. Through conversations with people of this class, men and women, I got an earful of opinions about the Royal Family from the most astute observers of the British political and cultural scene

Therefore my opinion about the attitudes of the educated class in England is based on first hand interviews – albeit informal ones…which is often when you get a truer picture of a subject’s feelings on a matter. For instance, a top editor at the Guardian told me over drinks about taking a trip around the Common Wealth with Prince Charles; which is to say the remnants of the empire on which “the sun never set.”  And his description of the heir to the British throne, after observing him up close for a couple of weeks, was one of amused contempt!

The Editor said he watched closely as the Prince greeted commoners and dignitaries in several countries and he said exactly the same thing.  He would greet them, ask their name, and wish them well.  It was an official role that he is paid to perform on behalf of the British nation, and he has a uniform for each occasion.  “It was clear to see that it was a well rehearsed act,” said the editor, “Prince Charles was totally detached from the performance and he really didn’t give a fuck!”

When you are paid to appear and perform on cue like an actor it hard to see how it could be otherwise. That’s why Prince William could be seen telling the new Princess that she must continue to wave to the crowd even if her arm is tired. They royals may appear to live a carefree life where they do what they want, but in a Constitutional Monarchy the Royals actually work for the people and exist at their pleasure. It is the prime Minister who is the head of the government and rules while the Queen reigns.  In spite of how much it may offend the sensibilities of many Americans, who have been raised in a country that despises royalty to the point that it is illegal to confer an aristocratic title on someone; the Brits clearly adore their Royals!  Yet judging by the celebratory behavior, it is clear that many Americans are actually ambivalent in their attitude toward royalty…what psychologist call the “attraction/repulsion syndrome.”

When I went to England one of the main things I wanted to know was how the “Commoners” felt about the Aristocrats.  That curiosity increased when I arrived at Heathrow airport and decided to take the “underground” train into the city.  I chose the train rather than a taxi because it was the morning rush hour and I was warned by a Brit that it could cost me a king’s ransom.  The most poignant memory of that trip – which was also my first impressions of England – was the shabby way the people were dressed.

I kept thinking that these were white collar workers and yet they were dressed in bargain basement type togs that no self respecting Harlemite of a similar class would be caught wearing to work on a bad day.  When I arrived at my destination, the fabulous Dorchester Hotel, which is situated on the edge of Hyde Park, I was astonished by the fleet of shiny Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys parked out front.   And the people were dressed in high style.

The class divide was obvious.  Yet when I broached the subject of the Royals with the hotel workers none had any criticism of the Royal Family and a couple even told me that they felt criticism of the Queen was unjustified.  They thought her a great person and wished her a long reign.  I was puzzled by the lack of anger.   But I am an American, and we don’t believe in aristocrats.  But the million people who gathered in the streets outside Buckingham Palace to salute the new heirs to the throne clearly do!  It is also true that people all over the world are in love with the idea of a Prince sweeping up a Commoner and making her a Princess; it’s in all our fairy tales.  As the lyrics to the theme of Snow White says: “Someday my Prince will come.”  Even the cynical tough guy Jazz man Miles Davis recorded the tune.

Thus it is embedded in the psyche of young girls.  That’s why so many of them were wearing hats in celebration of the wedding and a billion people around the world watched the spectacle.  Even in China they are offering weddings where the bride and groom dress like the Prince and Princess.  About the attraction itself; it was a jolly good show if you love finely tailored clothes, grand architecture, exquisitely appointed halls dripping with gold leafing, great hats, beautiful prancing horses, fabulous carriages, and eloquent oratory in the English language which reminds you that Chaucer and Sweet Willie Shakespeare was a Brit.

If these things strike your fancy you would get a big kick out of the Royal wedding ceremony.  It is make believe on a grand scale, a fantastic parade, and all the world loves a good parade!  While all this may look like a vulgar anachronism to many Americans; to the Brits  it is a symbol of their nation – a reminder of their Golden Age – without which they cannot be that “sceptered isle” on whose empire once upon a time the sun never set.  That’s why they fervently sing “God Save the Queen,” with passion and continue to pay them to play the role.

A Real Life Fairy Tale

Every Little Girl’s Dream!

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

May 9, 2911

*** My delay in posting this essay results from the fact that I bumped it last week to deal with the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

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