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Marriage of Myths


"Monarchy offers a fantasy of national communion while, by its very existence, making it more unlikely to ever come to pass."

The Royal Wedding narratives were multiple and ubiquitous here in Britain. Good writers and usually canny broadcasters collapsed before the pair’s obvious love (almost uniquely among marriages, it was not the whole story) and thrilled to detail silk, flowers, gloves. But it was curiously uncritical, and oblivious, for a global event. Televised football commentary is more revealing, since at least it gets to the point. Televised royal commentary never does. The funeral commentary of Princess Diana came closest to the truth of monarchy—it is human sacrifice—but of course it didn’t say that.

Monarchy is about power, not love. I should have liked to have heard more about that on Saturday. The commentary gave us nothing but the pleasanter side effects of the drug that is monarchy: ecstasy, stupidity and, for relief, bewilderment. It could not admit to the institution’s essential greed; to the truth that monarchy offers a fantasy of national communion while, by its very existence, making it more unlikely to ever come to pass. It walked around the facts of monarchy and talked, instead, about dresses and actors and hats.

Except that Britain is a divided country. The current political state is so-called austerity. A public housing tower in London burnt down after years of unheeded warnings to the local council. We have been intentionally creating a hostile environment for legal residents of our country, and deporting some of them, if they are black. The current opposition to the government is, it said on Sunday, anti-capitalist. The wedding, and the pretty Cambridge children, and the $200,000 dress (I estimate)—an obscenity of a dress if you want dress commentary, and that is mine—is paper covering the cracks of a nation that no longer knows what it is. These people will only unite us briefly, and accidentally. They have no solutions and, as long as they lead us, I suspect we will find none either.

Of course, I am happy for those I have never met. Prince Henry (Harry), who lost his mother at twelve—lost her to monarchy, and the occasionally murderous intrusions that now define it—found a woman to hold him and, I think, he laid his heart before her. She was touched by him—Harry is a lonely prince, a semi-mythical being—and she picked it up. It looked real. I hope it is real, even as I resent having an opinion on a stranger’s love. That this was televised in an event as emotionally grasping as the funeral that incited the very need we thought we saw sated on Saturday should be obvious, but it was not mentioned. It should be the final, impolite word on the royal wedding.

But the people want more, and so does the monarchy. They feast, unhappily, on each other. Britain is a co-dependent state that is not in recovery from its past. We left Europe on the wings of ghosts and lies; Saturday showed us how refined our skills are in this matter, and how easy it is to burnish a dream if you have lived it since 1066. How glossy the horses! How polished the diamonds! How long the silks! Ignore the palpable resentment of the royal family for those who both elevate and seek to devour them. I have always thought that when we finally learn the depth of their contempt for us, we will be a republic by lunchtime, and I do not judge them for their contempt. No one really wants to be a human sacrifice, no matter how soft the bed linen. It’s just the family way.

It is true, and interesting, that Harry looked beyond his cold, incurious caste for a wife—to a biracial American woman who, whatever else she does, emotes, and speaks the language of the spirit. So his marriage is considered particularly suitable for a once-lost prince, a merging of his parents’ priorities in life. Diana is now, posthumously, a monarchist forever; her influence, in her son’s choice of bride, was good for the monarchy. But it is Charles who really wins, in the way that the monarchy always wins: by changing, and by staying put.

Monarchy always acts in its own interests; that is why the wedding was not at the Chateau Marmont. Its defense is that it is apolitical, but how can it be when it is predicated on its own political survival? Like the pretense that its members are thrifty—the Duchess of Cambridge wore a dress for the third time!—its recusal from any affairs of state is a lie. The queen’s silences echo, like Sir Thomas More’s, across Europe. The monarchy is always conservative, and is still monied.

But it is also porous and malleable when to be so is in its interests. The British aristocracy is the most successful elite in history, even if it presents itself as merely a tourist attraction, like a human sculpture garden, and this is why. My favorite photograph of the couple, taken from above, showed them as statuary; you could see only their hands clasped, and her shoulders. Nothing beside remains. They were dehumanized. They fulfill a need.

The criticisms—or rather prejudices—that Meghan Markle faced during her engagement died away, and so they should, not just morally but as a practical matter for all monarchists. She will strengthen monarchy and increase its reach. It is a political system derived from myth, and it makes no rational sense at all nowadays, but since no one seems willing to admit that, it should, at least muddily, mirror the myths that people are willing to engage with now: the Beckhams, the Clooneys, the Elton Johns, the Idris Elbas. Its greatest peril is indifference, and who is indifferent to George Clooney, the actor-humanitarian, in a chapel filled with silks?

It was thrilling, of course, to watch Bishop Michael Curry talk about Martin Luther King, Jr.—Zara Tindall, the Queen’s granddaughter, literally gawped with open mouth—but will this change Britain or make its elite more secure? It has already stolen the language of victimhood, and progressive politics. I wonder whether, as austerity goes on and monarchy solves nothing, progressives lauding the biracial duchess with the emblems of the Commonwealth sewn into her veil, will continue to believe in egalitarian and inclusive monarchy, or feel themselves used.

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February 2016

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