Commentary — May 22, 2018, 11:01 am

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.

Share
Single Page

More from Tanya Gold:

From the October 2018 issue

Among Britain’s Anti-Semites

The Labour Party’s Moral Dilemma

From the March 2017 issue

City of Gilt

Searching for the town I used to love

From the February 2016 issue

The Queen and I

The awful seduction of the British monarchy

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2020

Dearest Lizzie

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trumpism After Trump

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My Gang Is Jesus”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Cancer Chair

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Birds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Skinning Tree

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Interpretation of Dreams

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Trumpism After Trump·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

Article
The Cancer Chair·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

Article
“My Gang Is Jesus”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

The Assembly of God True Grapevine was little more than a fluorescent-lit room wedged between a bar and an empty lot in Jacaré, a poor neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s north side. A few dozen people sat in the rows of plastic lawn chairs that served as pews, while shuddering wall fans circulated hot air. The congregation was largely female; of the few men in attendance, most wore collared shirts and old leather shoes. Now and then, Martins veered from Portuguese into celestial tongues. People rose from their seats, thrust their hands into the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

Article
The Birds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

Article
The Skinning Tree·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

The plot is based on an event that, as local legend has it, occurred fifteen miles south of Lusk, in Rawhide Buttes. It goes like this: Clyde Pickett is traveling with a wagon train to California. He tells the other Pioneers: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” Clyde loves Kate Farley, and to impress her, he shoots the first Indian he sees, who happens to be an Indian Princess. The Indians approach the Pioneers and ask that the murderer give himself up. Clyde won’t admit he did it. The Indians attack the wagon train and, eventually, Clyde surrenders. The Indians tie Clyde to the Skinning Tree and flay him alive. Later, Kate retrieves her dead lover’s body and the wagon train continues west.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

In response to a major volcanic eruption, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines vowed he would “eat that ashfall. I’m even going to pee on Taal, that goddamned volcano.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today