GELFAND’S WORLD - The thought of writing jokes about his coronation caused the writers to go on strike.
So why am I bringing this up? Maybe just morbid curiosity, but there is at least one legitimate reason:
The British people and their system have been critically important allies who have even bolstered the civilized world's resistance to the Trump threat. And the British monarchy played their own part in that by providing an example of civilized obstruction to buffoonery.
But British royalty are also the ultimate anachronism. They fill a ritualistic role that commands international television time in a way that we don't see with other residual monarchies. How can we explain the continuing public fascination with their existence?
I blame it on Shakespeare.
Think about this before you make mockery of the idea: What would we think of British royalty if we didn't have the plays about Richard II, Henry V, or Richard III? Where would our thoughts be without these lines:
"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
"this green and sceptered isle."
So, may I assert ever so politely that were it not for Shakespeare's plays, putting Shakespeare's words in the mouths of essentially fictitious characters, there would be little memory of the British royalty, anymore than what we remember about the French kings, particularly the ones who died with their heads still attached.
But somehow, a British royal is identified in all our minds with a brave and subtle orator who could justify the conquest of northern France on the fields of Agincourt, or who could murder a dozen and more people who were between him and the throne. In other words, somebody who is superhuman, whether it be as a brave and inventive warrior or as a politically astute mass murderer. Either role separates him from the ordinary folks.
And we envision that orator as looking like Sir Lawrence Olivier or George Clooney.
And for some reason, when he leads his armies into the field, the event is accompanied by trumpet fanfares. They are mighty and amazing people, these British kings. And then there is the film Excalibur, which we will return to anon. (Notice that in discussing The Royals and Shakespeare, I finally got to type the word Anon.)
The real royals, of course, are nothing like the above. In my mind, they are equivalent to a more animated version of Barbie Dolls. They model unusual costumes, are displayed before groups of childish admirers, and give the British tabloids (and our own) a focus for gossip. The other point is that in order to maintain this sort of Barbie Doll fantasy, the royals have to import outsiders who have the beauty and glamor sufficient to provoke public attention, hence Diana, Kate, and Meghan. The family itself? Not so much.
Another thing regarding the American fascination over the Barbies: Our tabloids don't even have to get near to the truth about them. One supermarket staple talked about Elizabeth II as the "dying queen" for so many years that eventually they stopped pushing the idea because she had long since outlived the slander. But while that story was being flogged, they kept insisting that the Queen had bypassed Charles and that soon enough, Prince William would be the one to inherit the throne.
You may notice that it didn't happen. In truth, the agenda for the coronation now has William falling to his knees and pledging fealty to King Charles. Maybe one of the planners had a sense of humor.
The tabloid stories were as unreal as anything you were going to hear on Fox News, but that's actually the point, because the British royalty are so unreal in terms of power and might that it doesn't matter what you say about them. It's all understood to be some fanciful fable that hasn't actually been true since sometime in the 1700s.
In reality, it is a dangerous thing to have hereditary rulers. A few years ago, I wrote a modest review of Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. The book series has its moments, but as I interpreted the overall work, Churchill demonstrated -- seemingly without realizing it -- that having a hereditary ruling cast is risky indeed. Not the least of it is that whenever a couple of potential heirs have a disagreement, civil war is the result.
And then there are all the complications that take place when the heir takes over the throne and turns out to be inadequate and incompetent. You know, that George III guy. We might also remember that right before WWII, and right before Elizabeth's father was made king, there was a king who gave up his throne, enjoying the cover story that he did it for love.
So the great virtue of the British system is its almost paradoxical feature: These royals have essentially no power. They are at best a placeholder, signifying that anybody who would like to seize power is out of luck, because they already exist as the symbol of national power and existence. Courts convene in the name of the Queen (now the King) and of course there are the postage stamps. It's not a lot more.
Of course there are some rationalists who argue for the official end of the British monarchy, which you can read about here. [https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/king-uk-republicans-coronation-99067439] The fact that they will not be arrested and hanged for high treason pretty much says it all.
Back when, there was a movie called Excalibur, which is the less expurgated story of King Arthur and his less than loyal wife. And at the end, the dying Arthur commands his knight to find a body of water and throw the sword Excalibur into it, saying that someday, there will come another king who is worthy to wield the sword Excalibur. Can anyone imagine Charles as that king? First, we would have to get him a chin. I wonder if the writers of that movie also had a sense of humor.
There have been more convictions in the ongoing trials of the Proud Boys leaders, which you can read about here. This is one more chip in the chip-chip-chipping away at the anti-American fantasies of those who awaited a second Civil War over maintaining the Trump power. The jury was sent back to discuss the charges that they have not yet been able to agree on.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])