The Royal Family and other icons – part 1
05/05/2011 § 1 Comment
It was inevitable, I suppose, that I would end up watching the royal wedding last week. I didn’t particularly want to and hadn’t planned to. But to my surprise Dasha expressed an interest and Lucas at the moment will watch anything on TV that he is allowed to. I went with the flow and so it was that I found myself in front of the gogglebox last Friday morning, while outside a far more significant event was happening – spring, in all its glory and beauty and majesty.
I admit to being a bit of a sucker for a wedding. That sight of two people making such an awesome promise, committing themselves to each other for life, never ceases to move me. I am much less clear how I feel about royalty. I have some sympathy for the view that the whole affair renders us infantile, as we gaze in adoration at our lords and masters. Yet I think I get the point of it all a bit better now.
If you stop and think about it, it is a fascinating understanding we, the British people, have reached with the Royal family. Officially the Queen has huge power, including the power to sack the government, no less. Yet this power hasn’t been used in over a 100 years. And the Queen and everyone else knows that if she were ever to exercise that power these days, there would be such an uprising that the royalty would almost certainly cease to be.
So the Queen is effectively trapped. She can’t use her powers. But neither can she own up and admit this, since it would also be the end of royalty – the bubble would burst. So the sole function of Her Majesty is to play a game of pretence, to act as if she were in fact all powerful. And those around her have to maintain this pretence – to bow and scrape, to leap to fulfill her every desire, to dress her in the most elaborate, ornate and expensive finery. Not for her a Ferrari – no, it has to be an ancient horse drawn carriage.
I suspect the reason so many of us feel so respect for the current Queen is that she has accepted this state of affairs to thoroughly, made it so much part of herself, that it is almost impossible to discern a real person behind the role she is playing. Does she have opinions? We don’t know and she won’t let us know because the rules don’t allow it. Her life is ruled by duty above all – her duty to play the role.
This is the challenge for Prince Charles too, of course. His duty as king-in-waiting is far less prescribed, but he still has to play this “I am powerful” game without actually exercising any power. He gets criticized for all the privileges he receives without earning them. Yet when he tries to use his influence to serve a cause he believes in, people get outraged. It is not an easy balance to strike.
Some people insist that we should become a republic. I am not against this in principle, but the prospect of a President Cameron or President Blair is a quite appalling one. Whatever you think of the Queen and the whole royal paraphernalia, there is huge integrity in the way Her Majesty has carried out her function and we can’t automatically assume that a directly elected head of state would do better.
That’s enough on that. But it’s funny – when I started writing this I wanted to say something different, something about icons. It was about the importance of the head of state as a role model, and how we can learn a lot about a country by looking at the head of state and their trappings. Hmmm. I will have to carry on next week.
Bye for now.