Monday, June 18, 2012

The Queen's Big Party

Some of my co-workers laughed at me last year when I took a vacation  day to watch Prince William  and Kate Middleton tie the knot. "You can just tape it, or watch the highlights at home after work.".
But if I did it that way I couldn't text with like minded friends during the ceremonies. Plus the replays cut out all the parts I like, the parades of horses and army companies and so forth. "All that history" I said, "all that pageantry". One co-worker understood though, she had also taken the day off.  And the last couple of weeks I thoroughly annoyed my kids with all the shows related to the Queen's Jubilee clogging up the DVR, knocking off additional episodes of  Sons of Guns and Step It Up.

I admit it, I am a full blown Anglophile. This is perhaps a sad admission from someone who is also half Irish. While not discounting the many wrongs done my ancestor, the efforts in my youth to really hate the British just never took. Too much history, too much culture. As a theatre major I fell in love with English actors, English playwrights, and English settings. And as I studied the literature and history of the British Isles I became fascinated with that long line of monarchs back to William the Conqueror. I actually memorized the line of descent from William I to Elizabeth II. And eventually when we got into the Society for Creative Anachronism and recreation of the Middle Ages, my area of expertise was the early Plantagenets, and the  tangled soap opera of Henry the Second and his wife and sons (as seen in The Lion in Winter)

Sometimes I was a bit uncomfortable with my fascination with monarchy. After all I was a proud American and a firm admirer of the founding fathers and the Constitution. I understand why they recoiled from anything to do with hereditary titles and monarchy. But there is something missing and I think deep down many Americans feel it.

It was during the administration of Ronald Reagan, which overlapped most of my college career, that I began to figure out what the issue was.Tip O'Neil once said "Say what you will, Ronald Reagan would have made a hell of a king." And its true. Mr Reagan was always at his best in ceremonial roles, where he reflected the feelings of his people: his Challenger speech,  his 40th anniversary D Day speech, or his speech at the Berlin Wall were great moments of showmanship. His hands off management methods were disastrous on the other hand. We have had other presidents who were great at management, but were turned out of office because they failed to inspire people. And I realized that the problem with the Presidency is that we expect one person to do too much. We want them to be both a political/administrative leader and a spiritual/ceremonial leader. A person who is good at one function usually isn't good at the other.

Now you don't have to have a monarchy to solve this problem. Many democracies have both a President and a Prime minister. The President cuts all the ribbons and the Prime Minister minds the store. However what the democracies lack is the sense of continuity. Some people feel this is a good thing, that after a certain period of time you can turn everyone out and start over again. But sometimes perhaps a little too much gets turned over each time we hold an election. And perhaps one reason we have such a culture of celebrity in this country is because those people are around a lot longer than most presidents.

This brings me back to the British and their thousand plus years of history. Because we are a young country and we feel a pull towards that which is older, especially when we share common roots with that history. There's something to be said for a country surviving more or less intact for so long, through war, peace, wealth, poverty, good monarchs and bad ones. Its not so much the individual kings as it that grand lineage. (I know Catholics who feel the same way about the Popes, whatever you think of an individuals performance, its still something to say you trace the head of your church back so far).

And as an outsider looking in. it seems that for the last 200 years or so, the British have had a run of really good monarchs (except that Edward VIII guy, who didn't last long in part because he forgot what he was expected to be). They were fundamentally decent people, conscientious about their duties, they really did put their country first, and in times of crisis set examples for their people by just going about their business and reminding people there were higher things than their day to day struggles.

When I was watchin all the boats sailing up the river Thames I was interested to see all the differant kinds of boats and their functions, from the ones that were actually rowed by people, to the boats that work every day on the river. One of the moving sights had to be the Dunkirk boats, some of the little boats, privately owned, that went back and forth across the  Channel to rescue Brittish  soldiers when the Nazis overran France. They are still around, England is still around (something that looked iffy in 1940) and the Queen is still around to remind them of everything they have survived together.

The present Queen came to the throne when the Empire was falling apart. Country after country sought its independence. But because she was  the one symbol that most everyone could agree upon and new organization, the Commonwealth came into being, allowing a lot of hugely diverse states (many of them democracies) to stick together. And in celebrating the Queen's reign I think the British get to celebrate themselves in a way we don't get to.  I think that's something to look at with admiration, regardless of politics.  So congratulations to Her Majesty on the grand 60 years, and good luck to all the successors who come after her.

No comments:

Post a Comment