First Words

Why do we care about the royals?

The monarchy, celebrity, and true greatness

I  confess that I’ve never understood the British monarchy or its purpose. Its popularity baffles me. I’ve always thought sensible nations got rid of this archaic model of privilege and family-based hierarchy years ago. It remains a mystery to me what members of the royal family do on any given day. I know they smile and wave a lot, carry on a love/hate relationship with the press, and dress up for plenty of pomp (and not much circumstance) at numerous dedicatory events. But there must be more.

Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough to understand the royals. Friends wonder why I haven’t made time to view the Netflix series The Crown. But now that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex live stateside, and evidently feel comfortable airing private opinion, family secrets, and their own assessment of royalty, the British monarchy may become an in­escapable part of US news cycles. My learning curve may shorten significantly.

Perhaps most puzzling to me is the enthusiasm with which the tax-paying British public funds the royal family. Across all economic classes in the UK, royals are viewed as celebrities—and, as we know, those who adore celebrities often become vulnerable to idealizing their greatness. A lust for celebrity worship feeds a culture of fantasy, the very function of which is to gratify. Since the royals ask nothing of us—remember, their purpose is to gratify—we receive the pleasurable illusion that life is largely effortless, smooth, and without ambiguity. (It’s not clear yet if Oprah’s recent interview with Harry and Meghan will cause a culture of reality to clash more regularly with this culture of fantasy.)