In Defense of Frivolous Royal-Watching

In Defense of Frivolous Royal-Watching

In Defense of Frivolous Royal-Watching

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 29 2011 10:18 AM

In Defense of Frivolous Royal-Watching

First there was the royal wedding hype. Then, there was the backlash to the royal wedding hype. Then, there was the backlash to the backlash to the royal wedding hype. Matthew Yglesias and Amanda Hess have written smart things about this last and most correct reaction. Hess is particularly worth reading.

[E]very three decades or so, women get together to wear stupid hats and make sandwiches in the middle of the night, and suddenly our entire gender risks compromising its gains in higher education? Why can't royal-obsessed women wise up and just kick balls at each others' heads, like boys (and the smart girls) do?

The truth is that the royal wedding is this year's Superbowl of girl culture, the media has bended over backwards to cover the highly feminine event, and that tends to inspire a gut negative reaction in people. Why? Because feminine silliness is degraded in our culture, while masculine silliness is vaulted.


That seems right to me. The only thing missing from either critique is some acknowledgment of the argument that "we fought a war to get away from these kings." Indeed, we did, even if we were more irritated initially about taxes than we were about divine right. But veneration or celebrity-worship of some monarch who has no power over you seems mostly harmless. It's veneration of people who have political power or (to a lesser extent) economic power that's actually dangerous. Worshiping the president and the pomp of the White House gives you a buy-in, and a bias, to someone who wields executive power. (Cato's Gene Healy has pointed this out in his book and his articles about the cult of the presidency.) People vote for George W. Bush because he has a ranch, or they vote for Barack Obama because he will help us transcend race. What these people are actually voting for is a manager who's going to appoint thousands of people to manage appropriated tax dollars, or wars, or criminal prosecutions, or clean air regulations.

Back in 1982, when Ronald Reagan's popularity was at a low ebb, Mike Royko wrote a classic column about this.

What this country needs is a king. Not a genuine king, ruling and giving orders. We need a figurehead of a king--smiling, looking attractive and reassuring, making stirring speeches, but not having any genuine authority. He could appear regularly on the 10 o'clock news, telling us what a great country we have and what salt-of-the-earth folks we are and send us to bed feeling good. He could get on and off airplanes, wave at TV cameras, grin, chuckle, utter a few comfortable cliches and make the nation's little old ladies feel that all is well in the land.

So what's the harm of getting that from the descendents of the German folks who were brought in to play a ceremonial role in British government after Queen Anne died without an heir? (Side note: Whatever you think of the Bush family, it was nice, and good for the institution, that Jenna Bush eschewed a ceremonial White House wedding for a private ceremony in Texas.)

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.