Our belief in the magic

    ‘Fess up, folks. Have you been watching today’s coverage of the royal wedding?Or perhaps the better question is, why are Americans still so besotted with the British crown?I don’t get it. The monarchy is a vestige of an empire long gone. It perpetuates outmoded class distinctions. It perpetuates the undemocratic belief that some people are destined to reign via family DNA, regardless of IQ. And it wastes a staggering amount of money, especially at a time when the economically-beleaguered British can ill afford it. The Reuters news service ran all the numbers (government subsidies, security, net worth of Windsor members) and pegs the current value of the monarchy at 1.14 billion pounds. Which, at current exchange rates, is roughly $1.93 billion. Imagine how many worthy mouths that bounty would feed.Admittedly, my bah-humbug perspective is rooted in my experiences writing about the royal family. When I lived in London as a foreign correspondent in the early ’90s, the House of Windsor was in ill repute. Princess Diana was taking lovers and using the press to dumping on hubby Prince Charles. Charles was busy canoodling with lover Camilla Parker-Bowles, and fantasizing (in an intercepted phone call) about how he would dearly love to be her tampon. Meanwhile, the Duchess of York, better known as Fergie, was photographed topless as her toes were being sucked by a dashing man not her husband. I covered all that stuff. (I opened my Charles/tampon story by writing, “It now appears that the next king of England gives good phone.”) I also reported on the doomsday declarations; David Starkey, a British constitutional scholar, told me in 1994, “What we are seeing – quite literally – is the end of the 20th-century monarchy.” And I recall George Will declaring, in one of his ’92 columns, “The magic is gone. When the current occupant of the throne is done, they should turn off the lights at Buckingham Palace.”Hey, why should we care? After all, we fought a war 230 years ago to kick out the king and crown the commoner. Whereas in Britain this morning, it’s supposed to be a big story that Prince William, a royal by dint of birth, has reached downward in the social strata to wed and elevate a commoner.And yet we Americans merrily cling to our belief in the magic.Today millions of American TV viewers – as well as those who flew to Britain in order to gawk first-hand – are reveling in the pomp, the parades, the jewelry, the dresses, the hats, the horses, and the lovebirds’ hotness. By the way, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all these Americans are nuts; quite the contrary, tracking the royals and honoring British tradition is arguably among the most edifying of hobbies. In fact, I’m related by marriage to a pair of eminently sane and professionally accomplished sisters who are on the scene as we speak. It’s no surprise they traveled all the way from California, given the fact that they co-own one of Princess Diana’s dresses, having seized the chance to buy it when it was auctioned. Indeed, our belief in the magic manifests itself in a myriad of ways: put some royals in a movie replete with clipped English accents (The King’s Speech, The Queen) and you’re bound to put fannies in the seats.Why do we indulge so extensively? In part it’s a Disneyland thing, a pining for fairy tales. In part it’s about taking a breather from our new-money meritocracy to revel in the vestiges of old-money aristocracy. In part it’s about reconnecting with the roots of our cultural heritage, notwithstanding the fact that America was born in an act of rebellion against the tyranny of inherited entitlement. In part it’s about indulging our irrepressible love of celebrity; the newly betrothed couple is certainly more appealing than our own reigning celebrity-vulgarian, Donald Trump.And a royal wedding, I will concede, is a welcome transient distraction from our economic and political ills. As British commentator Rupert Cornwell remarked the other day, it’s all about “the simple enjoyment of a rattling good show….In an age when U.S. politics is so polarized that politicians can’t even agree on where President Obama was born, let alone on action to tackle the country’s fundamental problems, the notion of an unelected head of state, perched above the fray, is almost refreshing.”Well, if you put it that way, I almost get it.

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