Friday, April 29, 2011

Great Expectations. Or Should We Say the British “Dallas”?

Quite the day on the world stage. And as we know:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances”

And that’s an important part of today: the tradition and culture of Great Britain. A people whose culture has informed the English-speaking world for centuries.

Sarah Lyall
in the NYTimes may have best summed up today’s significance with this thought about the international focus of the event: “It was like a party scene in “Dallas,” only with Prince Philip instead of J. R. Ewing.”

Of course she used a reference to an American TV nighttime soap phenomenon of the 1980s, since we have been the largest exporter of (pop) culture for the last 30 years, just as GB was at one time. Evidence of the decline of Western civilization?

I don’t think so.

Just a consciousness that following someone’s narrative outside of your own is a human need, and that it doesn’t matter if that narrative is fact or fiction. To me, they are equally “other”: the fiction of Dallas or the fact of the monarchy are equal as stories to my individual life. Meaning only gets attached to a narrative if it has power over my life. In this case, neither Dallas nor the monarchy does.

We seek the stories of others to compare and contrast our own, and to give our own context. And we use “artful” stories-—like Dallas and the Royal Wedding—-to locate our own fantasies of power, love, fame, family, etc.

Today was a celebration of pageantry, history, and family. The footman and the 1902 State Landau (a variation of the barouche-landau that is close to the heart of all Jane Austen Emma fans) was the most jarringly anachronistic for me. Everything else felt comfortable in the 21st century. But then I’m a fan of organ music, and the British choral tradition. I have sung the Parry anthem “I Was Glad”; it’s a thrilling piece to sing.

The Missing Guest

The day was imbued with a sad poignancy about the mother of the two modern princes, not there to see her oldest get married because of a media feeding frenzy. As a story it’s pure Greek tragedy. William got married in the same church as his mother’s funeral. The overhead shots of his procession down the aisle with Catherine mirrored the ones of Diana’s coffin 30 years ago. It’s a heavy burden to carry down that beautiful red carpet.

My own story has an echo of this sadness. When I was 23 I walked down the aisle of my church behind my father’s coffin. I had always dreamed of walking down that aisle on his arm, not behind his body. It’s an image that has haunted me.

Long Live the Queen. But the Monarchy?
Of course this occasion has brought up all the questions about the continuation of the monarchy. Everyone loves Queen Elizabeth II, the real deal. Charles will become King upon her death.

People keep floating the idea if she can skip over Charles and “give” the throne to William. The short answer is no. Succession has very clear rules. And if she abdicates, she abdicates her entire direct bloodline, if this fascinating information is correct:

“Abdication of any Monarch is effective for them and their descendants - this is stated rather explicitly in the Abdication Act 1936 which authorized King Edward VIII's abdication.

Any abdication would skip Charles, William, Harry and Andrew without requiring their consent or Instruments of abdication as they are direct descendants of the Queen.

Viscount Linley would inherit the Throne if the Queen abdicates as he is the first male-line descendant not related to Queen Elizabeth II by birth. He is the son of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon - the Queen's sister. If Princess Margaret were still alive she would become Queen by an Instrument of Abdication.”

It’s not a democracy. Polls may suggestion that the people “want” William to be King in place of Charles, but that’s not how this story goes. And that brings us back to Dallas. J.R didn’t listen to popular opinion either.


Tim Footman said...

Viscount Linley as King? That would be lively, if the rumours are to be believed.

But since the rules are based on a piece of legislation specifically brought in to deal with the 1936 Abdication, surely Parliament could just knock together some new rules to deal with the current scenario? The pragmatic glories of an unwritten constitution...

M.A.Peel said...

Tim, I thought the same thing! Next few years will be interesting.