Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

British royalty and Once Upon a Time

I see in the news that British Royals are set to visit New York, and this TIME magazine article articulates my own queasy feeling about monarchy ...

Prince William and Kate Will Cross the Atlantic but They Can’t Bridge the U.S.-U.K. Divide

[...] These divisions [between the US and the UK] are set to be highlighted in the coming days as “Princess Kate” a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, the Duke (also correctly known as Prince William), arrive Stateside on Dec. 7 for a three-day trip to New York City .... the strange reality of British life that still sees “subjects,” not citizens, bending the knee to a monarch. Britain and the U.S. have in common the lowest social mobility in the Western world, but the American Dream, though mostly exactly that, a dream, has created a nation of optimists.

By contrast, the notion that some people are born superior to others is hardwired into the British system, sparking the resentment that often animates the British media and the wider population. British people are uncomfortable at being seen to celebrate the royal family, the premier symbols of inequality, despite the polls that show a majority of Britons harbor a soft spot for them. Add to that another facet of Britishness that the Windsors perfectly embody — an impulse to reticence that stands in sharp contrast to the American facility for delighted gush — and you begin to understand the scale of the chasm that separates the two cultures.

A pivotal moment of divergence took place in New York in 1783. The Cambridges are set to arrive in the city 231 years after British troops finally abandoned their foothold there. It had taken a long and bloody war before the Westminster Parliament — and Britain’s then monarch, “mad” King George III — acknowledged the loss of their former colony. The intervening centuries of American independence from the Crown have redrawn American attitudes to many things, including to the Crown itself ...

I've heard that many in the US are even more besotted by British royalty than the Brits, but as the article points out, it's more complicated than that. I think it boils down to this: while we in the US might have a certain nostalgia for the idea of royalty ... look at the popularity of medieval and fairy tale themes in fiction ... at the end of the day, the idea that some people are born superior to others is just repugnant to us. Apparently, not so much in the UK, though ...

Here's a bit from an attack on equality by John Milbank and Philip Blond ... where opportunity displaces outcome, the accident of birth is treated as if it was entirely analogous to the accident of race or gender. But it is not. Society and government can refuse race or gender prejudice simply by not being prejudicial. But class is not so easy: one can never entirely extract people from their ancestry and upbringing.

And this from a 2010 Guardian article ... research painted a picture of a highly stratified society in Britain where background determines a person's success to a far higher degree than in almost any other rich country. "Education is not as important for social mobility in Britain as for other countries. Class, to be honest, is the most likely explanation," said Romain Duval, head of division in the Paris-based OECD's economics department .... Britain was still a stratified society, in which different classes are brought up to follow different rules about how to think, talk and behave.

What does all this have to do with Once Upon a Time? I think the show is an example of the US attitude about royalty .... the most heroic royal figure on the series, Prince Charming, began his life as a shepherd :).


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