Sometimes we seem to want our own royal history in the United States. But without monarchs to talk about, we elevate our closest options (politicians, presidents, and famous families) to imaginary thrones.
The British monarchy, of course, occupies a special place in the American obsession. The Windsors are far enough away from our own society to appear more as celebrities than as heads of state. However, there is also a closeness, a personal interest in their stories that is justified by the intertwined stories of our two countries.
“The Crown” is one of Netflix’s most popular shows and there are so many documentaries, books, stories and shows about the life of Princess Diana that it remains a hyper-relevant part of American culture more than twenty years after her death.
Even if you don’t care about the Royals, many Americans do.
When these people, enchanted in such a rare way, face the universal challenges of life (marriage and family, divorce or discrimination), it is natural for the public to be able to pull their neck out to see how it will be handled.
Farley, who specializes in media psychology, points to this as a type of parasocial relationship, when we create a perceived connection with a person, such as a movie star, an athlete, or a prince, that we don’t have. We care about these people, even though we don’t really know them at all.
“We live in an intense media age, which means there will be many who identify with the Royals’ problems and are interested in how such rich and famous figures who live in a historical historical context face life, ”says Farley.
It so happens that in the Windsor dynasty there are innumerable cases of controversy, mysteries and, yes, happy endings.
These events are perceived differently by the British public because, well, it matters more in their lives. For Americans, it’s like looking out the window at our very glamorous neighbors.
How we make our own American royalty
In the United Kingdom, the monarchy has a ceremonial role separate from the political role played by the British Parliament. In the US, we don’t have that ceremonial aspect.
Presidents, of course, are the easiest to imagine this way.
While seeing presidents as kings has terrifying consequences for our democracy, each administration inspires a fascination (often minimally political) among the American public similar to that of a monarchy. Much of this interest revolves around the personal and family character of a politician, and there is a clear reason why.
“The monarchy is essential to British national history,” Chernock says. That is why Queen Elizabeth, who has held the throne for 68 years, is much more than a monarch for many Britons. “They anchor people to an increasingly attenuated notion of what it means to be British.”
Similar narratives have framed American identity for generations. The Kennedys, often called dynasties. The Obamas, whose influence and popularity have affected every corner of our culture. The Reagans, a Hollywood story, arrives in Washington. We see ourselves in these families and in what we desire most: perhaps wealth and power. Or perhaps a deeper sense of belonging to our nation, a plan of what it means to be American.
How this shapes our culture
“In a very complicated culture, with so many moving parts and so many uncertainties, we need political leaders who stand out and position themselves on issues, and these qualities attract strong media attention and therefore create celebrity status,” says Farley.
“Certainly, the monarchy has modernized in the way it relates to the media and the people.” Chernock says. “At the same time, the attractiveness of the institution depends on its traditions.”
It’s no different in the United States, even if the titles aren’t there. For better or worse, leaders know that people observe all their movements with interest, adoration, or criticism. They know that what they do will be imitated and what they say will resonate throughout history. And even if they sit in the White House instead of on a throne, they still feel the presence of an invisible crown.
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