Sunday, May 1, 2011

What is it about royalty that captures our cultural imagination?

I started watching Piers Morgan on CNN and almost turned it off when I saw he would be showing excerpts from the wedding.  Honestly, I don't care.  For some reason, I kept watching.  

I remember wanting to be a princess--or at least to marry a prince.  Duane is my Prince Charming, to be sure, but he's not the same thing as an actual prince.  

And so this wedding is kind of like driving by an accident.  You don't want to be a lookie-loo, but for some reason you have to at least take a peek.  

As I watch, I think of a few things . . . 
  • Westminster Abbey's floor plan is like a cross.  I'm sure I've heard about this before, but this is the first time I've paid attention. It's kind of cool.  
  • The service opens with a hymn.  I know this hymn, but for the life of me, I can't figure out one single word they people are singing.  
  • At the end of the familiar vows (in sickness and in health, etc.) Prince William and Kate say, "And thereto I give thee my troth." What does this mean?  I looked up "troth," and it means loyalty or faithfulness.  The phrase still makes no sense.  
  • Kate's dad stays on the platform until the end of the ceremony.  I wonder why.  Maybe it's because there aren't enough seats.
  • Why doesn't the Cardinal of Canterbury trim his eyebrows?  They actually curl around his eyeglasses.  This is not an attractive look.  Men, trim your eyebrows.  
I see the crowds swarming around Buckingham Palace, crowds not only from the United Kingdom, but from all over the world, and I wonder . . . 

What is it about royalty that captures our cultural imagination? 

Why is it that, despite more pressing current events, the wedding takes such a prominent role in news media? Why did so many Americans travel to the United Kingdom for this event that they're not even going to attend in person?  And why did so many wake up early Friday morning to watch the wedding?  

On April 22, I met Duane for lunch and turned, and as I drove to the meet place, I turned on the radio caught part of a discussion about this topic on NPR.  

On "For King or Country," aired on A Changing World, J. Anthony McAlistar claims that we have an innate desire for a king which is "deep, almost written into our DNA."  Despite our form of government, we have "a yearning for something more," and without a king, we make our own kings.  Think of the role the Kennedys have played in American history.  Think of the way we idealize movie stars and other celebrities.  

Alistar claims that the "desire to celebrate the elite classes among us is quite natural."  For some reason, deep inside of us we want--or need--something greater than ourselves, and "in the absence of kings, we end up inventing our own."  

Alistar makes some very interesting claims that may explain our culture's fascination with royalty, and immediately I made plans to quote him.  It's always nice to know who you're quoting, and so I did some Google searches on this guy.   It turns out that Alistar is a monarchist who makes his living as a cellist and roving reporter for the LA Opera.  He keeps a blog, if you care.  

Using academic standards, his credentials aren't that credible.  Even if he is on BBC International.  

However, I still like what he says, and in my not so humble opinion, his claims seem plausible.  It turns out that one of my heroes, C.S. Lewis makes very similar claims.  (Alistar actually quotes Lewis in the piece.)  In "Equality," a 1944 essay, Lewis writes, "Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead.  Even famous prostitutes or gangsters."

In order words, if we don't have actual kings, we will make our own kings.  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  Charlie Sheen.  Oprah.  Donald Trump.  Magic Johnson.  The Mayflower Madame.  Bonnie and Clyde.  Al Capone.  The list goes on and on.  

MTV and HGTV take us into celebrity homes so we can get a glimpse of the royal life.  In LA, people pay money for celebrity maps or tours.  TMZ (and half a dozen more shows plus magazines) tell us more than we want to know about celebrities around the world.  

Why do we care?

Alistar offers a reason: "We need this sense of wonder, and we’re quick to respond to it because it fulfills something deep within us, that longing for splendor and majesty."

I agree.  Lewis suggests that something deeper is going on, that this creation of celebrity represents a spiritual crazing.  He writes, "The spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison instead."  

I think about the ancient Israelis who tired of Samuel, the prophet and judge who ruled them as he heard from God.  They begged him, "Give us a king like the other nations have."  (1 King 8:4)

Up until this time, Israel operates not as a monarchy, but a theocracy.  God governs the people through a prophet.  

But no one can see God.  And so they want a king.  They want the prestige of a king.  The glory of a king.  

Discouraged, Samuel goes to the Lord for guidance, and God tells him, "You're sad because you feel like you've failed.  But it's not you they're rejecting.  It's me.  They want a human king.  Not me."  

He instructs Samuel to let the people know what having a king will be like, and it's not a pretty picture.  You can read about it here.  Basically, the establishment of a king will cost them--their lives, their property, and their freedom.  

We do the same thing when we establish our own kings.  

Lewis puts it like this, "The spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison instead."  Deep inside, we long for something bigger or grander or more glorious than ourselves.  We create kings around us, or we elevate ourselves as kings.  Right now I'm thinking Trump.  (We really can't help tell our own stories.)  

Alistar claims we cannot deny this longing which "seems to be deep, almost written into our DNA."  I think Alistar would like to establish some sort of constitutional monarchy in the United States, but of course that's not going to happen.  We like to pretend that all men are created equal.  If that were true, we wouldn't flock to see celebrities or watch royal weddings.  

But I want to return to Lewis' claim that this represents a spiritual longing.  I believe God created us to long for something greater than ourselves. 

I suggest that this longing represents a longing for the glory and majesty of God.  The royals and other celebrities fascinate us, but they are only substitutes.  

I suggest that as we keep our eyes and years on the Lord, as we acknowledge him as King and worship him in his holiness, we will cease to care about kings and queens, movie stars, or gangsters.  Not right away, but over time.  

No comments: