Americans left the British crown behind centuries ago. Why are they still so fascinated by royalty?
The pomp, the glamour, the conflicts, the characters: When it comes to Britain’s royal family, Americans can’t seem to get enough. Through weddings, divorces, births, deaths, they’ve been invested in it all. That was evident this week following the announcement of King Charles III’s treatment for cancer.
While, yes, the United States got its start in 1776 by rejecting British royalty as a form of governance — and fighting a war to get away from it — Americans have never quite been able to quit their love of the spectacle of it all. And in celebrity-obsessed modern America, it’s one of the most compelling storylines around.
REASON 1: WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD FAIRY TALE?
Kings and queens, princesses and princes. They’re mainstays of fairy tales and other stories, of imagination and play. They’re references for power and prestige, like Aretha Franklin as the “Queen of Soul” or the administration of John F. Kennedy as Camelot. And when there’s a fairy-tale romance presented as with Charles and Diana in 1981, or high tragedy with the premature death of Diana 16 years later, the intensity spikes.
“The monarchy becomes a kind of Holy Grail for everyone because that is the ultimate in terms of wealth, power, glamor, charisma — all of those things which you don’t have in that boring at-home situation,” says Maria Tatar, a professor of folklore and mythology at Harvard University.
The British royals aren’t the only ones to capture the American public imagination. In 1956, Philadelphia’s Grace Kelly, already a celebrity as an actor, married Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The ceremony was recorded and broadcast, watched by millions of Americans.
REASON 2: THE US AND THE UK, ALWAYS CONNECTED
While kings and queens might always be of some interest, there’s no denying that the residents of Buckingham Palace hold a special place for Americans, given the two countries’ long history with each other.
When the colonies decided to break ties with England and become independent, that was a political decision rather than a cultural one, says Joanne Freeman, a professor of history at Yale University.
But “while people were stepping away from the king and centralized power and tyranny, politically, they had been British subjects who saw Great Britain and the king as the height of sophistication and the height of everything,” she says.
The countries maintained relationships politically and economically. There was a social and cultural element as well: In the 19th century, some rich Americans would find husbands for their daughters among the British aristocracy. And of course, the 20th century has plenty of examples of music, television, etc., that traveled between the two societies.
REASON 3: THE CULT OF CELEBRITY
America LOVES (and sometimes loves to hate) celebrities. This we know.
And in this modern era of ubiquitous social media and technology, when there’s the impulse to make people famous for even the flimsiest of reality-TV reasons? Having a royal title means it’s all but inescapable.
“It’s absolutely stunning to me how many stories, how many pieces of gossip can be out there in the ether all at once,” says Erin Carlson, an entertainment journalist and author.
“This supercharged celebrity news environment creates almost a reality show,” Carlson says. “It makes a reality show out of William and Kate, and Harry and Meghan and Charles and Camilla. And we become glued to our phone screens for the next morsel of gossip.”
Being interested in the royals is also something Americans can do “in a guilt-free way because they’re not ours,” Freeman says.
“You can admire things in the monarchy and the pageant and the pomp and the fascinators on the women at big events because it’s over there. It’s not over here,” she says. “And in a sense, culturally, you could do that and politically there really aren’t any implications at all.”
Follow New York-based AP journalist Deepti Hajela at http://twitter.com/dhajela
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