Everything here is just like a simile, and almost completely alliterative.

Monday, July 22, 2013

God Save Us, Everyone

I've considered about four different captions for this,
but really there just are no words.
Here you go, a royal story that has nothing to do with the new baby. Back in 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, there was television, but no transatlantic cables that could transmit it (much less satellites.) So the American film crews that had been on hand for the coronation had to stuff their footage into cans, race to the plane, and edit it over the Atlantic so it would be ready to roll the minute they were wheels down in New York.

It was the world's first major international event to be televised, and I once read an interview with William S. Paley, head of CBS at the time, from a couple of years before his death in 1990, in which he reminisced about it. He talked about that flight, and how they set up screens in the back of the plane, frantically splicing and editing, and he said at one point he looked around, and every single tech, journalist, and editor on that place was gathered around watching, riveted, many of them with wet eyes. And at that moment, he said, he got it. He realized that what they were watching was the closing ceremonies of World War II. He said there was a real sense, on that plane, that this was the final closed door on that whole awful period: that somehow, watching that slight young woman say those solemn words was the nail in Hitler's coffin. Because of course, if Hitler had had his way, there never would have been an independent England at all, much less a coronation. And just as images of London standing unbowed under the blitz inspired the free world to stand firm and continue to resist, so Elizabeth in that moment stood for all who had died, as well as all the living who vowed to move forward into those "broad, sunlit uplands" of which Churchill spoke.

So yes, I do think we should care about this royal baby. I think we should care tremendously, because it is tremendously important. I think the British monarchy is tremendously important. It's true that the U.S. is not a member of the British Commonwealth, having left the realm in rebellious circumstances. But we are the de facto leader of that Commonwealth, the eldest daughter, if you will. Where Canada and Australia and New Zealand and England and South Africa and India stand, there assuredly stands the United States—bound in that same brotherhood of shared history, language, and culture. It may be an uncomfortable family, and elbows might get thrown around the holiday table, but in the end we know who our mother is.

Symbols matter, and as symbols go there aren't many older than the British monarchy. At some point in this little baby boy's life, God willing, he will stand where his great-grandmother stood in Westminster Abbey and take that coronation oath. He will be raised to take that oath, raised to be consecrated to the service of his country. It's a mind-boggling, almost barbaric idea. He doesn't have a choice about what he is going to be. I'm not sure that there's enough money and privilege in the world to compensate someone for the loss of that choice. We like to think that everyone born into our world has a choice about the direction of his or her life, but the bitter truth is, for many children born in the world today, the idea of choice is a mockery. I would suggest that this little prince, in all his privileged choicelessness, can serve as a reminder—a powerful symbol—that there is a nobility to that kind of life. You can be robbed of your choice before you are even born, and still you can live a life of dignity, worth, and ultimate humanity. The choiceless life can be a grace-filled life.

America has been acting her part of periodically estranged, continually conflicted eldest daughter today: for every excited exclamation of delight about this royal baby, there are (by my completely accurate head count on various social media) at least seventeen thousand of righteous disgust—protestations that we fought a war not to have to listen to this shit, that they're all just mindless parasites, that none of this matters today. And maybe all that's true, to a degree. But symbols matter. History matters. In celebrating this baby we can celebrate all children born to a choiceless life. In acknowledging the line of history that this baby stands in, we can affirm the continuance of history's march, and our own place in it. I don't apologize for caring, and for all its occasional silliness, I think the media coverage of this royal baby has been a good and unifying thing. I think the world can do worse than to care about a baby being born.

So good luck, little prince. We may sing the wrong words to your national anthem (yeah, we don't know where Tisavy is either), we may have serious disagreements about spelling, and we may be giving your family the side-eye over here, but we're still the cool aunt who will splash gin in your lemonade and sneak you cigarettes underneath the table. You stick with us, little guy. Everything's gonna be fine.