|BRJ Front Page||See all Essays||Send a Comment|
The toy kings of Europe's republics
Part of the fun of going to Europe is watching the royal circus. While kings and queens are part of the past in most of Europe, several countries in northern and western Europe (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain) have dragged part of their royal baggage with them into the 21st century, somewhat awkwardly displaying their kings and queens for tourists. These are not real kings and queens, you understand. Those – actual royal rulers – disappeared over a century ago. The "royalty" that these seven "monarchies" (and three or four other little duchies scattered about Europe) have to show off are mere nostalgic entertainments.Abstract:
In reality, all seven of the above-mentioned countries are republics in every respect. You protest, "But they have kings or queens!" No, they don't. They have play-kings and -queens; toy kings and queens. In effect, each of these republics has hired a family – usually descendants of actual rulers of old – to be a kind of symbolic face for the nation, to remind the populace of past glories, to snip ribbons at shopping mall and bridge openings, occasionally to deliver a speech written for them by the political leadership, and to serve as a focus of gossip for the masses. Of all the citizens of Europe, none are more constrained in their actions or in their choice of livelihood than these make-believe royal families. No one else is held in involuntary servitude from birth, by law! A "monarch" or royal heir's every moment is scripted and watched over; he needs permission from the government to do or say anything significant, but usually such permission would not be granted, so typically they don't ask. But, being generally inbred dullards, that doesn't seem to bother them very much. For this life-long house arrest and servitude they do get certain benefits: They get famous and get their pictures in the paper a lot, they get fawned over, they get to live in a big old house and dress up in impressive moth-eaten costumes, and they don't have to do any work. That's more than enough to attract the average dullard.
But, of course, the main reason that toy royalty are still hired to put on spectacles is to attract tourists. Tourists from countries that are stuck with the dull, efficient, work-a-day atmosphere of ordinary non-monarchical republics. Tourists who remember the kings and queens of their childhood fairy tales, and who long for the memory and the magic, the pomp and pageantry of royalty. So it's in principle no bad decision the seven play-monarchies have made, to continue with the game of royalty. Presumably, the income from tourism should more than offset the cost of the monarchical hoopla.
But here we see a huge difference in approach to their toy monarchs. Where would you, as a tourist, go to see royal pomp? To England, of course. The other six countries are so far behind in royal entertainment value that they're simply not worth the trip. To them, the royal family is – astounding as this sounds – a budget expense, when it should be a golden cash cow for the national treasury. Here then is an opportunity that should not be missed:
All modern European "monarchies" have made the mistake of "commonizing" their royalty. Well, let's not say mistake; it seemed like the right thing to do in the nineteenth century, when kings were the hated symbol of the ruling class. But that was then. Mistake or no, now is the right time to undo it. Now, kings and queens have become national (though half-buried) treasures, potentially drawing tourist dollars by the billions. And here's my point: To draw the really big bucks they have to look and act like kings and queens, not like your neighbor Dick. And, of course, they have to be available for gawking by the tourists. The only country with any remaining pretense to monarchical splendor is England. The six also-ran monarchies in Europe have left the field to Great Britain. Instead of battling for the tourist business with a royal show that would curl your toes, the lesser six are caught up in "serious" discussions about the place of royalty in a democracy. Wise up, lesser-six; here's the place of royalty in a democracy: It's your trump card in the battle against DisneyWorld, Las Vegas, Riviera beaches, La Scala, Norwegian fjords, Tuscany charm, Tyrolean resorts, and all the thousand other draws that compete for the tourist dollar. If you want to compete you've got to learn to use your royalty. A modest proposal follows.
(It's rare that I give advice to foreign governments, not because I don't think they deserve it, but because they like to pretend to have thought of all the good ideas themselves, so ideas that appear in a publication like this, read by ... uh... potentially millions, are often discarded for no good reason at all.)
Now what I would like to see when I enter a royal capital in a cruise ship with 1,000 other tourists is some royal pomp. That's why I'm there! Forget about requiring tourists to fit their schedule to the Changing of the Guard. If you have any sense of showmanship you change the Guard when the tourists are there! Here's an example: As I say, we steam in to the dock. On the dock, prepositioned by the Department of Royal Activities, playing royal-martial music, is the King's band. (I hardly need mention that the King will have as many King's bands around the country as are needed to satisfy the tourist business.) Ready to whisk us off to the Palace are a series of royal coaches. (Naturally, this is a side trip that the tourist will be paying dearly for – that's the idea.) At the palace, the coaches arrive just before the Changing of the Guard. And, about the Guard: The best show in Europe is again England's, but even that's frankly pretty tame. Any American college marching band could do better. So snazz up the show with more color and drill, and you'll feel the ka-chink in the cash register.
So in my simple example we are ushered in to lunch with His or Her Royal Highness. We'd love to see a prince or princess at the same time. But don't give us an old lady with a handbag as a queen! We've paid for royalty, and we want them to look royal. Crown and all! My best advice is to contact the Disney Corporation, which knows how monarchy is supposed to look. It can't be overemphasized that the bulk of tourist dollars will always go to the best royalty show in Europe. A short daily carriage ride by the King in full regalia, a prince and princess in royal garb lounging by the pond in the palace park, a princess getting her French lessons in the gazebo, these little touches will make the difference in effective use of your royalty.
Well, you get the idea. I sense that a battle is about to be unleashed. By the time all of the lesser-six have read this little note (can you doubt it?) the era of handbag-carrying queens will be over. In the new money-making model, every tourist to the country will have the opportunity for glorious and memorable royal contact with fairy tale kings, just like we remember them. We've finally found suitable and money-making work for our favorite dullards: To look good in ermine and crown, learn a few lines and speak them with dignity. One need hardly add that some dullards are better suited to such work than others – it may be that current residents of the palace are just not up to the new tasks. In that case I can give no better advice than to contact Disney central casting. Unemployment among dull actors is high, so more suitable royalty could easily be in place within days.
Exciting stuff, eh? One can hardly wait for the next tourist season, as the new and improved royalties emerge from their dull cocoons.