By Rhea Howard
The most popular band in America: The Beatles. The most beloved children’s story in the U.S.: Harry Potter. The most lucrative film franchise: James Bond.
They host our television shows—that’s you, Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan. They’re on our playlists, from the Rolling Stones to Lily Allen, from Radiohead and The Cure to Coldplay. They make us laugh (thanks, Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais). They’re in every movie, especially the Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Colin Firth. The bottom line? The British have invaded and they’re here to stay.
Though the cultural divide between us and our neighbors across the pond is not as large as our tory-feathering forefathers might have hoped, there is one glaring difference between the U.K. and the good ol’ U.S. of A: We do not have royals.
The announcement of the engagement of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, lovingly dubbed Kate and Wills by Brits and Yanks alike, has taken the international media by storm. From commemorative biscuit tins to plates, teabags, Barbie dolls, and even toilet seat covers, the heir and his bride are plastered everywhere. In England, the hoopla makes sense.
One day, perhaps not too far in the future, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will ascend the throne, marking a new beginning for a monarchy plagued by scandal.
Stateside, the wedding will have little political and social impact once the countless Sarah Burton dress copycats have been sold. So, what’s the big deal with the royal wedding? According to countless op-eds… not much. It’s a wonderful human-interest story—a commoner marrying a prince—but for the social critics it is overly indulgent for Americans to care so much about something that has so little effect. But perhaps these social commentators have missed the mark. Perhaps there’s something deeper about our fascination with the inhabitants of Buckingham palace than our childhood love of a Cinderella story.
Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Parliament has gained more and more power, with the political importance of the Prime Minister and the House of Commons really becoming apparent during WWII with the charisma and leadership of Winston Churchill.
Today it is widely understood that the Queen and the House of Windsor are figureheads of a great nation and whose political responsibilities are marginal and strictly advised. But though the Queen has minimal power, or perhaps because of it, she is loved by the nation.
American politicians are hated. That is simple fact. If I love one politician, my neighbor hates him. If my neighbor likes another, I can easily find reasons why he is the devil incarnate. Even ‘landslide’ victories such as Barack Obama’s win in 2008 are quite close (in fact, Obama had only 52.9% of the general vote).
And so, it is inevitable that a country whose people are politically diverse feel divided. If, at a dinner party, the topic of “America” happens to come up (which it seems is also inevitable), it is impossible for the talk not to turn political and heated.
Speaking from a purely speculative perspective, it seems to me that in the United Kingdom there is an out when topics of country become too oppositional: the Queen. Englishmen love the Queen and Englishmen love England because the Queen represents the country and the people without the influence of politics.
It is hard to differentiate a love of America with a love of the political choices the government is currently making, simply because there is no human representation of America that is not on one side of the political debate or the other.
Collective experience unites us. Remember the solidarity the nation felt after 9-11, or even the blip of harmony after the death of Osama Bin Laden a week ago? I can only imagine that sharing an interest in one family is a constant collective experience that brings the United Kingdom together and minimizes the constant disorder and hate which punctuates the American political landscape.
In America, there is no thread that ties the country together, no cultural symbol that we all identify with. It is because of this that we fixate on the British royals. Yes, they are glamorous, and yes they are fabulously wealthy. But there is also something else about them—they represent a united spirit and love of a country. A spirit that, right now, America is missing.