The death of Queen Elizabeth has made me think about her legacy. The idea of a monarchy in 2022 has always struck me as curious. Why is it a thing and why does anyone care? The institution is nonsensical in the context of prevailing notions of liberalism and reason. We are told that she has always meant something to so many people, though it has never been clear why. Her position is what endows her person with special popular meaning, though the position itself was given to her by default, an anachronistic set of circumstances that placed her in a cloistered remove from the rabble, and held her up as an object of virtue, grace, calm, resolve, power, tradition, or whatever anyone chooses to project onto her. She is a photo-reality star that reminds me of Kim Kardashian, a kind of American celebrity made famous for no discernible reason. She is the American exceptionalism version of the queen. Think about it. She’s an idol, social media phenom, and reality show star that seems more like the product of a producer’s imagination than a real human being. She ascended into our popular conscience out of thin air, but now plays the role of national mirror. Kim and Queen Elizabeth are the logical extensions of their country’s idealized character. They are two sides of the same coin. One is a symbol of a static social order manifest as duty and decorum while the other is naked ambition showcasing the boundless limits of capital.
I think we have a base desire to see into other people’s lives. We want to see how they live, the cars they drive, the way they spend their days, interact with their friends. There is a massive amount of television and social media content dedicated to that need. But just basic life is too boring. That’s why it needs to be curated, edited, written so that is differs from our own mundane life in meaningful ways. It’s almost always aspirational, which is why rich people make good reality fodder. Their relatively care-free life is a diversion from all the stuff that makes us nervous or anxious or scared. It lulls us into the trance of the possible, making the impossible bearable as a result. What’s interesting is when you peel back the layers of artifice you find there isn’t much substance there. All our prying and yearning to see only reflects the reality of our existence in relation to those needs. It affirms who we are and want to be.
A couple of days after the Queen’s death I considered the possibility that the monarchy would die with her. I at least thought it was the death knell, a spiral where no new actor could take lead role in the play and live up to the national projections developed over seventy years. It’s a tall order for any person to come after someone that has owned the stage for so long. But sometimes the lineup needs to be shuffled to reinvigorate an old institution. Elizabeth’s long reign became a bridge from eras where slow time was a virtue and consistency provided comfort to the present where we have a pronounced need for novelty at all times. The expectations have changed. We need constant stimuli, delivered in small batches, showing us that gilded life is real life too, and we can share in its splendor or at least experience it through our favorite screens.