I was at work the other day, and somehow the topic of the new E! television show “The Royals” came up. The programme, starring Liz Hurley, is a re-imagining of the British royal family, filled with sex, scandals and intrigue. It seems to be all that anyone over here is talking about at the moment.
Having seen a trailer, I mentioned to my colleagues that I thought the show was attempting to recapture some of the guilty pleasure zeitgeist of 1980s TV classics Dallas and Dynasty. I then made a remark about how this new programme seemed to be playing up the tackiness of the real royal family.
“The …. Royal…. family…. tacky?!”
Apparently I had said something wildly inappropriate. “But you must recognise that the royal family is tacky… right?”
“How dare you?”
“Who are you, an American to call our royal family tacky?”
“That’s hundreds of years of tradition!”
“That’s our culture, and at least we have one!“
I’m not exaggerating when I report that this onslaught from several outraged co-workers lasted nearly five minutes.
Of course, I’ve always understood that British people value their royal family, I just hadn’t appreciated that they did so without also acknowledging that the whole spectacle of kings, queens, princes and princesses bedecked in gold-soaked regalia is all more than a little garish.
Please don’t kick me out of the country
I’ve come to the UK of my own free will, and I not only accept its cultures, customs and laws, I love them. This is a great country, and as an immigrant, I try to be completely respectful of the monarchy and other local traditions. All I’m saying is that I shouldn’t also have to pretend as if they’re the pinnacle of good taste. It shouldn’t be heresy to notice that the royals are tacky. What’s wrong with acknowledging it? Tacky things are eye-catching, tacky things can be fun. Like Mister T. He’s tacky, and I love Mister T. Forgive me for saying so, but I truly do pity the fool who doesn’t like Mister T. I feel the same about the Queen. As she sits on her big red crushed velvet throne wearing her blinged-out crown, waving a bejeweled sceptre at her subjects, I don’t think to myself: “you tyrant- I reject you and all you stand for!” Instead I just get the urge to buy a monogrammed and laced jubilee tea towel that I can hang over my front door, not far from my pink flamingo lawn ornaments.
Following the royals isn’t exactly the pastime of the uber-educated
If you live over here, you will hear Brits defensively declare that Americans care more about the royal family than Britons do. If that’s true, then what does that say about the royals that their biggest fans are your crude and unsophisticated former colonials? And more to the point, do British people realise which Americans are the most fervent royal-watchers? Let me give you a hint: You won’t find magazines and books about the Queen flying off the shelves at university bookshops or even at the local Barnes and Noble. If you want to see stacks of periodicals, books and memorabilia with Will and Kate’s faces plastered all over them, you’re gonna want to head on down to Walmart.
Let’s examine the evidence
You may be asking yourself, who is this bloody Yank think he is that he can decide what’s tacky or not? I concede that I cannot hold myself up as an experienced arbiter of taste, as anyone who has seen how I dress can attest. But I do have eyes- and those eyes are capable of assessing how the royal family stacks up against other universally-recognised icons of bad taste in popular culture.
For example, in the UK, there is a hugely successful TV programme called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” consisting entirely of footage of Irish travellers’ elaborate and spectacular wedding ceremonies. The show exists so that middle-class British people can look down their nose at the awful and garish spectacle presented by the participants. But those Gypsy weddings are all clearly modeled on, and share much of the same DNA as royal family nuptials.
Exhibit A: Look at this picture of Will and Kate in their wedding carriage:
Aside from the fact that I suspect that having a wedding carriage is cheesy in and of itself, now look how neatly a “gypsy style” carriage fits into the proceedings:
Exhibit B: A royal-style crown, or at least a tiara, is now de rigeur for reality TV show brides and benefit cheating lowlifes when they get married:
And then there’s the thrones.
When celebrities David and Victoria Beckham got married, they were roundly criticised for placing themselves on royal-style thrones as part of the festivities. But bizarrely it was their presumption that was faulted, not their lack of taste. Big carved thrones with red velvet backs are fine, but only if you’re of royal blood.
Exhibit C: The Queen and her chair would have fit right in:
It’s not just weddings and ceremonial events.
Exhibit D, E, F: The 1983 film Scarface, stars Al Pacino as crazed drug kingpin Tony Montana. The film is awash in 80s excess, featuring stupefyingly gaudy imagery in virtually every scene. In the images below, I’ve mixed photos of Buckingham Palace in with pictures of Montana’s gloriously cheesy mansion. Note the shared design ethos:
How dare you? So why don’t you go back to your own country?
Perhaps it’s in my DNA as an American to look at blue-blood royalty with a slightly different perspective. But I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to eat dinner on my Charles-Diana memorial plates, drinking tea from my commemorative diamond jubilee mug, and keep an eye on my telly for news of the latest royal baby. Maybe they’ll name the next one “Divine” or “Liberace.”