We love our royals, here in the States. And as much as I’m astonished at the once-venerable TV network “news” divisions debasing themselves with budget-busting week-long jaunts to London for this Friday’s gala wedding of two British royals, I am more astonished by our love of our own. There’s a dense scent of fealty about it.
But yes, the British thing. I see Jerry Seinfeld is in trouble with (some) Brits for telling an interviewer in England that the whole spectacle of “royalty”, with the common folks falling all over themselves to show their affection and admiration (admiration — for what? — dressing well?) is ridiculous.
Well it’s a circus act, it’s an absurd act… You know, it’s a dress-up. It’s a classic English thing of let’s play dress-up. Let’s pretend that these are special people. OK, we’ll all pretend that — that’s what theater is… And that’s what the royal family is — it’s a huge game of pretend. These aren’t special people — its fake outfits, fake phony hats and gowns.
An irony here is that among Americans Jerry Seinfeld is very much a member of our royalty. But unlike Camilla and even the sainted, departed Princess Di, there is something I can admire about Seinfeld. He’s funny.
While the amount of time the evening “news” shows — Katie and Diane and Brian — have spent on the latest British nuptials is, well, “appalling”, I actually understand the obsession of their morning “news” brethren. (I say “appalling” considering time devoted to the Prince and Princess it is many multiples more time than the networks have spent on, say, the latest WikiLeaks dump, including the part where U.S. authorities officially regard Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, as a “terrorist organization”, which gets U.S. taxpayer money). What I understand is that the morning shows’ live and die with the female demographic and therefore truly, deeply believe American woman can not — CAN NOT — be over-saturated with Princess Kate’s fashions, her treatment of her “people”, her choice of jellies, etc., etc.
According to a Nielsen survey out this morning, the American media, which in many ways is royalty covering royalty, is devoting more energy to Friday’s wedding than the Brits.
I am always tempted to assert that this is a gross misreading of the interests of American woman. None that I know seem to be paying any attention at all. Still … I was startled by the reaction in the St. Paul Pioneer Press news room when Di perished in that car crash. Tough, skeptical, “stupid-ass-moronic-men-with-their-sex -and-sports-obsessions” women ground to a halt and were seen in open states of profound sadness. A princess had died, and, I gathered, so had a little bit of them. I guess the male corollary will be when Peyton Manning dies.
So, while in Savannah, Georgia over the weekend, admiring the lovely old mansions, the sublime grooming of the spreading oaks and the Spanish moss draped like crinoline, I stopped for a beverage and picked up the latest issue of Vanity Fair. … the one with Rob Lowe on the cover and page after page of slavish coverage of the “royal wedding” and endless, unabashed celebrity/wealth porn treatment of any American society light imaginable, from Hollywood A, B and C-listers to fashion models.
Having already had my moment speculating on the genesis of the wealth that built the great old mansions of Savannah — and reflecting self-pityingly that if only my great, great, great granddaddy had built himself a modest empire on the backs of low-to-no-wage labor a couple of centuries ago, I too could have inherited something baronial, respectable and admirable and be regarded as royalty today — I turned to a piece by Nobel prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz.
Titled, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, it did what it could to balance the rest of Vanity Fair’s as I say nearly pornographic obsession with celebrity.
Now Stiglitz is not the “courageous”, “adult” economist of Wisconsin Cong. Paul Ryan’s stature. But he tries.
“When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.”
He works in the ongoing revolution roiling the Middle East, a revolution largely driven by gross imbalances of wealth and opportunity between the native royalty and the toiling masses.
He concludes saying,
“Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.”
A bit later I was driving through ritzy, leafy Buckhead in suburban Atlanta. On a grandly wooded turn stood the entrance to a particularly luxe and sublime development. The name? The Plantation at Lenox.
Quite royal. And gated, of course.