Many Americans hold a fascination with the British Royal Family; devouring every scrap of news, and watching weddings and ceremonies. It’s not like the British royals are the only royal family in the world. However, Americans don’t seem to find other royal families quite as interesting, even when there are hints of scandal or celebratory events. Maybe it’s because Great Britain has been a close ally in so many wars; or maybe it’s because Great Britain is kind of like the “parent country” of the United States. After all, the pilgrims, much like teenagers, launched out from the “nest” to find a new place of their own. It might be because most little girls dream of Prince Charming swooping her up and making her a princess; a fairy tale comes true. Why are Americans so fascinated by British royalty? It’s a question that has been asked numerous times and written about in magazines; yet, very little scientific or clinical studies exist on the subject.
In 1986 John Pearson published The Selling of the Royal Family and at the time it was the single most extensive study on the subject of Americans’ fascination with the British royals. In the study, he noted close to 39 million households in the U.S. tuned in to some or all of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. When their son Prince William married Kate Middleton 22.8 million households tuned in; does that mean the interest has started to fade? Probably not; the figure doesn’t account for the millions who watched on their computers or other electronic devices.
Monarchies and Fairy Tales
From early days of kings and queens and princes and princesses there has been a mystery about their lives. Like celebrities of the film and sports and any other entertainment venue, royals seem to live above the “common folk.” In fact, materialistically, they do live above most folks. The trappings are gorgeous and a little magnificent to the ordinary Josephine. It’s a blend of magic and riches and love; the perfect world. When a little girl first hears the story of Cinderella, she believCredit: photo by John Pannell es anything can happen.
According to Marsden, “the British Royal Family has become the focal point of a quintessential popular narrative, complete with conventional and inventional elements, iconology and rituals, character types and belief systems. Like all successful popular story forms, the saga of the Royal Family has been able to provide a mixture of the conventional through elaborate public rituals and the inventional through romances, marriages, divorces, births, leisure pursuits, eccentricities and hobbies."
Americans love the British Royals because they are so foreign and yet so human; so different and yet so like so many. The media attention is enormous, remember how the television networks spent hours and hours on details leading up to both Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding and most recently, Prince Williams and Princess Kate’s. The fact that neither Diana nor Kate were frCredit: Photo by user: Carfax2 om royal families did not go amiss. A little girl’s fairy tale comes to life. Pearson pointed out in his study the coronation of the Queen in 1952 was “the essence of age-old mystery and sanctity of kingship.” He stated the viewing of the coronation on television was “the creation of belief by television.” In other words, the storybook tale came to life. Queen Elizabeth was able to present the royal face to the world and the world looked back at someone who was human.
Various commentators have suggested Americans’ fascination with the British Royal Family is because:
- They possess the fairy tale aspects
- England is the mother country for many Americans
- No one really envies the British for their royals because they absorb the cost
While those may very well be reasons for some, there is much more to the fascination. The Royals give the public the spectacle of a theater event with all the pomp and circumstance; the costumes, the music, the splendor, the magic. The public relations team of the Royals has done their job well and the in turn, the Royals have complied for the most part. The scandals are ignored or viewed as making the family more human by most Americans.
Americans brought royalty to the White House in the 1960s, declaring the era of President Kennedy and the First Lady, the time of Camelot. Jacqueline Kennedy presented herself as one would imagine a royal would do. She was elegant and full of class and sophistication, but she was also human. It is the closest America has come to actually having a royal family; though others have tried on the “crown.” Does America need a royal family? There’s always the one across the pond to satisfy the need. Pearson’s comments in 1986 can still hold true today:
“…For the supreme achievement of the Royal House of Mountbaten-Windsor has been the way it has learned to use the modern media to perpetuate itself. In the process, the monarchy has inevitably become something very different from the one Elizabeth II inherited in 1952. Trivialized it may be, but it has managed to increase its wealth, its independence, and its popularity together with its grip on the imagination of a worldwide audience. What, one wonders, would the world do without it?”
Indeed, what would Americans do without a royal family across the pond?
The copyright of the article Americans’ Fascination with the British Royal Family is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.
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