Why do we love royalty?

When most of us live in democracies or at least come from the western tradition of the equality and empowerment of the individual person, why do we consistently elevate and idealise kings and queens?

Children’s stories, Hollywood films, the press – are full of princes, princesses, royal families! Even countries that supposedly don’t have monarchies, idolise their sporting heroes, their actors or elected presidents and their spouses.

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Why do we do it when it so clearly subjects ourselves to inferior status? Why do we seek to elevate humans and grant them almost immortal heights?

Kings and queens are truly no different to ourselves, except that they descend via legal birthright from wealthy and powerful individuals, some of whom took power by force and not by merit. 

Celebrity kings and queens hold power simply because of the combination of genetic prowess, beauty, great timing and the power of marketing.

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Historically, the tradition of royal lineage became enshrined as a birthright to the oldest child or oldest male child, simply to preserve peace. Leaders arose from within a tribe, usually a meritocracy of the strongest and smartest. When this leader died, the tribe suffered instability, even risked a bloodbath as the people decided on the next leader. Each man or woman feeling they had the “merit” to rule sought the seat of power, often by the sword if necessary.

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Rules of legitimacy settled the debate – the power, wealth, land and title went to the oldest child, whether they were fit to rule or not, whether they were of age or not. This ensured peace in the land for generations. A result of the Magna Carta and later Reformation and the ensuing religious wars, was to increasingly separate church  from state, and remove absolute power from monarchs, delegating decision making rights to the populace. 

Kings and queens of history have been a mixed representative of good and bad leadership – and yet we still idealise and idolise? Why? 

Nowadays, many royal famillies retain titles and land but no real political power. Their existence is maintained by incredible wealth, posterity, charitable work, and attractive young people.

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So why do we cling to royalty and continuously elevate them? What purpose do they serve in the landscape of our imagination?

I would like to posit a few reasons:

  1. We are social creatures and always seek to rank ourselves within our community. In any school group, workplace, team or tribe, a pecking order will emerge. Despite our intrinsic belief that all humans are created equal, we still settle into this rank and file almost intuitively. Looking to those of wealth and status is an involuntary obsession. 
  2. We are always looking for mentors or guides. Within our community, those older or more powerful are natural guides. The pecking order of point #1 above, becomes a natural source of mentor relationships and so we seek to immitate and fashion our lives around these guides.

What is interesting about the narrative use of princes, princesses, kings and queens is that it becomes clear we seek to identify with and BECOME royalty. So while we both rank ourselves and look to mentors and guides, what emerges from the psychological landscape of stories and narrative is the primal human desire to BE royalty.

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Arguably, democracy takes royal privilege and gives it to the common man and woman. A person in command of their own potential, someone part of a free-market economy can become anyone they wish. They hold the power to their own lives and owe no-one anything. In many ways, we ARE kings and queens.

And yet we remain imprisoned by our perception of rank and idolisation of those yet more powerful, more talented, more beautiful, wealthier and better connected.

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What narratives do is they propel us momentarily into who we could be or could become. We become the hero of the tale, the prince or princess who discovers their true royalty, their true status. Their struggles and crisis, followed ulitmately by their ascendency to a throne of influence becomes our own journey.

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Birdman

Birdman is a 2014  comedy-drama with a stellar cast inlcuding Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts [among others]. It is an interesting commentary on being an artist in a celebrity mad world.

Most of Birdman appears to be filmed in a single shot.

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The story follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as superhero Birdman, as he struggles to write, direct and star in a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver.

The parallels between Keaton [Batman] and Riggan [Birdman] overlap parrallels between the Raymond Carver play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and  Riggan’s own quest for affirmation.

 

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We follow his feeling of insignificance in an age in which comics make billions and anyone without a Twitter account “doesn’t exist”.

When Riggan is visited by his ex-wife but all he can think of is whether Clooney [another Batman] will be more remembered than him. His wife informs to him that he misunderstands admiration for love.  He is not alone in this delusion however. His charismatic costar Mike [Edward Norton] can only be himself on stage, off stage his life is a mess. Another co-star Lindsay [Naomi Watts], neurotically awaits to be told she has “made it” by performing on Broadway.

 

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Riggan faces the harshest of New York theatre critics, one who promises to destroy him and delivers the ultimate insult – he is  a celebrity and not an artist.

Ironcially, a mistake causes Riggan to be locked out of the theatre in his underpants and forced to walk through Times Square, causing tens of thousands of shares on twitter, and thus propelling him into the limelight.

Later a failed effort to commit suicide on stage results in him being declared an exciting new method actor by the same theatre critic.

 

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The film is a reflection on success in art, fame, celebrity and integrity of being. It looks at the pressures and anxieties artists face to have their work scrutinised and destroyed by critics, at the mercy of the twitterverse, seeking to hold onto a feeling of being a part from their artistic creations.

In a profound life learning, Riggan’s daughter [Emma Stone], a world weary rehab survivor, maps out the age of the universe in dashes on a roll of toilet paper. One small square equals the entire time humans have been in existence.

The illustration reduces human hubris to one insignificant square of tissue.