The United Kingdom
If we could see ourselves as others see us
Britain's Hereditary Disease
Charles Windsor, son of Britain's hereditary head of state, “is now the morose, balding, New Age crank and licensed busy body that we flinch from today”.
The Windsor family are a “dowdy, feckless, can't stay-married shower with whose names, let alone doings, it is impossible to keep up. There are so many of them! And things always have to be found for them to do”.
“Only his (William Windsor's) supposed charisma can save the country from what monarchists dread and republicans ought to hope for: King Charles III. (Monarchy, you see, is a hereditary disease that can only be cured by fresh outbreaks of itself)”.
Charles Windsor is “a man who – like the fruit of the medlar – went rotten before he turned ripe!”.
“Many of us don't want or need another sacrificial lamb to water the dried bones of a dessicated system”.
Christopher Hitchens in Slate.
"If the British were a different colour and spoke a difficult-to-learn language, he is convinced every American would find them utterly bizarre. He professed to find the eccentricities of Britain's class system every bit as puzzling as Japan's supposed oddities". The views of American academic Earl H Kinmonth, "who divides his time between Japan and the UK".
As quoted by David Pilling in the Financial Times Magazine(16.2.08)
Falling Short of Democratic Ideals
Today’s Britain, between its botched war on terror and lack of checks on executive power (to name but a few flaws), falls far short of the democratic ideals so paternalistically espoused by (Prime Minister) Brown and other British leaders. . . Far from leaving behind democratic institutions and cultures, Britain bequeathed to its former colonies corrupted and corruptible governments. . . Added to this was a distinctly colonial view of the rule of law, which saw the British leave behind legal systems that facilitated tyranny, oppression and poverty rather than open, accountable government".
Caroline Elkins writing in The Washington Post on Kenya’s ethnic divide.
The Windsor Mob
"Queen Elizabeth fairly begs to be matched with Svetlana, Livia Soprano’s one-legged Russian nurse, whose prosthesis Janice stole when Svetlana wouldn’t give Janice Livia’s record collection, which Livia bequeathed to Svetlana fair and square, prompting Svetlana to ask two friends in the Russian mob to break Janice’s ribs. It’s been a while since I read The Guns of August, but isn’t this how the queen’s grandfather, George V, got mixed up in the Great War? Svetlana had a way of flicking the ash off her cigarette that could only be described as regal".
Timothy Noah in a Slate discussion of HBO’s The Sopranos.
The Art of Class
"The British may not be especially great at painting, but when it comes to honorifics they’re pretty hard to beat.
Nobody is better at assigning superiorities of quality and rank. Distributing distinctions - baronetcies, knighthoods, badges and initials, sashes, robes, and garters - is something they pursue with enthusiastic flair.
All of this takes effort. The queen can’t do it all herself. What’s required is a vast and delicate apparatus for dispensing recognition to certain individuals. London’s National Portrait Gallery is part of that machine.
So if you go to see Great Britons, which is now on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, don’t go searching for great art or you’ll be missing the main point
The point this show keeps making - and making rather splendidly - isn’t that some paintings are better than other paintings. It’s that some people are better than other people."
The Washington Post, July 2007
"In Charle's and Camilla's (Windsor) set they use funny vowels, too, but they're the right funny vowels: ‘House’ is pronounced ‘hice’, ‘Very’ is ‘virry’, ‘Bouncy’ is ‘bincey’.
Don't try this at home."
From a Washington Post review on Tina Brown's biography of Diana Spencer. July 2007
The political fallout of these scandals remains to be seen, but the media lesson is already pretty clear. The British mess shows that, for all our bellyaching about the American media, compared with the rest of the world our journalism is a model of sanity.
For an outside observer, it's hard to overlook the fact that behind the scenes, the two are in bed together anyway. The British government funds the BBC through a tax called a "license fee," and a board of governors appointed by the prime minister runs the network. Despite these ties, the BBC has a global reputation for editorial independence, and on the surface this story seems to underline that status. After all, the Gilligan piece challenged the legitimacy of Blair's decision to go to war.
There's an almost comic, Gilbert-and-Sullivan quality to all of this, particularly the notion that a news outlet will somehow improve through scrutiny by government-appointed overseers. The (newspaper) story continued: "Under a four-point plan ... the [BBC] governors will receive more-frequent reports on editorial policy; conduct regular surveys on public perceptions of BBC impartiality; invite outside analysis of editorial content; and ask bodies such as the Royal Institute of International Affairs to produce detailed reports on significant areas of coverage."
Can impartiality be regulated? Thankfully, Americans don't worry about such things. In our intelligence scandal, money's not changing hands in the background, government to media, and nobody has slit his wrists. The American media are gunning for the president in a fashion that looks, next to the British analogue, downright healthy.
Class: still a limiting factor
"When I started writing in the early 1970s I was struck by the ambition of American writers-William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Updike, Roth. I thought that perhaps it was something to do with class-with the free-roaming nature of American society that allows a writer like Saul Bellow to be so much of the street on one hand and yet such an unashamed intellectual on the other. And there seemed something rather pinched about English writing that maybe had something to do with class and our education system and our inability to talk for a whole society. Since then writing in this country has got a lot bolder and has had infusions of new blood, as it were. ... But I still feel that it's quite hard for a British novelist to be so engagingly intellectual, so inquisitive and awestruck about the world, and yet be down there on the street. I still feel that class is a limiting element."
Ian McEwan, 3 January 2002, The Guardian
Thinking About a British Republic.
" It is no longer unthinkable that the British people might one day abolish the costly institution and rack up a multibillion-dollar windfall by selling off the royal palaces, jewels, cars etc."
Washington Post, June 2000.
The Mother Of All Parliament.
"Her Majesty's Subjects hated the House of Lords. They hated it so much, they insisted on calling it "Another Place." So Prime Minister Blair marched over to Another Place, where he threw out almost everybody who had a hereditary right to sit around a giant wool sack and root for the Conservative Party. Today Another Place is filled with appointed hacks and cronies who feel much more legitimate, now that they aren’t surrounded by a bunch of hand-me-downs."
Timothy Ireland in Slate magazine, July 2000
This is how the Washinton Post saw Britain at the end of August 1998.
"With a free fall in the financial markets, a governmental crisis in Russia, a tough new crackdown on Irish terrorists, and the impending visit here of the scandal-plagued U.S. president, what was the biggest story in the British press today?
"Princess Diana, of course."
The British press was still in "All-out wretched-excess mode" the American newspaper scoffed.
Slide into Obscurity Halted?
February 1999. A New York Times Magazine article praised Britain for ending its slide into obscurity. Reform of the undemocratic House of Lords was cited as evidence for the turn-around.
Britain's First Family.
"I really think the time has come to consider offering some sort of amnesty to this hunted tribe, some sort of pardon. It can't be royal, but it might be merciful. Some ranch, game reserve, protected haven, a regal theme park where kings can be kingly, queens beloved and princesses never run off with con artists. Where royalty is cherished and everybody knows his place. Real, live Royals, in their natural habitat. Among the very last in captivity."
Christopher Hope, author of "Darkest England" (Norton) in the Washington Post National Weekly Edition, January 19, 1998.
The Special Relationship.A Louis Harris poll published in September 1998 showed that more than 80% of Americans saw Britain as an ally of the US. About 90% saw Canada as a friend of the United States, however. France, Australia and Israel were seen as friends by significantly fewer Americans.
Reinventing the Royals.
The Washington Post reported in January 1998 on the "royal" family's hesitant make-over in the aftermath of the death of "Princess Di." It wrote of the frightening response of large number of British people to that death, that "All the latent dislike, all the natural xenophobia the Brits feel towards foreigners boiled over - and was directed, astonishingly, at the Queen of England and her distressing "mixed" ancestry."
Different Takes on Teletubbies
"Already Americans are calling them the Fab Four," reported the British Independent in April 1998 of Teletubbies, the TV show for 1-year-old children that has just been exported to the US. Well, not all Americans were. US News and World Report claimed that the programme would harm the mental development of children who watched it.
Finally, A Canadian Commnent
"The royal family, the Queen herself excepted, has entertained but hardly inspired its loyal subjects with antics fit for soap operas and C-grade movies. Most of the family members are intellectually vacuous and profoundly snobbish. The ditzy Prince Charles, the future king if you can believe it, looks bemusedly lost in whatever circumstances he finds himself. His estranged wife, Diana, died in the car of her umpteenth lover during a tryst in Paris, her death the occasion for secular canonisation by populations weaned on television sitcoms and People magazine."
Jeffrey Simpson, Toronto Globe & Mail