Submitted by Susanne Bacon
A few weeks ago, the world was following another British Royal Wedding, and US magazine covers were plastered with the happy young couple. As these pictures slowly fade in our memories, the internet is following suit with images of a brand-new duchess traveling with “the” Queen, and social media are overflowing with people’s remarks about her “wild hair” and other comments. Quite a few of them citizens of non-royalist democracies, by the way. So, what is it about the fascination with anybody crowned?
My mother country’s aristocracy lost all its entitlements after WW I. There are still a whole lot of people around who have the titles and the property, but nobody talks to them more deferentially than to anybody else. I have sung a solo aria before who would have become Austria’s emperor when I was about 16 years old. I had lunch at a private salon with Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell at his castle in Stein, Germany. None of them wore a crown at any time. But they had that aristocratic demeanor – and mind me, I don’t mean that in a negative way – that would have enabled their heads to bear a crown anytime. Something that made you respect them. Something that made them stand out when they entered a room.
The United States, as we all know, has been a democracy from its very beginning. We call people rather by their given name than by addressing them by their last name and calling them Mister or Miss(is) if we can help it. It’s considered more egalitarian. If you want to stand out, do something outstanding. Ah, and here comes the crown!
Well, not everywhere and not at any cost, of course. But when you celebrate a birthday, quite a few people get to wear a paper crown. A famous fast food chain hands out paper crowns to customers celebrating their birthday party at their locations. Western Washington has its daffodil princesses as much as my German county has its wine princesses. High schools have their homecoming queens (and kings), sometimes with an entire court elected by school mates – yes, a crowning ceremony is obligatory. No such thing back in Germany – we have our school speakers and class presidents, the first involved in school policy, the latter being the liaison between a class and their primary teacher. Very democratic, totally without glamor, certainly without any sparkling crowns. And they abdicate with the ending of the senior year – they are simply obsolete after the final exam.
And then, both our democratic nations have their beauty pageants, some for participants who can barely yet toddle, some for young adults, some for seniors. In the end, it is all about receiving a ribbon and wearing a crown, maybe even getting an additional mentioning on your town sign such as “Home of Miss Washington …” followed by the year she received the crown. Ah, to wear that crown … To feel like a princess …
Is that sparkle really all we need to feel special or to dream special? Why do we hanker for stories that involve so much glitter and glamor, even better aristocracy, though we claim we are above and beyond being subjects? Why do we introduce crowns for events into which people are voted or which at best are a birthday?
And then with a bolt we realize that an American citizen has just made our very dream of tinsel and rhinestone crowns her reality. Only that it includes a real crown. Only that she wasn’t Cinderella, but already a self-made woman and probably gives up so much personal freedom that nobody seriously would envy her. And let’s face it – least of all the weight of a real crown…