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I have a problem, though not one that most people would consider as such.  No matter how much I try, I cannot seem to look away from the British royal family.  This is a bit puzzling to me, because wealth and power do not really impress me much, certainly not in the absence of good character.  Why would I be so drawn to the activities of what is very arguably an anachronistic institution populated by a good number of entitled, spoiled, blundering, and out-of-touch characters?

I find my fixation somewhat embarrassing, because it appears to be inconsistent with how others perceive me – i.e., a serious and cerebral fellow who has little interest in celebrity.  I have tried to look away from media reports on them, but that only lasts for a while, and then I am drawn back in.  I try to compromise by skipping some of the reports that are of less interest to me, but the shame still stings.  So, I think I am just going to have to do my best to be at peace with this silly fetish.  However, even I have my limits.  Six hours of video on Harry and Meghan?!  Please, Amazon, spare us!

I have not thought this problem serious enough to consider seeing a psychotherapist about it.  I have decided instead to analyze my “addiction” on my own.  What I came up with are several possible explanations for it.  (I did not include the snicker some of us get when we see the female royals wearing their hats that look like UFOs that had crashed into the side of their skulls.)  Some of these explanations have more merit than others, but some are undoubtedly embarrassing.  Take a look below at some that I came up with:

Constitutional and Ceremonial Role:

The royal family carries out a number of constitutional and ceremonial functions that would need to be carried out even if the royals were not around.  Just by way of example, the monarch is responsible for inviting political leaders to form a government, opening parliament, and advising the prime minister at regular meetings between the two.  The monarch and working members of the royal family also provide the imprimatur of the state on social service facilities (e.g., hospitals, old age homes), charities, distinguished individuals, products, and much more.  These activities provide recognition to those who have benefited the nation and encourage fundraising for worthy causes.

While some of these functions could be performed by the prime minister or other luminaries, the royal family provides an apolitical source of agents to perform them.  In parliamentary countries without a monarch as head of state, such as Israel, much of these constitutional functions are carried out by a “president” – usually a respected figure who, like the British monarch, is supposed to be above politics.  And, of course, you do not need a royal to open a hospital.

Clearly, however, a royal family is well-placed to perform these functions.  The monarchy, with its centuries-old legacy, imbues these activities with gravitas and glamour.  No one can offer matters of state and important events the dignity and reverence they need quite like a royal.

Historical Continuity and a Link with the Past:

As noted above, the monarchy is an extremely old institution that provides the country (and countless foreign fans of the monarchy) with a sense of continuity with the past.  Such longevity is said to instill stability in the nation, perhaps explaining why the more stable European countries tend to be constitutional monarchies.  Especially in these times, when cultural and political change occur constantly, a sense that there is something that remains constant can be quite comforting.  Much of the emotional outpouring that followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II can be attributed to the psychological need for such continuity.  The monarchy does change, of course, but it does so slowly, often being dragged kicking and screaming along the way.

Perfection and Pageantry:

It can easily be said that no one puts on a show quite like the British monarchy.  Everything they do, from weddings to state dinners, is performed flawlessly (most of the time).  Even their idiomatic language and accent is consistent across the family and is meant to offer a regal elegance and formality to their activities (although I will say that I find King Charles’s manner of speaking utterly haughty, pretentious, and irritating).

I admit that I am not immune to the charms of the monarchy’s commitment to perfection and theatricality.  For example, I did not know why I tuned into Harry and Meghan’s wedding when I decided to take a peek at it.  I do not know them and do not find them particularly appealing.  But I said to myself that I would watch the wedding for a bit and then turn it off.  Well, you can guess what happened – I ended up watching the whole event from start to finish.  I was mesmerized by the perfectly choreographed and executed event.  The ceremony was a wonderful work of theater, with just enough customization and modernization to make it not seem too anachronistic.  (Unfortunately, I was not invited to the reception that followed the ceremony that was hosted by then Prince Charles in honor of the couple.)

No matter what we may think of the members of the royal family, it is hard not to have some regard for such relentless impeccability.  There is something attracting about an activity being performed perfectly, especially in these times when errors and sloppiness abound.  And, of course, the impressive pageantry is a key component of the monarchy’s link to the past and ceremonial roles referred to above.

Fantasy Indulgence:

We are all brought up with a fascination with, and yearning for, the charm, power, and pleasures of life as a king, queen, prince, or princess, and the luxuries of living in a palace or castle.  The role of princess, in particular, is romanticized by countless little girls who insist on wearing a princess’s gown and tiara for Halloween (or even just to play around the house).

It is easy to understand how people would project such fantasies onto members of the royal family, imagining that they are living the curated life of the royals.  Royal weddings become their weddings, beautiful gowns and jewels become their gowns and jewels, and royal banquets become their banquets.

Celebrity and Schadenfreude:

Media reports on the royal family fuel the same fascination and excitement as are elicited by news about any other celebrity (particularly in America).  Members of the royal family frequently appear in public, and there is an insatiable demand for coverage of their every coming and going, as well as every bit of minutiae about their lives from their favorite bands to what sneakers they wear.  Interest in Prince Charles’s romantic escapades and Princess Diana’s exploits was ravenous around the world.  In that regard, the royals have a great deal in common with Beyonce or Brad Pitt.

And with that obsession comes the perverse pleasure experienced by countless followers when events conspire to embarrass or humiliate (or do even worse to) a member of the royal family (also known as schadenfreude).  As much as the public might take pleasure from the glories of royal life, they undoubtedly wreak some enjoyment when a mighty Windsor falls.  Few could avert their gaze from reports of Prince Andrew’s depravity or another divorce in the royal family.

[For those of you who enjoy biting satire of the royal family, I would recommend watching The Windsors on Netflix.  If you can excuse the fact that the actors do not look much like the royals they portray, the writing does a wonderful job of depicting the royals as dim-witted, scheming louts.]