Indignity Vol. 2, No. 74: Has the world changed?
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE DEP'T.
Who Was the Queen to You?
The crackpot American political cult leader died two years before he could see his unrequited archenemy, Queen Elizabeth II, in the grave. The monarch—and, in LaRouche's conspiracist model of the world, international drug-trafficking boss—died, unbelievably enough, on LaRouche's birthday.
To imagine the queen as a scheming global gangster boss was an act of flattery, really, granting her job a clarity and purpose that were hard to identify on the plane of normal reality. She was an organizing symbol of something, for millions upon millions of people, but of what, exactly, was entirely variable. She embodied the oppressiveness of empire, and also its managed decline; she was supposed to stand for a stable constitutional order, though the country can barely come up with a government.
She was news, even if the biological fact of the day barely counted as an event: a 96-year-old woman, whose previously robust health had been known to be failing for a few months, died peacefully at home. At one of her homes. We should all have so lucky an exit.
Nor was there much other news attached to that one big fact of news. It was not as if Pope Francis had died. The pope is old too, and increasingly infirm, and sooner or later he will go. But that inevitability comes with a number of questions whose answers are non-inevitable: will this pope outlive his currently surviving rival ex-pope, or quasi-antipope? Whose forces, or what third set of forces, might prevail? Will the global revanchist movement re-take Rome?
As desperate as the monarchists and monarchy sympathizers were to declare war on someone in Elizabeth's name—on her ungrateful former colonial subjects, or on contemporary culture as a whole—their defenses, the insistence on the profound meaningfulness of their grief, seemed fundamentally insecure. The deeper point of the monarchy, if you believe in monarchy, is that it isn't supposed to rely on an individual person. The official tweet announcing the queen's death referred, without elaboration, to "the King," capital K, fait accompli. The Queen was dead; the King was going about the appropriate business.
What was there to mourn? The Queen had already done every bit of the job—staying alive and embodying the nation—that a person could be expected to do: more than anyone before, and probably more than anyone will ever do again. The longer the monarchs last, under modern medical care, the less chance there is of ever seeing a young one again, with 70 years of life before them. Already, the natural result of Elizabeth's longevity was that King Charles III became the oldest person to ascend to the throne.
She lived long enough, crucially, to blur the difference between her personal history and institutional history. When the 21st century royalists weep over the grand and timeless nature of the British crown, the images that go with it—her glorious coronation, the fairytale royal weddings (if not the royal marriages)—are of the 20th century inventions built up around her reign, the monarchy invented for mass media. The television cameras didn't incidentally show up to witness the ceremony of Elizabeth becoming queen; they were the ceremony themselves.
"Compared to the other European dynasties, the Hanoverians had the reputation of being inept at ritual; by all accounts Queen Victoria's ascension was an unrehearsed mess," the author Anna Della Subin wrote. "Yet by the early 20th century, as the monarchy increasingly became marginal to politics with the rise of common suffrage and the Labour Party, the palace began to invent a host of splendid traditions for itself that often looked back to a mythic 16th century past for legitimacy."
Subin wrote that passage, in her book Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, as a bit of context for the story of how the people of a certain part of Vanuatu watched Prince Philip's royal yacht sail by their island in 1974 and decided that Elizabeth's obnoxious husband was the son of the volcano god Kalbaben. The islanders began worshiping him from afar, sending him tribute and questions, and occasionally getting answers back. When Philip assured them, in a letter on palace stationery, that they were required to pay taxes to their new federal government, they simply "waved it as proof of their exemption."
All the different publics of the world could take what they needed from a would-be universal public symbol. Vanuatu got its independence in 1980, keeping the Philip cult intact. If royalty comes and goes, through Elizabeth, the House of Windsor turned it into celebrity, the kind on which the sun never sets.
Omnipresent as she was, even all these years after we threw off King George III, everyone in America could still find their Queen Elizabeth angle. In Baltimore, for the local perspective, the press got a quote from Cal Ripken Jr., talking about the time the queen attended an Orioles game in 1991. "I had the opportunity to meet her briefly and she was extremely friendly and engaging," Ripken said. "Baseball provided me with many special experiences and that was certainly one of them."
It was certainly one of them. A perfect little wrist-wave of a quote, from one iconographee to another. No wasted effort. She showed up every day and played, in good times and bad.
Reggie Jackson went for a punchline, gently: "Now we all know I was innocent ! Amen! RIP Queen E !" The would-be regicide could have blown the roof off Twitter if he'd gone with a pure "Mission accomplished" or "Got 'em." But who would risk it all for retweets, when you've already been your own candy bar?
SPORTS UPDATE DEP'T.
There Is Only One Rougned Odor
ROGNED ODOR, CELEBRATED in Episode 11 of Indignity's Orioles Minute as the greatest bad baseball player alive, condensed his extremely particular legend into a single play against the Toronto Blue Jays this week: hitting a solid eighth-inning single, recklessly trying to stretch it to a double, getting beaten by the throw to second base by an absurd margin, and then...going into a swimming slide that somehow twisted around what should have been an easy tag, reaching the base safely, and then rolling past it to flop on his back, clamping his fingertips on the bag—and possibly bracing himself against the umpire—to avoid oversliding it entirely. Topologically, it was almost indescribable; narratively, it was precisely captured by the play-by-play announcer saying, "He is going to be out by 30 feet. No, he's safe! He beat it! What?? How??" Odor went on to score the first of the Orioles three runs in the inning, a rally that put a must-win game for Baltimore securely out of Toronto's reach.
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