Queen's Jubilee 2012: Why Are Americans Obsessed With the British Monarchy?

The 2012 Diamond Jubilee, an international celebration marking the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, begins this weekend in England. The four-day holiday will include events such as a maritime parade on the River Thames, a concert and afternoon picnic with 10,000 citizens, and a morning service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. There will be permanent dedications, such as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to remember her forever. 

The love affair with the Queen may as well include Americans, who are already following this weekend’s events closely. British symbols of royalty, aristocracy, and colonization seem to oppose American values of capitalism, democracy, and freedom. Moreover, the Diamond Jubilee is expected to cost 275 million pounds (not to mention Will and Kate’s wedding, which cost 52.6 million pounds). This pairing of the governance and private wealth does not normally sit well with Americans.

But ironically, everything Americans love about the British is rooted in royalty and empire: Will and Kate, the English language, the tea, the posh accents, and the new hit TV show “Downton Abbey.” 

What explains America’s obsession? 

We may love the British for what we secretly want. Americans lack the ancient, rich history that gives Europe its sense of long-established culture. Indeed, early wealthy American colonists often copied British fashions to feel “cultured.” The sense of epic, glorious grandiosity can be alluring for Americans even today, when our global dominance is being questioned. We may look to Britain in particular, because it was our mother country; a runaway teenager still has her parents’ blood.

Or, we may love the British for what we secretly see in ourselves. Americans contradict ourselves more often than we like to admit. While we claim to defend equal opportunity, Occupy Wall Street has shown us that we ourselves have an aristocracy.

Finally, the British royalty is just another celebrity family that lets us project our idealized lives. Princes and princesses may look classier, but they are still celebrities. Moreover, these royal celebrations fulfill our fairy tale dreams. Disney animation and the American Dream have made us hopeful for a perfect ending, and the monarchy offers that with sparkle and glam.

England has plenty of admirable exports. Shakespeare and the modern navy for example, deserve praise. Yet America is obsessed with the Diamond Jubilee, which calls attention to our own aristocracy and fulfills just another celebrity obsession.