Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Roundheads vs. cavaliers

I caught a tiny bit of Andrew Marr's jubilee commemorative series The Diamond Queen on the telly last night. I lost the capacity to fake the remotest interest after about four minutes, (it felt like four hours) of deferential blandness. It made Sunday evening with The Antiques Roadshow feel like an unstoppable tsunami of adrenalin.

Which may be exactly the sort of PR the monarchy needs. As the Heresiarch astutely noted:

...the monarchy can survive, or even flourish, when the monarch does a reasonable job, which in Elizabeth II's case has meant keeping her head down and never saying anything remotely interesting... The present Queen may well be the most boring monarch in British history... Where public affairs are concerned, the weight of inertia is typically huge. It certainly is in the case of the monarchy (or the NHS, or the BBC). Boring is good, or at least safe from too much scrutiny.

Hence the Queen's determination to keep on reigning on Prince Charles' parade. He thinks too much,* has opinions and hobbyhorses, gets people's backs up and puts the institution at risk. He gives anti-monarchists a definite target to fight against. I'm not the first person to notice that attacking a monarchy represented by the present Queen is like taking on a wily martial arts master. She's an adept, so highly trained in the beige arts that she's attained an almost zen-like state of impregnable banality. Strike at the monarchy and your fist hits empty air; there's just no there there.

Every intelligent royalist and royal functionary must be privately hoping that the succession skips a generation, or at least that the reign of Charles III (or whatever he chooses to call himself) is a short and quiet one

Blandness protects the monarchy from its enemies, but what does it do for its friends? What kind of person is actually interested this endless diet of waving and inconsequential small talk, the titles, the line of succession, the uniforms, the dresses, the Buckingham Palace garden parties, the deferential, bobbing heads of the great and the good? Personally, I wonder whether it's down to psychology; maybe extroversion is a predictor for monarchy tolerance.

If so, it might explain why people like me just doesn't just don't get the concept of our monarchy. Introversion and extroversion are two ends of a spectrum, not binary alternatives, but I'm pretty sure that I'm somewhere near  the "introvert" end of the spectrum. Energised by thoughts and ideas? Check. Drained by crowds, over-stimulation and endless small talk? Check. Hate being the centre of attention? Check. Able to tolerate being alone without being bored? Check. All of which might well inoculate me against the allure of our monarchy.

After all, the monarch's job, so far as I can see, consists of conducting reassuring national small talk and having constant interaction with random subjects, hand shaking, meeting, greeting and grooming ('So what do you do?' 'Really? how interesting.'), hosting ritual events hedged round with elaborate rules of etiquette and precedence and giving speeches vetted to remove the smallest trace of anything interesting or controversial. All of this, built around an institution that makes no coherent sense to anybody who stops to to think about it - and introverts do tend to stop and think about things - adds up to a precisely-calibrated recipe for boring and irritating the hell out of your inner introvert.

Conversely, it might be a recipe for pleasing many of the folk out there who'd identify themselves as extroverts. All that interaction's very sociable, the chatter about nothing very much is socially acceptable and proves that the monarchy aren't at all stuck up despite their immense wealth and privileges, all the events and rituals and crowds are an opportunity to bond, and the social dynamics of all those princes, politicians, aristocrats and celebrities hob-nobbing at the top table add up to one long, endlessly fascinating soap opera.  More fun than getting all serious and asking yourself what it all means or why none of it seems to be fair or to make any sort of sense. Perhaps many extroverts, being people who love networking and pressing the flesh, see nothing wrong in a system based on social climbing, in-groups and out-groups, back-scratching and knowing the right people.

If extroverts form the majority of the population, that might explain the mystery (to me at least) of the monarchy's apparent popularity. Maybe we introverts are too serious, thoughtful and reserved to get something that appeals to the more gregarious, spontaneous, flamboyant and less thoughtful majority. It's like the stereotype of the dour, serious roundheads versus the dashing, carefree cavaliers. It's just a theory, but if it's correct it'd be quite ironic. After all, names aside, the thoughtful, opinionated and probably quite introverted Charles is more like a roundhead than his cavalier royal namesakes. Which is precisely why the establishment is probably desperate to see him passed over for the throne.

*Most of what he thinks seems to be complete rubbish, but that's beside the point. Even if he was full of the most brilliant insights, having opinions that somebody might actually engage and disagree with would expose the absurdity of his position and render the institution of monarchy vulnerable to attack.