Down for the Count: America's Fascination With Royalty



By Walter Brasch


           In case you're in a funk because you think the reason you didn't receive an invitation to the royal wedding is because the Brits are still ticked off about that silly little skirmish back in 1776, the American media have a solution for you.

           The media had been pumping out news, features, and gossip about the wedding for more than three months. Almost every radio, TV, and cable network, except for maybe the Cartoon Channel, will be covering the wedding on Friday. All. Day. Long.

           Coverage begins at 3 a.m. EDT (8 a.m., British Standard Time) and finally ends before the bars close. In addition to extensive live coverage of the procession and wedding itself, ABC, CBS, and NBC are devoting five hours in evening prime time to reviews of the wedding.

           WE TV has four one-hour documentaries: "Prince William," "Kate: The New Diana?", "Will + Kate Forever," and "William & Kate: Wedding of the Century." Apparently, the cable network that brands itself as "the women’s network devoted to the wild ride of relationships during life’s defining moments," believes there won't be a royal divorce, and that the marriages of Charles and Diana (which did end in divorce), Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Elizabeth II and Philip, and Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson in the 20th century were only preliminaries. Lifetime, which bills itself as the cable network that "celebrates, entertains and supports women," has several one-hour documentaries, including "A Tale of Two Princesses," "William and Kate: A Love Story," and "Kate's Gown of Renown." The network is also cablecasting two two-hour docudramas, "Prince William" and "William & Kate."

           If you don't have access to a TV set, You Tube is transmitting the events live to computers and every handheld device known to technology. Add in all the newspaper and magazine coverage—look for multi-page photo spreads in all major entertainment magazines in the next week—plus a million or so blogs, and there's no reason why anyone shouldn't know important details, including how many canapés were ordered for the after-wedding reception.

           Americans have always had a fascination with royalty. Although we organized a revolution to overthrow a monarchy, and created a president not a king as head of State, we have spent more than two centuries trying to regain a royal image.

          Our fast food restaurants are called Burger King and Dairy Queen.

           Somewhere at any moment during the year, American girls (infants through senior citizens) are practicing their wave so they can become a beauty queen. Schools have prom queens and homecoming queens, each with their court of princesses. Every college football bowl game parade has a Miss Something and her Court. And, every winner wears a tiara.

           The media and the public dub almost every new celebrity singer a "pop princess." Just about any young ice skating star is known as an "ice princess," but the media in 1989 derogatorily dubbed Deborah Norville an "ice princess" when she took over for popular Jane Pauley on NBC-TV's "Today Show."

           Princess Cruises has the "Love Boat," but there was no love lost when Donald Trump sold his 282-foot Trump Princess for about $40 million in 1991 after he, mistress Marla, and wife Ivana had formed a Ménage a Tabloid.

           Among googobs of literary and movie princesses have been Cinderella, Snow White, and Leia who helped Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and that giant furry thing make the world safe for high-tech special effects. And, of course, there's the Lion King that made the Disney company rich enough to devour all other media companies, and take on the corporate shape of Jabba the Hut.

           The greatest baron, pursued by ace aviator Snoopy, was the Red Baron. However, for some reason the media prefer to use the title "baron" to refer to evil "kingpins"--as in "drug baron," "robber baron" and, understandably, "media baron."

           The music industry abounds with royalty. Bessie Smith was the Empress of the Blues; Roger Miller was King of the Road. Among other kings are those of Ragtime (Scott Joplin), Blues (W.C. Handy), Swing (Benny Goodman), Waltz (composer Richard Strauss or bandleader Wayne King), Pop (Michael Jackson), and, of course, Elvis, the king of rock and roll. One of the best singers was Nat "King" Cole. 

           Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul. Rap singer Queen Latifah may think she's royalty, but British rock group Queen truly has a better shot at sitting in Buckingham Palace than she does.

           Among singing princes are the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, who doesn't do much singing or rapping any more, and Prince Rogers Nelson, who became known simply as Prince, and then the singer-with-the-unpronounceable symbol, who later regained a pronounceable moniker, and has the ability to predict purple rain.

           The most famous duke is the "Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Earl, Earl, Duke of Earl" who proved in the late 1950s that anyone can grow up and write song lyrics.

           Other less royal dukes have been baseball great Duke Snider and musical genius Duke Ellington who, had he gone to baseball games, would have had to sit in segregated seating in most ball parks. Sitting with him would be the Dukes of Dixieland. Upset there are no more segregated "colored" seats, drinking fountains, and rest rooms is David Duke who once cornered the market on pointy white hats and dull-witted Whites.

           Babe Ruth was the Sultan of Swat. But no royal monikers were attached to Roger Maris who broke Ruth's single season record or to Hank Aaron, who broke Ruth's lifetime record, and had to put up with numerous racist comments. So far, no one has given royal titles to Barry Bonds, the current leader in single season homeruns, lifetime homeruns, and steroid usage accusations.

           Nevertheless, the only royalty that matters are the Counts--Tolstoy, Dracula, and Basie.


[Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and "clean" nuclear energy. The book is available at]






A Reflection On Media Coverage Of Japan

By: Inoljt,

It is rare to see a country more advanced than the United States. Americans like to bemoan about how other countries always do things better, but in fact most of this is just talk. When it comes down to it, America is usually still ahead of a given country in most measurements of development.

Japan is one of the few exceptions to this pattern. In the media coverage of its earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters Japan has often been characterized as more advanced than the United States. Its buildings are built to higher standards against disasters such as earthquakes. It is far more successful in discouraging crime and looting. Its nuclear regulators are more accountable than those in the United States. In many ways life in Japan is nicer than life in the United States.

A generation ago such acknowledgments would have been tinted by a hint of fear. Japan was supposed to be the rival of the United States, an economic threat that warned of American decline. Today that role has been taken over by China, in the wake of Japan’s economic stagnation.

Thus coverage of Japan has been generally quite positive. Indeed, sometimes the tone of media coverage has verged upon awe. If a nation with as much technological prowess as Japan was so badly damaged by the tsunami, a reporter might write, what would a similar event do to the United States? The implication is that Japan’s technology is just plain better than America’s.

Interestingly, this type of coverage is reminiscent of the coverage America’s media gave to another (totally unrelated) event. This was the South Ossetia war in 2008. At that time America’s media adopted a similar tone of awe towards Russia’s military. Russia’s army, after all, is one of the few that can legitimately challenge America’s. It is one of a very few states – perhaps the only one – that might actually win a conventional war with the United States.

The American media’s awe of Japanese technology today sounds quite similar to its awe of Russian arms in 2008. Very few countries can arouse the wonder of the American media. It is refreshing to see it happen.



An Interesting Media Convention

Here is one of Rush Limbaugh's critiques of Barack Obama:

We have 9.8% unemployment.  Administration officials say three to four months more of this, maybe, and then we're gonna start seeing jobs added.  I thought Obama had saved 23 million jobs!  I thought he and Biden had saved all these jobs.  Now the administration, well, three or four more months, and maybe we'll have some job growth. We hope. Obama demeaned the office of the presidency going on this sales pitch for Chicago's corrupt profiteering.  Everybody knows what this was about: Corruption and patronage on a grander scale than ever before.  That was the opportunity Mayor Daley and everybody saw and they sent Obama off to secure it.  And I'll tell you another reason he decided to go, not just because Daley sent him but Obama needed to distract everybody's attention from his massive failures at home and abroad.</span&gt

Ignore for a moment the argument Rush Limbaugh presents. Instead, look at his use of "Obama" and "Biden." Limbaugh does not say "President Obama" or "Mr. Obama" - he just uses plain-old "Obama."

It's a lot easier to criticize Obama rather than Mr. Obama. The addition of "Mr." or "President" elevates the man, implies that he is deserving of respect. Taking away the title relegates him to the rest of us mere mortals.

This pattern of referring to high officials (it's far from an Obama-only phenomenon) without a title is not just the domain of right-wingers. It's prevalent throughout cable news and the online web. CNN does it. Politico does it. Markos Zúñiga (founder of the Daily Kos) does it. I do it. In fact, I've been doing it throughout this entire post.

The only media organizations that consistently add the honorific "Mr." or "President/Senator/Governor" to a politician seem to be newspapers. This New York Times article, for example, addresses Hillary Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton" without fail.

The casualness with which American media refers to political figures reflects a wider paradigm. It feels itself to be on the same level (or even a higher level) than all politicians. American officials are to be evaluated on a grade-scale, their every action analyzed for hidden motives.

America's leaders are many things to the media establishment. They are characters of immense curiosity, interesting enough to power many a media cycle. They are fodder for pundits and comedians to laugh at, criticize, and tear down. They are sometimes figures to be empathized with, just normal people with a loving families and beautiful children.

The only thing they are not, it seems, are leaders.


There's more...

How Do China and Russia Think of Iran?

The United States media often - and for good reason - portrays China and Russia as reluctant to implement sanctions on Iran. Rarely (too rarely), however, does it attempt to view the issue through a Chinese or Russian lens. Americans nearly never try to understand the complex motivations behind Chinese and Russian lukewarmness.

I will attempt to do that now. How do China and Russia think of Iran?

Probably in the same way we think of Honduras. The lukewarm American opposition to the coup strikingly parallels China and Russia's stances on Iran.

If forced to state a position, most American officials probably would consider Micheletti in the wrong. By ousting Zelaya in his pajamas, Honduras revived a terrible tradition. Central America has a long history of destabilizing coups; they do terrible damage to a nation's future prospects. While Zelaya's actions may have been wrong, the army's action was unquestionably unconstitutional.

But that's exactly it. Zelaya wasn't exactly an innocent victim in all this. As conservatives have pointed out again and again, the situation isn't so clear-cut. The president, a widely unpopular figure, was pushing a poll of uncertain constitutionality. He attempted to align Honduras with Hugo Chavez's anti-American alliance and was entertaining a (constitutionally forbidden) term extension.

Thus, the United States has been decidedly lukewarm in its criticism of the coup - analogous to Chinese and Russian moderation regarding Iran. Honduras has mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; it appears to be yielding fruit. Several Republican congressmen visited Honduras; the administration"is not talking about imposing new sanctions for now."

The truth is, if the United States fully committed itself against the government - if it suddenly suspended all foreign aid and threatened military action - it would fall in a matter of days. It doesn't however, because it's rightly sympathetic to Micheletti, just as China and Russia are sympathetic to Iran.

So the next time you bemoan Chinese or Russian foot-dragging on Iran, consider American foot-dragging in Honduras. The United States has legitimate arguments against taking too militant a stance in Honduras. China and Russia may have reasonable concerns, too.

After all, they were right regarding Iraq.

-- Inoljt,

There's more...

A Fast News Week

By: Inoljt,

What an amazing week it has been.

What happened this week? Tuesday was election day, hunting season for political pundits. On Wednesday the Yankees won the World Series. The Fort Bend shootings occurred on Thursday. On Friday, the unemployment report came out: over 10%. Health care reform passed the House Saturday - a momentous moment.

If one focuses international events, it gets even more interesting. Honduras reached a political breakthrough, only to see it fall apart. The Iranian opposition launched a powerful protest on Wednesday. On Sunday Iraq finally passed new elections law, vital for the country's continued well-being.

And November 9th was the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall.

Sometimes the heavy-hitting events just don't stop coming in. Last summer and fall, for example, constituted the most eventful months in some years. There was: the upcoming presidential election, the war in Georgia, the Olympics, and a once-a-century economic crisis.

This week has been one of those times, a fast-news week to be remembered.

During fast news days the irrelevant - things like the silliness over death panels, or Joe Wilson's incivility - quickly get eclipsed by more important events, such as new unemployment data.

Then again, sometimes slow and insignificant news is preferable to consequential news. Few will ever forget what happened last September, for instance. Fewer still would want to relive them.

There's more...


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