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Why We Are Obsessed With Royalty

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The much-anticipated birth of Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge brought the royalty frenzy to yet another climax.  To my relief, the dominance of the over-due arrival of Little Georgie in the headlines of major news agencies had the effect of making my self-diagnosed “royalty obsessive-compulsive disorder” not stand out.  On the other hand, my case of R-OCD might not be standing out because this disorder has evolved into an epidemic.

When I first became aware of royalty in the late 90’s, the word was only pretty much personified by Princess Diana.  Somehow, her legacy, magnified and dramatized by her tragic death, allured my 10-year-old self into an anachronistic world of grandiose titles, fortified hierarchies, and stringent protocols.  In the age when the Internet was still a luxury rather than a necessity, I started a collection of newspaper clips on anything royal.  In fact, the collection expanded so fatly that the nail on which I hanged the newspaper clips was bent to cut a permanent crack on my wooden bedroom door. With my growing collection of newspaper clips, I witnessed Kate Middleton’s rise from obscurity to aristocracy, along with her contemporaries in the other European royal households with parallel life trajectories – Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, just to name a few.

But of course, the highlight of my royalty fascination came last summer in London.  On June 4, 2012, I lined up along the mall in front of Buckingham Palace to see the Queen make an appearance for the last day of her Diamond Jubilee celebration.  As if witnessing her limousine procession out of AND her horse-drawn carriage back into Buckingham Palace was not enough to exhaust my good luck, I miraculously ended up being smashed against the Buckingham Palace gate to receive the Queen’s regal wave at me. Well, me and  the 100,000 people behind me.

Just as I was drunk in my fantasy over a storytelling session with my imaginary grand-children about that June day rendezvous with the Queen in London, my Mom pinched me and, with that refutably maternal candidness, asked: “Hey! Why are you so obsessed with royalty?” While I dodged my Mom’s questioning that day because it was simply too formal of an interrogation for something that I held deeply personal, the latest frenzy surrounding Prince George makes the question for me and other R-OCDers almost inescapable: Why are we obsessed with royals?  Well, here are a few reasons that I have fleshed out from my own introspection as well as interviews with a few royalty-obsessed friends.

Royals are eye candies that are pleasant to look at.

Admittedly, there have long been contentions about the physical attractiveness of born and bred royals.  The media is rife with unfriendly comments about Prince William’s receding hairline and Princess Beatrice’s weight.  And for years, I thought Princess Madeleine was the only born princess in Europe who came close to the commercialized standard of beauty.  However, this aspect of lack in the blue-blood genetic make-up seems to be compensated by marital unions with attractive spouses.  Princess Diana, Grace Kelly, and Kate Middleton are a few prime examples of royal spouses who have graced the historical stage with their classic beauty and enduring elegance.  These ladies do not only have beautiful faces, but also figures, hair, and complexions that are to die for.  Better still, the royals are always immaculately dressed, donning gorgeous outfits that are designed and tailored for them by the fashion gods themselves.  A peruse through royals’ pictures feels like flipping through a textbook on modern fashion labels.

Royal romance caters to the lay fascination with fairy-tale love stories.

Royal romance fits perfectly into a vision that is created and sustained by make-believe story-lines spearheaded by the Disney enterprise.  Many young girls grow up dreaming of their “princes” who would sweep them off their feet.  While for most women, such a covert desire is destined to be buried with time, it is somehow awakened and lived vicariously through dramatic life trajectories of individuals like Kate Middleton.  In an age where romantic love is either plagued by cynicism or replaced by practical concerns, royal romance, such as that of Kate Middleton and Prince William, shines the bright torch of a love that overcomes mounting hurdles and bridges abysmal gaps.  Royal romance is the “happily-ever-after” story on steroid, and a chick-flick broadcast live.

Royalty personifies living history and enduring traditions.

Aside from the romantic selling point, royalty, for the most part, is serious business.  From an objective standpoint, royalty is an important institution, which inherits the continuation of history and carries the emblem of a system that has stood the test of time.  The protocol and the pageantry may seem pompous and unpractical, but they are of value in the same way as national treasures that are securely guarded in world-class museums.  Royals are unique in that their births alone afford them a space in history.  Their lives, unlike those of commoners, are traceably yet mysteriously connected to the ages past and the futures to come.  Royalty is the salient embodiment of traditions, rituals, and even patriotism that may be otherwise too abstract to grasp.  Unsurprisingly, I have noticed that a nation’s loyalty to their royalty is often positively correlated with the tenacity of its attachment to traditions.  On the other hand, the American fascination with royalty seems to help fill the void in the national psyche, which longs for a cultural and historical anchor.

Royalty embodies our projections of a desire for immortalization.

As a social psychologist who is interested in understanding the fundamental motives of the human psyche, I often wondered if the fascination with royalty might have anything to do with certain basic psychological needs.  As I mulled over my own thought and emotional processes, I have received an inkling of an epiphany.  I have come to realize that maybe beyond the pretty faces, beautiful dresses, and lavish pompousness, royalty contains my projection of a desire or a longing for something enduring and eternal.  To a large degree, the idea of having immortalization as one’s birthright, as many of the royals do due to the historical nature of their status, runs counter to the majority of human experiences.  Where a royal member waves and smiles his or her way to a tombstone in the Westminster Abbey, a layperson labors through his or her lifetime in order to achieve some sort of recognition, if not simply trying to make ends meet.  Admittedly, this comparison is staggeringly cruel.  The gap between the two kinds of life is deeply unsettling yet profoundly intriguing at the same time.  While human beings are programmed to avoid coming face to face with threatening reality, they have no problem converting it into a fixation, a fascination.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a possibility that we are at some level following and admiring royalty out of a repressed sense of envy and a profound desire turned outwardly?

Joy Tang
Joy Tang grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan, where people were living for food before being a “foodie” was hip. Her dream to see the world couldn't have had a more exciting start than central Georgia, where she bagged her B.A.. Currently, she is finishing up a Ph.D. in social psychology; however, most of her friends believe that she travels the world for a living, probably due to her love for waking up to the rising sun in foreign countries. Otherwise, she can be found reading, writing, or engaging with art and culture one way or another.

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