When the British royals recreate “The Crown” the worldwide most famous royal family celebrated a historic ceremony with a centuries-old history for the first time in just under a century at Charles III’s coronation, which happened among celebrations, protests, memes, and online analyses. This point in history brought to light the major issue that royals today are facing: how to remain relevant in a society that no longer recognizes kings and queens, divine rights, and, in general, the entire mythological-symbolic framework that supports the continuation of a royal dynasty.
After all, a royal family’s standing is predicated on the respect that the rest of the world accords it; this respect must be upheld through the narrative of digital media, which is tasked with providing a daily window into the lives of these characters. While up until recently, the social media royal narrative consisted primarily of official photos and pronouncements that followed a very established pattern.
For instance, on the day of the coronation, the prince and princess of Wales’ Twitter account shared a number of video teasers showing the new heirs to the throne focused on preparations for the ceremony. The music, direction, and photography appeared to have taken heavily from the polarizing Netflix series The Crown, which is essentially preserving the myth of the royals for a new generation of viewers.
In particular, the video showing the family leaving the house and arriving among the soldiers on parade in a carriage with epic music playing in the background that truly sounds like it belongs in a Netflix series raises the suspicion that the royal family has started to use the devices of a filmic narrative to blur the line between a reality that downplays the royals’ significance and a fictional show that instead heightens their mystique. The same might be said about the slow-motion shot of Kate looking out of the carriage, which enhances the Princess of Wales’s stare almost lyrically.
The British royal family must exist in popular myth and entertainment because they cannot exist in politics. If one considers, for instance, the institution of the Royal Warrant, which is an endorsement provided by the royal family to specific British goods and contributes significantly to their sales, they are comparable to influencers.
The cinematic depictions of them on the eve of their coronation, which are very different from those of them during state visits or national addresses, are only the most recent part of a larger story that has combined their royal and celebrity statuses. The royals have admirers, critics, and theorists who scrutinize their interviews in the same way that Marvel fans scrutinize potential easter eggs and rumors about upcoming projects. The royals themselves employ narrative strategies taken from a television series about them, casting their life in the context of a contemporary epic, showing how the similarities are full today. For better or worse, the coverage the Windsors receive is based on the premise that their royal status is a truth that is objective which makes their personal matters the subject of semi-mythical narratives and justifying their existence in a self-contained manner. All stories, tabloid gossip, documentaries, and scandals serve only to increase the royals’ visibility. The royals are deserving of attention due to their status, and they are significant because they do.
Similar to how historical monarchs and royals have justified their rank via the work of poets for millennia. The idea of the royal family was formerly created through the press and conventional mass media by civic sense, but things have changed. It is this program and others like it that keep Elizabeth II’s myth alive for a disillusioned and teledependent society. Without a popular TV show like The Crown, entire generations of viewers would have already forgotten the early decades of Elizabeth II’s reign.
Scandal and controversy are only the flavoring in a tale that perfectly proves the existence of the royals as a fundamental truth rather than contesting it. In contrast, the other eleven European royal families are essentially unknown to the general people abroad. For example, if the king of Spain or the prince of Belgium were to appear before them dressed casually, no Italian would be able to identify them. And the reason for this is that, visibility apart, there isn’t a TV show that chronicles the activities of that family, making them internationally famous. There may very well be drawbacks, betrayals, and baseness, but as P.T. Barnum famously observed in the nineteenth century, “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” there is just publicity.
A national myth that, at its core, feeds on constant publicity and has existed since the Middle Ages has been supported and propagated over time by the constant presence of the British royal family on the Western cultural horizon, including Meghan Markle’s interviews with Oprah, Prince Harry’s book, the media’s ongoing obsession with Diana, and the existence of series like The Crown, the soap opera The Royals, and films like Spencer. The video of William entering the stage during a simulation of his speech and preventing just before he speaks as in a cliffhanger was created as a result. Today, the royals must tell their stories, and they do so from the realistic but aestheticizing standpoint of television seriality. The camera follows the royals as they address the audience by defining them from behind the shoulder, uses balanced shots, and uses cinematography and the width of field typical of a film. There is an emotional storyline that connects the princes with characters in a movie; they are not the icy demonstrative movies of princes talking and grinning before the viewers while shaking hands and touring shops or metro stops.
Ironically, the way to convey this subliminal message is to mimic the very series that allows at least two generations of audiences have known and followed the lives of Queen Elizabeth and her descendants, trying to transfer the emotion evoked by the series onto themselves. The message of these videos is not just that the resides of these royals resemble a movie, but that movies and series about them are almost a pale imitation of their reality. Even the countless memes featuring Prince Louis’s mouthfuls and bored snorts, for instance, only serve to further solidify his presence and recognizability in the minds of billions of social media users who repost him with the caption “Literally me,” unaware that they are honoring his significance and subtly recognizing his royal lineage.