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The Weekly

THE WEEKLY

Examinations of our culture and the back and forth between the expressions of the mainstream and the movements and ideas that stand to counter them. But more than a trip through the cultural continuum, it is a weekly conversation between generations, industries, and schools of thought. We ask you to join us in posing questions about our society—and about ourselves.

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

As one Western democracy after another grapples with questions of representation, nationalism, and patriotism, we find ourselves in a conundrum. We shudder to think of how others might see us, while we refuse to take a long hard look in the mirror, for fear of the monsters who claim to represent us being reflected back into our gaze. We say, “that’s not us, that’s not who we are as a nation.” But according to whom? It’s true that politicians and dear leaders from every time period have had their appalling traits and various mortifying scandals, which culturally we seem to always weather, but today feels different. Today everything is amplified, sped up, and communication is out of anyone’s control. We argue about even our own true history as well as what someone said five minutes ago on camera. The truth of who we are is up for grabs both here and abroad. So what do we have to hang on to as a nation? A bald eagle? Some stolen indigenous aesthetics? A beat up old flag? A cracked bell? It’s enough to make any American a little envious of what we left behind. Maybe figurehead Monarchy serves a purpose in modern society, as that one thing to hang onto in this period of great global societal transition. Not in its original form mind you, but the idea of it, the pomp and circumstance, the romance and stability that resists the whims of petty politics, the ever-changing moods of the electorate, and the laws and the wars of centuries of discontentment. That’s right, the citizens of the United Kingdom—sitting in the path of not only Hurricane Lorenzo (thanks climate change), but also, Hurricane Boris, Hurricane Theresa, and Hurricane Jeremy—have something quite above it all to hitch themselves to in terms of what it means to be British, in terms of their national and cultural identity. We should all be so lucky. READ MORE HERE

As lifelong British anarchist Mark Piggott declares in his new piece, “I never thought I’d say this, but my country needs the Monarchy. This Road-to-Damascus conversion to Royalist came as a shock even to me. I can’t trace my family roots as far back as Queen Elizabeth II—hers extend to ancestors who fought giants and dragons—but as far back as I can remember, we’ve always been Republican. (Not in the Amercian sense—MAGA, Uzis for babies, nuke Mexico—but in the Brit sense.) I admit it’s taken me a while to reach this conclusion. The fact that this entitled family who live in Palaces and ride golden coaches like something from a bad fairy tale can claim millions in tax-payers’ money, actively interfere in politics, screw underage girls trafficked by U.S. billionaires (Andrew), pontificate on Global Warming as they zip round the world in private jets (Harry/Meghan), while the press fawn obsessively over their clothes, babies, and demented views on religion (Charles), architecture (Charles again) and  holistic medicine (yup), it seems weird even to us—let alone to you guys in the U.S. The thought of the Monarchy being dissolved now is exciting, tempting, but also terrifying. Whatever else my country has had to endure—Wars, Plagues, Adele—the Royals have been there, providing a sense of permanence we need now more than ever.” 

“It’s hard to explain to a foreigner—or even ourselves—the ubiquity of the Windsors. In the UK, everywhere we go, we are confronted by the Queen. She’s on every stamp, every coin, every newspaper; every time we turn on the TV we see her vaguely disapproving face as she shakes hands with plebs (always wearing gloves to prevent her catching anything), hear that godawful anthem before every sporting occasion (as we sang at school, God save our gracious queen… spread her with margarine) and on Christmas Day she addresses the nation on subjects close to her heart: family, community, and the dimensions and mind-blowing actions of her favourite sex toys. (I might have made the last one up). But now, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II, the sixth-longest reigning monarch of all time, is 93: and there is the very real possibility that soon the sun will set on a remarkable reign that began in 1952, when rationing still existed, Donald Trump was six years old in flesh as well as intellect, and most Brits didn’t own a TV.” Good thing the line of succession has been predestined with pomp and circumstance and primogeniture. The old 'heir and a spare' as they used to say, with no interference from Russian or Kosovan hackers and their Facebook pages spreading algorithmic perversions of our very human desire to have a national identity in the first place. READ MORE HERE

“Some commentators have suggested the death of old Queenie might be the time to dismantle the Monarchy altogether” Piggott continues, “After all, do we really want this divided nation ruled over by King Charles and Queen Camilla? Surely the concept of a hereditary monarchy is an anachronism? Why should the hard-pushed taxpayer fork out every time Meghan wants a Cristal enema? If we really need them to draw in foreign tourists (one of the principal arguments Royalists use), why not stick them in a Downton-themed zoo where we can goad them through the diamond-encrusted bars with sharp sticks? Dissenting voices are growing, even in the Loyalist sections of the media. The persistent leaking of stories about Prince Andrew’s underage sex trafficking antics, the Queen giving the wink to the illegal proroguing of Parliament, Harry and Meghan’s redecorating costs, and the Duke of Edinburgh’s dodgy driving, are prompting even monarchists to wonder aloud if it’s all worth it. In a supposedly modern 21st century state, how can one family wield so much influence—simply by being born? Yet the destruction of the House of Windsor would do more harm than good.” Then post Brexit Brits would have to face the same identity crisis we here in the United States will forever be in conflict over. READ MORE HERE

“The concept of hereditary privilege isn’t logical. But whoever said the Brits were logical? If we’d been logical, we wouldn’t have chosen to leave the EU. If we were logical, we wouldn’t back our national football team to win the World Cup every four years. We are stupid and funny, violent and loving, small-minded and tolerant (by the way, American friends, the Meghan thing? It isn’t because she’s another Mrs Simpson, a hypocrite, a shit actress or a little bit black–we’re just not that into her). Which is why our Royals are still here after a thousand years, long after all the giants have been slaughtered. You get the Royals you wish for, and ours reflect the way we see ourselves—even if they ARE German. Bedsides, there’s one thing I haven’t touched on yet: our Royals are as hard as nails. How do you think they acquired all those castles in the first place? Wit? Charm? No: the ability to wield an axe. Don’t be fooled by the Queen’s appearance. Beneath that kindly old woman lurks a blue-blood-crazed psychopath.” At least she’s their own psychopath, fire and brimstone and silly hats for all! As we are all finding out the hard way, symbols matter, traditions matter. They are a through line between our shared pasts and our only guides to an uncertain future.

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WHO IS UNCLE SAM?

So while the Brits have all the pomp and circumstance the royal family provides as their immovable national identifiers, here in the U.S. all we have to show for our short, disputed and twisted history is a nationalistic propaganda spreading mascot of a symbol if you will, which is acutely American if you think about it. As politicians often seem cartoonish, we adopted a cartoon to represent America itself—we’re talking about Uncle Sam, of course. But who was he? How did he come to be? And why is the history around him so clouded?

There are a few different stories about how Uncle Sam originated, but the tall tale that stuck (and was made official by the U.S. Congress) is that he traces back to Sam Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York who supplied rations for American soldiers during the War of 1812. He was beloved in the city and affectionately known to people around town as “Uncle Sam.” He’d stamp the barrels of meat with the letters "U.S." and when the soldiers received them they assumed it was Sam Wilson signing his name on the barrels with the initials of Uncle Sam, but really he meant it as an acronym for the United States. Mythologies spread as the are wont to do, and eventually Uncle Sam somehow became the personification of the United States, replacing Columbia with a more patriarchal and disapproving character.

The usage of Uncle Sam in reference to the Untied States spread quickly during the war. And in New England, where there were a lot of anti-war sentiments, the references were often used to mock the war. The Bennington, Vermont, News-Letter published a letter to the editor on December 23, 1812, which contained such a reference: “Now Mr. Editor—pray if you can inform me, what single solitary good thing will, or can accrue to (Uncle Sam) the U.S. for all the expense, marching, and countermarching, pain, sickness, death, etc., among us?”

Another very American thing to do is reclaim a derogatory image or word, and it seems that’s just what the government did when it came to finally visualizing America’s favorite uncle. The famous image of Uncle Sam, created in 1917, is the work of artist James Montgomery Flagg, a painter and illustrator who was asked to create propaganda posters during WW I. He decided to create the character that we see today in order to spread pro-war narratives. He drew Uncle Sam as the epitome of the white male patriarchy that is so worshipped throughout America’s long history— a tall man of a certain stature with white skin a white beard wrapped up tight in red, white, and blue. And he wants you, and he’s certainly not asking permission but calling you out directly with a fierce glare in his eyes. We wonder where he could’ve imagined up such a pushy entitled man?

Today, Uncle Sam has grown out of favor, and has become the depiction of government as other, frequent subject of political cartoons depicting him either demanding to raise your taxes or being tied up and thrown off a bridge by those who wish to usurp our weak symbolism and replace it with newly made up nationalistic propaganda. It seems once again (to some) Uncle Sam is being used in a derogatory way, to mock the government and warn the (rich) citizens of ever rising taxes. The real life Uncle Sam was a man of the people, which was clearly lost when he was drawn up and used by the propaganda machine. It’s ironic that Uncle Sam represents the land of the free when his attitude comes off as rather dictator-y. But what would America be without a little irony?

debra schererComment