Hanging above the blackboard in the classroom of my small-town public school years ago was an official portrait of Elizabeth II. As a child, I spent hours chewing on my pencil and staring up at our head of state. I wish I could tell you I was contemplating the implications of growing up in a constitutional monarchy or my own Empire Loyalist Scots-Irish heritage, but no. I was mainly just thinking how pretty she was. With her blue taffeta sash, swan neck and plum-toned lips, the young Lizzy looked more like a princess than a queen to me. Except for the crown, of course, which was unmistakably majestic in its all its glittering, glamtastic glory.
It would be years before I came to understand the implications of singing God Save the Queen after the national anthem or why my vegetarian friend Jenny, whose parents weren't actually married, had to leave the classroom when we sang it and also when we recited the Lord's Prayer.
My own parents were no more religious or royalist than Jenny's, but they were apathetic - toward God, the Queen and ultimately their own marriage (which dissolved in a peaceable no-fault divorce).
When it comes to feelings about the monarchy, apathy is the Canadian way. The most recent poll, conducted in honour of the ongoing royal visit, found that almost half of Canadians believe the monarchy is "a relic of our colonial past that has no place in Canada today." But even after decades of English royal turmoil - affairs, divorce, tampon fantasies, fatal car accidents and ensuing conspiracy theories - we can't be bothered to elect our own indigenous head of state, as every other G20 Commonwealth nation (apart from Australia, where the issue is hotly debated) has done. Oh sure, nearly half of us say that we'd support a referendum on the subject if a pollster calls us up to ask, but are we prepared to do anything about it? Nah. We're too entranced by our fondness for the Queen, thinking how sweet she looks in that big yellow hat.
It's hard to get angry at the sight of a kindly, hard-working granny, even one who believes she was appointed to rule over us by divine right.
The confusing truth is this: Canadians are divided on the monarchy but very attached to the Queen. And affection for Elizabeth II, with her endless array of boxy pastel evening gowns and iconic gloved wave, is the thing that prevents us from acting on what we know in our hearts is the truth: that the monarchy is a faintly ridiculous, cringe-inducing soap opera about a family of rich dullards who look like horses. All arguments in support of it can be boiled down to sentimental traditionalism or self-justifying poppycock. (It's what sets us apart from Americans! Who would we put on currency instead? Kim Campbell?) But as ludicrously outdated as the monarchy is, Canadians are sensible in their loyal to it and Britons are wise not to dissolve it. Historical precedent shows that nations who turf out their monarchies in the name of democracy (think of past experiences in Spain, Italy and Greece, just to name a few) usually end up with dictators in their stead. On the other hand, just think! If the Bolsheviks hadn't murdered the Tsar and his family back in 1918, Michael Ignatieff, with his white Russian ancestry, might now be King of Russia instead of slogging it out in opposition.
Jerramy Fine, an American living in London and the author of Someday My Prince Will Come, a memoir about her own royal fixation, agrees that the Queen is the single-best argument for keeping the monarchy alive.
"She could have been silly but instead she sacrificed her entire life for her country and never, ever complains. You could argue that a system like the monarchy shouldn't exist just because someone happens to be very good at their job, but the fact remains, she's perfect."
Part of the Queen's perfection as monarch, of course, is that she's genuinely loath to interfere. If she has strong opinions, she's not interested in sharing them in public. Unlike her son Charles, who seems intent on waging a war of influence against contemporary architecture in London, among other causes, the Queen prefers to cut ribbons and go for long walks with her dogs. Better the crown is worn by a polite old woman than a man with bad taste masquerading as vision.
The great republican Thomas Paine observed that royals are deposed in the hearts of their own people long before they are ousted by acts of parliament. Amazingly, Elizabeth II has been able to persist in popularity in spite of her outdated mandate. In an era of self-involved celebrities spewing mind-numbing moral relativism, the Queen is a true icon - one who hails from a time before radical individualism took over as the guiding principle of our age. Stoic, tactful, duty-bound and utterly self-contained, she is the human embodiment of an absolutist ideal.
That it's an ideal we traded in long ago for a different value system (one that is both more troubling and hopeful by turns) seems not to bother those of us who persist in our love for Her Maj.
In other words, God save the Queen. Truly.
Presuming, of course, that you believe in that sort of thing.Report Typo/Error