There are weeks, and this has been one, when you feel you've fallen into a wormhole and woken up in an episode of Downton Abbey. Maybe the one where the butler expresses his displeasure by failing to move his lips when he says, "My lord." Wait, that's all the episodes.
You might think it was 1914 and not a hundred years later, given the forelock-tugging and genuflecting before our Windsor overlords. I might have to check my Fitbit for the date, and pop another handful of neuroenhancers to assure myself that we are living in a year that rewards merit, and not a year that assigns privilege based on whose womb you curled up in for nine months.
This has not been a good week to be anti-monarchist. First, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited New York, and a city that once could have had "Épater le bourgeois" as its motto settled instead for "Kiss aristocratic heinie." The New York Times consulted an etiquette expert about how New Yorkers should behave in front of two young people who seem thoroughly pleasant but are unremarkable except for an accident of birth. (New Yorkers must not speak with their hands too much, the etiquette expert said, as if there was a chance they would run into the couple at Shake Shack.)
The Duke met with the President, and the woman who might soon be president. Pop stars and sports stars and normal people lined up to greet them, and the world saw just how weird and anachronistic the rules governing the family actually are. For some reason, the nice, 32-year-old helicopter pilot is expected to be addressed as "sir," and no one is allowed to touch his wife. Seriously; the Duchess is, in essence, untouchable, as LeBron James (a person whose talent actually qualifies him for some kind of throne) found out when he breached "protocol" and put his arm around her for a picture. I feel that all women should now call themselves "duchess" to avoid unwanted touching on the street and subway.
Doesn't anyone else find this strangely antiquated? Canada, with its constitutional and historical ties to the monarchy, is hardly immune from the weirdness. Unlike me, Victoria's new mayor, Lisa Helps, isn't even a republican, and she still got dumped on by the monarchist crowd. Ms. Helps, as you may have heard, decided not to pledge an oath to the Queen when she was sworn in. (Half the new city councillors also avoided the oath.) From the reaction, you'd think she has boiled a corgi alive and drunk the broth from a Wedgwood cup.
"No, I'm not anti-monarchist," Ms. Helps told a TV reporter. "To be completely honest, it just seemed outdated." There, she put her finger on it: The oath is outdated. The whole system is outdated. Being controlled, however symbolically, by an unending line of unelected persons who live thousands of kilometres away, is about as useful in the modern world as a crumpet paddle. Ah, but tradition, monarchists say, and history! Well, we abandon traditions all the time that no longer serve our values. This is why, today, I am allowed to vote.
There are any number of excellent oaths that Ms. Helps could have made as mayor that would have been equally relevant to the city's history: To shop at Munro's Books, or to walk along the beautiful inner harbour every day, or to never serve teabags in a cup. How would a pledge to the Queen have made life better for the citizens of Victoria? Yet Ms. Helps has been forced to apologize for her sensible decision.
When Ontario's Supreme Court denied a challenge to the oath being used for new citizens, the ruling noted that the oath is not in fact directed at a person, but instead honours our system of government, its rules and laws. One of the rights afforded under that system (one of the responsibilities) is for people to fight to make things more fair, more democratic and more representative, if they have a mind to. Less imperial, if you like.
I once had to pledge allegiance to the Queen, which I did with my fingers crossed behind my back – not a gesture that carries any legal weight, I'm sorry to say. I was fine with the Queen but bothered by the bit about "all her heirs and successors." What, all of them? Even the lame ones who believe in homeopathy? Just because of the nursery they sprang from? The Beatles were playing on the loudspeaker at the time and frankly, I would rather have given my oath to Ringo, who at least sang Yellow Submarine.
I have a feeling my monarchist readers are even now reaching for their Princess Diana memorial pens to write me angry letters, which they may address to "Elizabeth Renzetti, Traitor, Going to Hell in a Handbasket." It is their right, and our privilege, to disagree.