Here, across the pond, many of us wonder, "What's the point?" The lead-up to and subsequent coverage of the birth of the new royal heir have cluttered news sites for a great part of the past two weeks. Reporters camped outside the hospital became so starved for news that they began to report about themselves, offering play-by-play accounts of the latest false start. Scampering about the grounds, they jumped at the smallest indication that the royal birth was indeed imminent. Finally, the royal parents-to-be arrived. A baby boy was born, and then the world held its breath for the next biggest news item: What is the baby's name? British bookies were making bank, with the odds on the name James. (They were wrong: The child's name, announced this afternoon, will be George Alexander Louis.)
For those not taken by the sheer celebrity of the House of Windsor or ill-acquainted with the perplexing preoccupation of British subjects with their monarchs, the topic confounds. It is not as if the child is predicted to take the throne any time soon. With his great-grandmother, grandfather and father all alive and well, the baby is not expected to ascend to the throne until 2070 — assuming a normal life expectancy for his forebears.
Nor will he wield any power. The British royals can spur greater attention to an issue or promote charitable giving to their causes, but their political influence is limited at best. It was not too long ago, during the low-point of the stormy (and steamy) scandals of the 1990s, that many in Britain entertained the idea of abolishing the monarchy altogether. Indeed, several nations once part of the former British Empire have left the Commonwealth or are considering doing so.
Paraphrasing from the movie "The King's Speech," the British monarchy has been reduced to a family of actors, playing a role sanctioned by society. They are just as reliant as the typical Hollywood starlet on fickle public opinion. And indeed, we treat them as such. Mobs of flashbulbs and throngs of fans surround the core members of the royal family wherever they go. Their pictures are pasted on the daily tabloids. The paparazzi give them no relief.
For as much as we treat them as modern celebrities, we give them no slack for personal misdeeds and eat up their dirty secrets. One can only imagine the child's understanding, as he grows, that his purpose will be to eventually lead this family of actors in all but name. To lead or live poorly is to risk the dissolution of the monarchy. This new future king is already beholden to public opinion, and every aspect of his being — from every syllable of his name to his eye color — will be scrutinized.
The British monarchy relies on the good graces of the people for its survival, and though the more cynical among us may say that the royal family intentionally fosters a cult of celebrity, its relationship to the British people is more mutual than it is parasitic. As recently as April 2010, the United Kingdom ranked among the least patriotic of European nations. Even though recent events (the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the 2012 Olympics) may have stemmed the slow disintegration of national pride, Britons will tell you that seldom does anything come close to the raucous festivities that accompany July Fourth or our still-potent belief in American exceptionalism.
What does drive the Brits to hoist their Union Jacks and party on the Thames are the symbols and rituals of their national tradition — embodied ever so well in the monarchy. The monarchy is not only a glitzy old family but also a symbol that binds the British people to each other and to their past. Like them or not, everyone in Britain is bound to know the monarchy and have some opinion on its members. It is a universal topic of conversation, a wellspring of jubilation in good times and a shared source of sadness in bad times. In an era of questionable politics and policies and shifting demographics, it is good that there is at least one institution that Britons can look upon favorably.
Admittedly, the current level of excitement from our cousins across the ocean does seem a little strange, but let's not forget that a great many Americans are also thrilled about "the world's most famous baby." And for whatever reason young George has been on your mind (or even if he has not), let's wish him all the best and marvel that such pageantry, traditions and narratives are still alive and well.
Matthew Alonsozana, a Howard County resident, is a student at Boston College and an economic analyst who has studied and lived in London. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.