Mikael Askergren © 2000
In his essay for Merge Magazine, Mikael Askergren concludes — by way of the drinking habits of Sweden’s king Carl Gustaf, the documented and widely publicized anorexia of Sweden’s crown princess Victoria, and the recently derailed career of the former “Crown Prince of Swedish Rap” Ken Ring — that there is no reason for ridiculing or dismissing the monarchy as institution. The crowned heads of Europe always get the last laugh.
Find out why Ken Ring, the once much hyped “crown prince” of Swedish rap music, never will be “king,” and why Ken’s failed career has everything to do with the real king of Sweden. Learn why the eating disorder of a Swedish princess was a blessing in disguise. Let Europe’s reigning monarchs teach you how to be the “king” or “queen” of your own destiny. Let neither the affected ranting of prissy royalists, nor the indignation of radical republican activists fool you, because pampered or ridiculed, or just simply ignored, there are no teachers better suited for the job.
Exhibit A: The Oslo Luncheon Unopened Whiskey Bottle Incident
This is what happened when the king of Sweden, in his capacity as head of state, and as part of his official state visit to Norway in 1993, hosted a luncheon at the Swedish embassy in the Norwegian capital Oslo:
Let’s Do Lunch
The two mini-kingdoms (Sweden: 9 million people, Norway: 5 million people) have had excellent diplomatic relations for generations. The work at the Swedish embassy through the years has mostly consisted of routine bureaucracy and dull trade representation. One can therefore easily imagine the excitement about the luncheon — a welcome interruption to the daily, humdrum routine. There was not going to be a social event of the same grandeur, or splendor, at the embassy for a very long time to come.
No effort was spared in making the embassy luncheon a perfect experience for both Norwegians and Swedes. The preparations were all going very well — with one exception. According to his spokespeople, the Swedish king was a dedicated whiskey lover and connoisseur. If the embassy would not be able to offer the king a sip of his very special favorite whiskey, he would be very disappointed.
The king’s taste in whiskey, however, turned out to be so exclusive that it was impossible, in all of Norway, to get hold of a bottle of the brand in question. No one had even heard of it. Time was running out, and there was still no special whiskey. The staff was starting to panic. Finally, as the story goes, at the very last minute, thanks to the cooperation of diplomatic colleagues in Great Britain, bypassing customs bureaucracy, a bottle was flown as diplomatic mail, directly from the Scottish distillery to Oslo.
However — and this is the point of the story — when Norway’s and Sweden’s royal families were casually helping themselves to drinks, the king’s specially requested whiskey was left untouched. The king did help himself to whiskey, and more than once at that, but each time he picked just any bottle; the bottle closest within reach, as it were.
The Whiskey Connoisseur Persona
Why brood over an unopened bottle of whiskey? The luncheon on the whole was a great success. Yet, to those who had gone to such lengths to get hold of the bottle, the king’s disinterest was not easily forgotten. What was all that time-consuming fuss and contraband diplomatic mail all about, when it turned out the king didn’t even care?
According to my insider witness, there could be only one explanation. In a majority-rule democracy, the monarchy depends on the goodwill of the people. The regent in a constitutional monarchy has no political power, and only performs ceremonial duties. Therefore, the goodwill of the people depends on the regent’s charisma. A king too dull for television could be a threat to the system. Without a king, all the king’s men would be out of a job.
And back in the days of the Oslo incident, the Swedish king was fairly new at his job. His public image was weak. To improve his public image, his staff had created (with or without the king’s knowing) a false persona — “The Whiskey Connoisseur King” — as a step in the campaign to perpetuate the monarchy in Sweden. However, the king must have “slipped up,” and forgotten to look for the bottle of whiskey on which his “interesting personality” depended.
In the above version of the anecdote, the king’s false connoisseur persona was reduced to a ridiculous attempt at defending an equally ridiculous institution under threat. But something about the smugness of this interpretation is not right. To help me make my point, let’s suppose for just a minute that the king instead was said to expect the embassy staff in Oslo to cut off their left arms. Suppose the king would have passed by the big pile of amputated limbs without even noticing. Our amputee insider witness would then have been less smug. If you volunteer your left arm to the king, and the king does not even care, the joke is not on the king or the monarchy — the joke is on you.
What if the king really is a whiskey connoisseur? What if the bottle’s label simply did not catch his eye? Maybe his mind was on other things? Perhaps, but these objections really do not matter, because what if the king instead had in fact helped himself to the “right” bottle? One would still be wondering what made perfectly sensible men and women — adults — fret and fidget about a trifle. Why did the embassy staff not call the Royal Palace in Stockholm to discuss alternatives before getting nervous and going crazy? What stopped them from even picking up the receiver?
After all, the Swedish king is some four feet tall. He’s no better looking than the next guy, too dull for television, not a setter of fashion trends, and he’s no patron of the arts. He possesses neither the physique, nor the military or political might to even remotely motivate his inherited status and position in society. In addition, the members of the Swedish royal family are some of the wealthiest people in the land, yet have never been too proud to let the taxpayers pay for their lifestyle. The royal family shows little moral stature when shamelessly accepting these handouts from people worse off than they are. In other words — no reason to grovel.
Imagine how embarrassing it must be to any specimen of the homo democraticus to be caught with one’s pants down, so to speak, groveling in the presence of royalty. To save face, a fraudulent account of the series of events would have to be fabricated. For instance, the Oslo whiskey incidence must be transformed into a joke at the king’s expense — when the joke is really on you.
But, the price for this maneuver is high. The entertaining anecdote starts performing the task of a devious decoy, taking everyone’s mind off the real issue at hand. (The real issue at hand, by the way, is this: what should be done about a monarch who expects his co-citizens to behave as if they were the subjects of a feudal warlord?) A saved face, some humorous release, and peace of mind — but at the price of the perpetuation of a despised institution.
If anecdotes at the monarchy’s expense, such as the one from Oslo, are in effect decoys that help perpetuate the monarchy — and if the monarchy were under threat because of the king’s lack of charisma — could in fact the king himself (or the king’s press relations people? or his queen? Cherchez la femme!) have planned for the Oslo luncheon to purposely give people a reason to ridicule the monarchy? To the delight of conspiracy theory fans, this would suggest a very complex and John le Carré-ish plot. A whiskey connoisseur persona had to be invented. A suitable time had to be chosen for the king to “slip-up” and forget the bottle on purpose. There would even have to be someone infiltrating the embassy staff, setting the wheels in motion by pointing out — in case no one had noticed — that the bottle had not been opened. And so on. As we can see, this gets way too out of hand to be seriously considered. Something has been overlooked.
All it would take to abolish the monarchy would be a majority decision in parliament. Yet, taking any such action is always explained away. In spite of Sweden’s long tradition of labor party government, there has always been a constant and overwhelming majority in favor of the
Intellectuals and artists simply ignore the royals, or pity them. All in all, that makes for a large total number of “slip-ups.” Too many for each and every one of them to be accidental or coincidental. As we are about to see, there is nothing ridiculous, pitiful, or coincidental about the monarchy.
Sigmund freud, in his The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), successfully and seductively argued that simple mistakes, misplaced words, misheard phrases, and, not least, the freudian slip — obscenities that reveal themselves in the form of slips of the tongue — all are “mental acts with a purpose,” and have a meaning. They, in fact, expose the “true” nature of the perpetrator, revealing what is hidden behind a well-adjusted facade. They even reveal subconscious desires and motives that on a conscious level would be too shameful and embarrassing to acknowledge.
The fact that the monarchy is a contradiction to the concepts of democracy and majority rule does not mean that the monarchy in any way is a contradiction to contemporary society. The monarchy is a kind of governmental freudian slip, revealing the true (i.e. obscene) nature of contemporary society. The degrading fuss and schlepping about a bottle of whiskey in Oslo, is a typical freudian slip, revealing the true (i.e. obscene) nature of the homo democraticus. Monarchy in Europe in the 21st century is no paradox — because the European homo democraticus is not who he thinks he is. In today’s society, neither religion nor political idealism provides an arena for the sublime and the existential. The monarchy is the only remaining theater for our inner most, politically incorrect (obscene, masochistic, metaphysical) desires. It’s the only remaining arena for homo democraticus’ true self. The perpetuation of the monarchy is crucial to him, and he will, in fact, go to any length to defend it, and will fabricate the most incredible excuses for doing this — while all along claiming to be an egalitarian and a democrat.
The monarchs of today thus need not defend their privileges, the homo democraticus does all the defending for them. As we are about to see, in “Exhibit B: The Man Who Won’t Be King”, the homo democraticus will ferociously lash out at anyone who dares challenge the monarchy as sanctuary of the politically obscene. Challenge any other worldly or religious authority, and be applauded; challenge the monarchy, and be doomed.
Exhibit B: The Man Who Won’t Be King
Less than a year ago, up-and-coming rap artist Ken Ring was at the center of attention of the entire Swedish music press. After a string of chart-climbing hit singles and much hype, he was generally referred to as the “crown prince” of Swedish rap music. Ken Ring, however, will never be “king.”
To challenge authorities has always been the backbone of rap music. Ken (as a performer, he goes by his first name only) immediately looked the part: young, black, immigrant background, good looking, cocky, outspoken, not letting racial prejudice or social stigma stop him — all in spite of a disadvantaged adolescence in post-war social housing suburbia.
Ken’s promising career was, however, instantly brought to a complete stop on the evening of August 14, 1999, at one of the Stockholm Water Festival’s many outdoor concerts in the city center. The fact that the stage was just across the street from the Royal Palace must have triggered Ken’s fatal mistake: very worked up, and getting even more worked up from the audience’s feedback, Ken started crying out derogatory comments about members of the royal family.
The audience was in shock. The newspapers were in shock. Ken was immediately arrested — for instigating a riot (!). Concert dates were canceled over night. Ken’s CD was removed by righteous shopkeepers from the shelves of shops. Ken’s CD sales immediately dropped from 23rd to 86th place, all in the week after the concert.
No member of the royal family was present during the concert. They all reside in the summer palace outside the city. This did not stop the police from doing the arrest. The royal family never had to take legal action, or do anything to defend themselves. The CD buyers, the police, and the media did all the defending for them.
Ken had in fact not only lashed out against the royals, but — as would be expected of any self-respecting rapper — against the police, the government, you name it. However, only the royal abuse made it to the newspapers and public opinion. There had earlier been some grunting in the media about ken making homophobic comments in public, but this had never caused the same public outcry — or drop in CD sales — as the royal abuse. It took Ken only five minutes to ruin what had taken him a whole life to build. If Ken had only resisted the temptation to lash out at the royal family, he would still be producing, and selling, catchy hit singles.
Instigation of a riot is a very serious charge. But, the charges against him were eventually dropped two months later, after Ken had publicly denounced his own behavior, and had written a letter of apology (!) to the two abused young royal siblings. The letter was duly published by the keen Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet (October 30, 1999).
The letter reveals Ken Ring as a truly broken man. Once butch, all of a sudden spiritually castrated. Remember, he grew up in the roughest of neighborhoods, and had to win hundreds of battles every day to get to where he was. At first glance, it is hard to believe that all it took was some fatal ad-libbing during an outdoor concert to end it all — emasculated by the monarchy, no less; a supposedly benign and toothless beast.
But it actually makes perfect sense. Unless you are yourself a king/warlord/dictator, and dispose of the means to defeat all opposition with force, the only outcome of challenging the monarchy will be failure. In addition, the resulting moral and spiritual collapse in the challenger will be all the more ruthless — not in spite of the lack of political substance to support the monarchy’s privileges, but as a direct consequence of the “nothingness” of the monarchy.
To help make my point, let’s assume for a moment that Ken, instead of going for his singing career, had set out to climb Mount Everest — and failed. In that case, the public would not have set out to break him, and he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be broken. The horrible thing about challenging the monarchy is that it is not “real” in the way a mountain is real. There is no worse defeat imaginable than loosing to “nothingness,” because not only have you lost, you’ve also had to grovel and beg for forgiveness from “nobody.” Ken set out to fight windmills — and lost. It’s no surprise that after such a loss, one hardly remains a man.
Thus, today’s monarchy is no laughing matter, and definitely not something to be toyed with. It has overwhelming metaphysical authority. Challenge the monarchy, and your losses will be greater than you ever imagined. Winner takes all and the looser is screwed for good, left in a state of eternal disgrace from which there is no remedy.
Exhibit C: The Eating Disorders of a Princess
My first encounter with her majesty the crown princess Victoria of Sweden was in a hip and crowded coffee shop in Stockholm, many years ago. The teenage princess and a friend of hers (a girl of the same age) came in the door, stopped just inside, and looked around for somewhere to sit. All tables and chairs were taken, no one seemed to notice the new customers (except me), least of all the over-worked staff. Less than a minute later, the princess, her friend, and bodyguards had left the place.
I immediately noticed her free flowing hair, and her casual, inconspicuous, over-sized baseball jacket à la cheerleader américaine. I did not, however, immediately realize who she was. She was shorter than i would have expected (like so many celebrities, i gather), but her big, beaming, dark eyes and beautifully arched eyebrows finally gave her identity away. She was a looker, and i remember thinking: if she looks this great on a casual weekday lunch break — imagine how good she must look in full regalia.
My second, and to date latest, encounter with the princess was several years later, in the summer of 1999, in Karlaplan, a very posh address in Stockholm. She was standing on the sidewalk next to a limousine, casually chatting, probably waiting for someone to join her party. She looked even better than the first time. The same Audrey Hepburn eyebrows and eyes — but this time a young woman, no longer a schoolgirl. Gracious limbs. Very fit. No jacket this time. The weather was warm, and all she had on was a tight top, with the DKNY logo printed across her chests... er... i mean chest.
I never allow myself to be impressed by fame, or royalty, and I never look twice when recognizing celebrities in the street. But I have to admit that at the sight of such good looks, I lost my metropolitan cool for an instant and improvised a fraudulent reason to stroll past her once more, just to steal a second glance.
Taking Her Picture
Swedish ladies’ magazines have had pictures of the princess on their covers almost every week since she was just a baby — the princess on the cover sells magazines. The attention, and the media’s interest in her person, has always been tremendous. The royal household, of course, has never hesitated to accommodate the media’s demand for photo opportunities. A popular crown princess is expected to help perpetuate the monarchy. Her picture is everywhere, and impossible to avoid. However, after getting a good look at her in the coffee shop, almost not recognizing her, I realized that all those pictures never really do her justice. Not that she looks that terrible in photographs — it’s just that she looks much better in the flesh. I remember thinking: a young girl of an impressionable age could probably have her entire self-perception distorted from this extraordinary situation. Wherever you turn, you see pictures of yourself in which, for some mysterious reason, you look very different from the way people perceive you in real life.
Poor Little Rich Girl
In the time span between my two sightings (several years), tabloids and women’s magazines started publishing pictures of the crown princess getting skinnier and skinnier. By the time the royal household decided to confirm the rumors of her anorexia, the princess had already left for the United States to receive treatment, and to get away from the pressures at home. For the next couple of years she was staying as a paying guest in the house of a compatriot family, taking classes at an American Ivy League university.
The strategy of the royal household appears to have been successful, at least under the circumstances. As we have seen, the monarchy does not have to defend itself. The people will do the defending. As the princess left for America, the royal family pleaded with the Swedish media to leave their daughter alone for the duration of her stay abroad. This request was respected. Today, years later, the monarchy seems to have lost no momentum, in spite of media’s cease fire. It turns out all those photo shoots in her early days probably never really mattered when it came to ensure the institution’s popularity.
In 1999, the princess was back in town, looking quite herself again — as when I had a good look at her in Stockholm’s Karlaplan. She has talked about her ordeal in several interviews for national television. In the future, she hopes to be able to be of help to young people with eating disorders. Everyone cheers her on. The monarchy was never more popular.
A pretty face is not enough for a future queen and head of state. The double standards of the homo democraticus make him deny the metaphysics of his capricious attitude towards the monarchy. He will desperately search for some tangible, worldly reason (if ever so tiny and transparent) for perpetuating the monarchy. Without it, the inner conflict between his subconscious, obscene desires on the one hand, and openly declared egalitarian ideals on the other, will become insufferable, or — as we saw in the case of the lashing out against Ken Ring — dangerously explosive. (Famous American psychologist Leon Festinger would have called this ambivalent attitude towards the institution of monarchy an open-and-shut case of cognitive dissonance; look it up in any psychology textbook.) The crown princess is therefore expected to have something to “offer” the public. A “personality,” for instance.
Her anorexia may very well turn out to have been a blessing in disguise — to the two-faced homo democraticus, that is. Before her disorder, the princess was just a kid without discernible talents or faculties. Today, she is a young woman with “a past.” Suffering makes people “interesting.” The future regina has found her raison d’être in a “suffering, charitable personality.” Or at least the public can go on telling itself that she has, because personality, charisma, talents or skills are actually not required for a constitutional monarch.
The homo democraticus, ironically, still insists on dividing the world into metaphorical kingdoms (the “king” or “queen” of this or that industry, or art form). But contrary to popular belief (and to the doctrines of scholars, for that matter), when it comes to what really matters, the real monarchs are endlessly more successful than the metaphorical “kings.” The “kings” of capitalism and meritocracy, like the rest of us, have to cultivate their personalities, and adapt to the expectations of the market, perhaps to employers, and to society. They have to achieve, or they starve. The constitutional monarch, on the other hand, is free to choose not to achieve anything, doesn’t need to adjust to anyone’s expectations, and can just exist, just be. There is no greater freedom.
Today’s monarchs are freer, and more in charge of their own lives, than anyone else, and freer than their ancestors. This is because today, only the metaphysics of the institution remain. The monarchs have no power — and thus have no responsibilities. All that remains for them is to enjoy their privileges. The fortunes and the prestige that their ancestors once robbed from enemy dynasties, enemy tribes, and from ordinary people could all be taken away tomorrow, by a majority decision in parliament, since the royals no longer dispose of the military, and other necessary resources for defending their fortunes from confiscation. But the royals need not defend them. The people do all the defending for them, and gladly fabricate all kinds of narratives to perpetuate the situation. If you as a monarch should be in need of a public image (because of the double standards of hypocrites), a personality will be invented for you (“whiskey connoisseur,” “anorexia charity worker,” or what have you).
It would not have been possible for the monarchs of centuries past to live this way. The ermine cloak was in those days always stained with blood. Muscle, violence and force did the talking behind the glittering facade. The ancestors of today’s monarchs had to tread the path of thieving, looting, rape, terror, threat, abuse, manslaughter, and murder to found the dynasties and kingdoms from which the benign and cleansed institution of constitutional monarchy later sprung. Bloodshed and the use of brute force soiled the institution in its past, but also supplied today’s powerless monarchs with their magnificent, purely metaphysical platform. The most pure and magnificent incarnations of the monarchy as idea were never in 17th century Versailles or 19th century Schönbrunn. The greatest, purest triumph of the monarchy is now. A monarch, who in march 2000 still is the reigning head of state of a European nation, has managed to shamelessly transcend every limitation and every principal of the contemporary majority rule democracy. Who would have thought: king Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden — the great transgressor, the great Nietzschean superman, der Übermensch.
You Go, Girl!
All the neurotic maneuvers of the homo democraticus to avoid coming to terms with his true (i.e. politically obscene) sentiments play right into the hands of the monarch and of the succession. These double standard maneuvers allow for an anorexic teenage girl with no extraordinary qualities to be so cocky, so impudent and shameless as to claim the nation’s royal throne. And who can blame her? Why not become queen and head of state if some 7 million out of 9 million free citizens insist you should enjoy all the pecuniary (and other) privileges of being monarch. You go, girl! Go for it! I know I would.
Conclusions: The King and I
So, what have we learned from all this?
Lesson #1. Never challenge the monarchy in public. Public insubordination and irreverence will, without fail, be fatal.
Lesson #2. If you have to worship anything at all, choose an object of your adoration that you are willing to consciously confess to both in public, and to yourself. Any other position is unhealthy.
Lesson #3. The French, American, and Russian revolutions changed the course of history a long time ago. Europe’s constitutional monarchies have been regarded as dated anomalies of government for as long. Artists and thinkers have belittled the monarchy for generations. Still, the remaining constitutional monarchies in Europe are by no means accidental anomalies. Standing on the threshold of the 21st century and the third millennium, who would have thought: monarchy rocks! Monarchy rules!
Appendix 2010: Monarchy Still Rules
In the sensationalist forehand publicity for a recently published, already infamous book about the Swedish king (Sjöberg, Ruscher, Meyer: Carl XVI Gustaf – Den motvillige monarken, Stockholm 2010), the book’s writers and publisher claim to present facts that are supposedly “damaging” to the Swedish king and the institution of monarchy in Sweden.
But i believe columnist Britta Svensson in Swedish tabloid Expressen got it right: the king’s press conference in response to the book’s publication was by no means a fiasco, it was in fact sheer genius, and Carl XVI Gustaf “still rules.” Read her column here.
Essay by Mikael Askergren published in Merge Magazine (Stockholm, London, New York),
• H.R.H. king Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden appears to be very fond of his new cowboy hat.
• Ken Ring, Sweden’s “crown prince” of rap — who never will be “king.”
• German television reporting on the 30th birthday of crown princess Victoria.
• Cover of Sjöberg, Ruscher, Meyer: Carl XVI Gustaf – Den motvillige monarken, Stockholm 2010.
Who would have thought, Mikael Askergren discovers that Rupert Pupkin, the protagonist of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy is also something of a Nietzschean Übermensch, just like Sweden’s king Carl XVI Gustaf:
Survival of the Fattest
More by Mikael Askergren about cognitive dissonance:
When Prophecy Fails
Meat and Morality
More by Mikael Askergren about the institution of monarchy in general — and the crown princess in particular:
Untitled (H.R.H.Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden)