The American media, en masse, have been rudely and casually disrespected by the British royal family. When the royals visit next month, the media should show the same level of respect they have been given.
In preparation for a Dec. 7-8 visit to the United States by the duke and duchess of Cambridge, better known as Prince William and Princess Kate, Buckingham Palace alerted U.S. media on Thursday that the royal family expects all media personnel to show “respect” by wearing proper clothing when in the presence of the heir to the throne and his wife.
This was no request; it was a command. “Journalists wishing to cover Royal engagements, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, should comply with the dress code on formal occasions out of respect for the guests of The Queen, or any other member of the Royal Family. Smart attire for men includes the wearing of a jacket and tie, and for women a trouser or skirt suit. Those wearing jeans or trainers will not be admitted and casually dressed members of the media will be turned away. This also applies to technicians.” Politico’s Dylan Byers reported that the order was delivered through the U.S. Senate Periodical Press Gallery, meaning that the U.S. government passed on to American citizens a direct order from the Queen of England. Amazing.
The insults are multiple. First, the order is not motivated by the royal family’s altruistic desire to have the American press show respect for the American guests of the Queen’s grandson and his wife. It is to compel the American press to show respect for the duke and duchess. Americans are sharp enough to know that a command to show respect is itself an act of disrespect.
In America, You Have to Earn Respect
Americans are constantly lectured by our own elites, as well as foreign ones, that we demonstrate our provincial rudeness by failing to learn the customs and traditions of other nations and cultures. How inconsiderate we are to speak English to a French waiter or slap an Englishman on the back. Does this not cut both ways? Is the British royal family exempt from this universal standard of global etiquette?
Had they bothered, the House of Windsor would have learned that in America respect is earned, not given upon command. We bow to no one unless we are wearing inflatable sumo wrestler costumes during a break between the second and third innings of a minor league baseball game, we are about to destroy an opponent in a martial arts competition, or our first name is Barack and we are clueless.
“Respect,” the notice says. It is not respect the royals are demanding; it is deference. And Americans show deference to no one. (Have you seen what we say about the most powerful man in the world?) Respect we understand. Respect is an important part of our republican culture. We show it by saying “thank you for your service” to passing men and women in uniform. We show it by not showboating as the ball sails over the outfield wall. But deference? That we abandoned when our ancestors picked up their muskets and marched to Lexington green.
In America, respect is intimately connected to the concept of dignity, which over here retains a firm republican grounding. This is the country where dignity is within the grasp of every man and woman, no matter how “common.” Dignity cannot be bought or inherited. It comes not from blood lines or titles or wealth, but from self-respect, self-reliance, and the understanding that you are no better—or worse—than anyone else who respects the rights of others and pulls his own weight.
American dignity is not reflected in the shine on one’s shoes. It is reflected in how one obtained those shoes and how one wears them, whether they are work boots or wingtips. Anyone with a passing understanding of American culture would know that a family that lives off of the toil of others has no right to tell a working man what he can put on his feet. There is more dignity in the scuffed sneakers of a TV cameraman than in the polished high heels of the duchess of Cambridge, because the cameraman bought those sneakers with his own money.
Americans Don’t Even Dress Up for God
Americans do not bow, and we do not dress up at the order of Baron Carrickfergus. Few Americans dress up even for God these days. In evangelical churches across the fruited plain, “Sunday clothes” are out, jeans are in. God does not tell us what clothes to wear, but our reporters and photographers and boom-mike operators are supposed to squeeze into a skirt suit or a blazer and tie for the descendants of George Frederick Ernest Albert Saxe-Coburg-Gotha? Don’t think so.
British and European visitors have always been scandalized by American fashion. In the 1800s, it was because Americans dressed too well. They did not know their proper stations. In “The Americans: The Democratic Experience,” historian Daniel Boorstin noted that the British consul in Boston in the 1840s complained that American girls who worked as servants were “strongly infected with the national bad taste for being over-dressed, they are, when walking the streets, scarcely to be distinguished from their employers.” In the twentieth century, the “national bad taste” switched to being under-dressed. College students made casual dress a middle-class identifier, and most Americans want to appear middle class. It is considered a defining characteristic of Americans that we dress casually, which makes it all the more insulting for the Windsors to demand that the American media dress “smart” when in their presence. They are saying: Please don’t dress like Americans. We don’t want to look at that.”
Such disrespect deserves a response in kind. But because of the nature of the media business, it is impractical for everyone to show up in jeans, implying: If you want publicity for your trip, you will let us in as-is. The media business is hyper-competitive, and what is more American than outmaneuvering your competition? Someone would put on a skirt suit and get the scoop as well as a raise.
The only option is the silent protest. Put on the tie—over the shirt that British physicist Matt Taylor wore while being interviewed about his team’s landing a space probe on a comet. It would be #shirtstorm2.0 and a great thumb in the eye. Or better yet, be subtle. The British never expect Americans to be subtle. Wear the tie. Just make it this one, featuring the image of General Cornwallis surrendering to George Washington at Yorktown. We can speak softly and carry a big message when we want to.