Monday, September 18, 2017

Trump, Gibbs & NCIS, and the Queen @3QD

I’ve got another post up at 3 Quarks Daily, Donald Trump is no Leroy Jethro Gibbs:

The title tells it all, I measure Trump against the central character of one of the most popular scripted shows on network television, ever. Trump comes up short.

After establishing a sense of NCIS I focus on the distinction between one’s interests as a private person and one’s interests and duties in an organization. In Trump’s case that organization is, of course, not merely the Federal Government, but the nation. That distinction is real for Gibbs, but doesn’t exist for Trump.

But how do you dramatize that distinction? It’s easy enough to assert it, and one can write about it at considerable length. But making it REAL in a dramatic medium is different. You can’t have characters giving lectures on political and legal theory. Well you can, but it would be very boring.

For the most part NCIS leaves the distinction unstated. It’s there in Gibbs’s actions, and the actions of other characters, but they don’t philosophize about it.

I then give an example from the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown. The distinction between private interests and public duty is central to that show, and there is considerable talk about it. I present one such example, but without comment. In this post I want to comment on that example. Before that, however, I want to present a speech from Shakespeare.

The Rejection of Falstaff

Sir John Falstaff is one of the most beloved characters in Shakespeare. He’s a down-and-out knight who spends his time drinking with his pals and trading in petty crime. Prince Hal, heir apparent to the throne of England, is one of those pals. When Hal ascends to the throne, becoming Henry V, Falstaff approaches him at the coronation, gleefully anticipating good times to come now that his boon companion, good old Hal, rules the land. He addresses the King as “Hal” and is severely, unexpectedly, and very publically reprimanded (Henry IV, Part II, Act 5, scene 5)
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.
Notice how Hal explicitly distinguishes his two selves, the private person (“the thing I was”, “my former self”) and his new status as king (“our person”, “we hear you”). As a consequence of this distinction the King must necessarily have a different relationship with Sir John than Hal did.

Such a speech is natural to the occasion, the coronation of the King. For it is in that ceremony that a person leaves one social status (a term of art in the social sciences) and assumes another, that of monarch. This is a type of ceremony that anthropologists call a rite of passage. Christenings, baptisms, bar/bat Mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, and graduations are other examples of rites of passages. In each case a person leaves one station in society and assumes another. Depending on various factors, such ceremonies may be simple, with few present, or complex and staged before a large audience.

A complex ceremony before a large audience is a kind of theater. As such, it is a natural way for a dramatist to explore and present, at some length, the distinction between private and public person. That is what Shakespeare did in Henry IV, Part II.

The Humbling of Philip Mountbatten

And that is what Peter Morgan did in episode five, “Smoke and Mirrors”, of The Crown [1]. The scene I’m presenting, however, is not the coronation itself, but a conversation that takes place before the coronation where Elizabeth is discussing the ceremony with her husband, Philip. I’ve inserted some comments into the dialog. You might want to first skip the comments and read the dialog straight through.

Philip has been urging Elizabeth to televise the ceremony. She resists for awhile, then (c. 39:05):
Elizabeth: I'll support you in the televising.
Philip: You won't regret it.
Elizabeth: On one condition. That you kneel.
Philip: Who told you?
Elizabeth: My Prime Minister. He said you intended to refuse.
Philip: I merely asked the question. Whether it was right in this day and age that the Queen's consort, her husband, should kneel to her rather than stand beside her.
Standing beside her would, of course, signify that they are equals. And certainly they are in terms of biological and rock bottom social being. We no longer believe that aristocrats are fundamentally different from commoners (blue blood you know) nor that monarchs commune with God in a way that no other mortals do. Recall, moreover, that the English monarch is also the nominal head (Supreme Governor) of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth: You won't be kneeling to me.
Philip: That's not how it will look. That's not how it will feel. It will feel like a eunuch, an amoeba, is kneeling before his wife.
Elizabeth: You'll be kneeling before God and the Crown as we all do.
We are all equal before God and so signify in kneeling. But that God is invisible. What people, the public, will see – and Philip explicitly remarks on this – is a man kneeling before a women. That’s what is physically there. This other stuff, God and Queen, that’s abstract, metaphysics.
Philip: I don't see you kneeling before anyone.
Elizabeth: I’m not kneeling because I'm already flattened under the weight of this thing.
Philip: Oh, spare me the false humility. Doesn't look like that to me.
Elizabeth: How does it look to you?
Philip: Looks to me like you're enjoying it. It's released an unattractive sense of authority and entitlement that I have never seen before.
Elizabeth: And in you, it's released a weakness and insecurity I've never seen before.
Philip has a point, of course, but Elizabeth’s point is valid as well. The fact is that there is no easy solution to the problem they are wrestling with. Is she right, that if Philip were sure of himself, kneeling in pubic before the Queen (who happens to be his wife) would not arouse anxiety. Of course, she is entitled by right of birth and, yes, authority IS unattractive when exercised in between equals, as man and wife are supposed to be. Or are they? Were Philip and Elizabeth not living in a world where a man was king of the home castle? She was crowned in 1953.
Philip: Are you my wife or my Queen?
Elizabeth: I'm both.
Philip: I want to be married to my wife.
Elizabeth: I am both and a strong man would be able to kneel to both.
Kneeling to the Queen, yes. But to his wife? What’s that about? Is this an allusion to the medieval courtly tradition whereby the lover is ennobled by service to his beloved? Think of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet; Juliet is on high and Romeo is below, looking up at her. But that tradition was built on adultery. The relationship between husband and wife was altogether more pedestrian and practical.
Philip: I will not kneel before my wife.
Elizabeth: Your wife is not asking you to.
Philip: But my Queen commands me?
Elizabeth: Yes.
Philip: I beg you make an exception for me.
Elizabeth: No.
She commands, he begs, it ends.

* * * * *

[1] For this dialog I used a transcript from Springfield! Springfield!

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