For those Englishmen who remain sufficient vestigial Anglicans to turn to the state church for births, marriages and deaths, we have a touch of hatching, matching and dispatching in today's column. But we shall attend to them in reverse order:
~I was sorry to hear of the death of the great scholar (and, indeed, psychoanalyst) of Islam Bernard Lewis, a few weeks shy of his 102nd birthday. Nobody is terribly sad when a chap has enjoyed a 50 per cent bonus on his three-score-and-ten - "he had a good innings", etc - but Bernard was trenchant and vigorous into his late nineties, and there was no one like him, and thus no one to replace him when it comes to a thoroughly informed perspective on the peculiar psychoses of the Islamic world. He was pretty solid on the west's psychoses, too, because he was old enough to remember what we had been. I quote him toward the end of my book America Alone:
Bernard Lewis, the west's preeminent scholar of Islam, worked for British intelligence through the grimmest hours of the Second World War. 'In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues,' he told The Wall Street Journal. 'In our island, we knew we would prevail, that the Americans would be drawn into the fight. It is different today. We don't know who we are, we don't know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy.'
As to his aforementioned vigor, at the embarkation of a National Review cruise, I once followed him down the corridor to our adjoining cabins. Bernard was then a mere whippersnapper of 93 or so, and I was startled to see, as his crushed linen jacket shrank into the distance, that he was opening up the gap between us with every confident stride.
At a convivial smoker, either on that cruise or another, Bernard and I were engaged in a long conversation à deux - and, out of the corner of my eye, I became vaguely aware of a National Review reader hovering, circling around and then re-hovering. About half-an-hour later, Bernard went off to work the room or whatever, and the hoverer came up to me. "Sorry about that," he said. "I wanted to come and join you, but the two of you were so animated going back and forth that I didn't want to interrupt. You looked as if you were hashing out the future of the world. What were you talking about? Iraq? Wahhabi reforms in Saudi? Erdoğan's dismantling of Turkey?"
"Actually," I replied, "we were talking about favorite Noël Coward lyrics, with a lengthy digression into Jack Buchanan" - including "And Her Mother Came Too" (which you can hear on our Mother's Day audio special). These were the songs he knew from his days as a young student at the School of Oriental Studies in the mid-Thirties, and the memory of them warmed him three-quarters of a century later - a small but vital part of "knowing who we are". No one saw the big picture more clearly, but he had room for the small pleasures, too: A man in full, and marvelous company almost to the end. Rest in peace.
~Speaking of "who we are", the Royal Wedding wasn't exactly my bag, but then it wasn't meant to be. The nuptials of the sixth in line to the throne are dynastically insignificant, so one can't blame the Queen for figuring you might as well stack up a few virtue-signaling brownie points with the rube media (Carol Ward has some thoughts on this in the comments here). It worked, as my old boss Charles Moore noted on the eve of the ceremony:
At present, Ms Markle is well defended because the people who would normally sneer at a new princess are claiming her for their own, and the people who like new princesses are polite anyway.
Come the big day, the effusions of "the people who would normally sneer at a new princess" - The Guardian and the BBC, The Globe and Mail and the CBC - were a wonder to behold: Golly, look! An African-American preacher chappie saying "We need to get y'all married"! And what about that simply topping gospel choir!! And I say, there's a black 'cellist!!! Does he play any hip-hop?
The Queen is a wily old survivor and must be marveling at how easy it all was. That should hold 'em off until the Prince of Wales reverts.
Of course, there's always a danger in calibrating the sweet spot between monarchy and modishness. Charles Moore again, looking back to the last wedding of a designated Royal "spare":
The Spectator of those times, which I was editing, carried almost nothing about it. The only piece was a television review by Alexander Chancellor, complaining that 'The royal family are at the moment completely out of control.' He found this very upsetting. He was 'absolutely in favour of the royal family. I have always liked the way they keep their heads down, avoid controversy, shun jokes, and conceal whatever personalities they may have.' So he was shocked that the Princess of Wales (Diana) dressed up as a policeman (I think for Fergie's hen-night) and went to Annabel's, and that Prince Andrew said in a press interview shortly before the wedding that 'A woman should have a trim waist, a good "up top" and enough down the bottom.' By 'up top', Prince Andrew did not mean brainpower. That column was Alexander Chancellor's last in the role. He went off to join the new-minted Independent, one of whose selling points was that it carried nothing whatever about the royal family.
Indeed. In ostentatiously parading how "human" they were, the Eighties princesses revealed rather that they were all too human - culminating for Fergie in her "up top" being splashed all over the red-tops, and Di and her playboy lover careering into that Paris underpass un-seatbelted. The latter proved very quickly (contrast the Princess' funeral with the Queen Mum's) to be the monarchical equivalent of one of those plot resets that soap operas occasionally do when the thing's gone way off course and they can't figure out any less lurid way to right the ship. William and Kate have been at pains to steer clear of Eighties revivalism, as should the Sussexes.
Monarchy and weddings are supposed to be two examples of Lincoln's "mystic chords of memory". So I found the inclusion of Ben E King's "Stand By Me" (Number Four on the Billboard Hot One Hundred, but only hit sound Number 27 in the UK) a wee bit dispiriting. If the Duke of Edinburgh was on form, he'll undoubtedly have said at the reception afterwards that "I thought that song about standing went on a bit" and inquired of the bishop, "Do you get tired waving your arms around like that?" I'm being entirely consistent here: I wouldn't want to hear Jack Buchanan at a wedding ceremony, either. The ubiquitousness of "I Will Always Love Yoo-oo-oo" and "My Way" at British funerals is a small thing, but it is nevertheless a sign of civilizational decay. The pop aesthetic seeps into everything: The last time I heard "Stand By Me" it was coming from the pump as I filled up in upstate New York.
If we have to have it at gas stations, could we at least not have it at weddings? There ought to be a small space in life for those "mystic chords" - for tunes and language from ages past, to remind us that we are not mere flotsam and jetsam bobbing around on the turbulent churn of the hyper-present. My daughter and I visited St George's Chapel a couple of years ago: It dates from the fourteenth century and each stall bears an enamelled brass plate honoring every Knight of the Garter - I think the earliest we came across was that of the first Duke of Somerset, who died in 1444. A society that can be thrilled only by its own vernacular is not in good shape.
~Dispatching Bernard, matching Harry...Our hatching is the birth not of an infant, but of a new play. On the day of the Royal Wedding, our friend Phelim McAleer - playwright, filmmaker, bestselling author - opened his latest production, The $18 Billion Prize, at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Like its predecessor Ferguson, which Phelim and I discussed on "The Rush Limbaugh Show", this is part of the thriving new genre of transcript theatre - wherein one takes the actual words of courtroom trials or government hearings and makes riveting drama out of them. Unfortunately, it can be a little triggering for those Equity members mired in thespian groupthink: Nine of the thirteen cast members of Ferguson (which is about the incinerated Missouri town not the Duchess with the good "up top") walked out during rehearsals in Los Angeles.
The $18 Billion Prize concerns the biggest eco-scam of all time, and is based on the diaries of the lead counsel against Chevron, Steven Donziger, who colluded with environmental activists to bribe a judge. In other words, the climate crowd don't come out of this story looking good. It took the actor playing Donziger a while to figure that out, but, as soon as he did, he quit:
That brings us back to the question of what exactly actors do. Most plays and movies have a point of view, often legitimate, sometimes less so. Actors certainly do not have a requirement to work on a production whose POV contrasts with their own, but by the same token, most of them will disclaim POV and say — rightly — that they are paid to perform, not to politick. It's a job, not an endorsement, and most actors are happy to be working at all.
The most amusing example of this came a couple of years back, when a Twitter troll tried to claim my friend Adam Baldwin was a racist because of his dialogue as "Animal Mother" in Full Metal Jacket. Adam explained in a kindly enough fashion that, erm, actors perform from a script and that not all characters in film and stage are supposed to be sympathetic. Does anyone think that Sir Anthony Hopkins was endorsing cannibalism in The Silence of the Lambs? Or even, God forbid, serving Chianti with fava beans? Come on, man.
Oh, I don't know. Laurence Olivier only agreed to Marathon Man because he was the longtime pitchman for the National Association of Nazi Dentists.
But this particular actor, like Bernard Lewis, is channeling Noël Coward: "Why Must The Show Go On?" Presumably he's back serving Chianti and fava beans at some or other San Francisco eatery.
Phelim McAleer is tireless and inventive, and the film and theatre communities resent the way he keeps reminding them: You don't quite have a 100 per cent hammerlock on the performing acts. That's worth supporting: If you'd like to help fund this production, you can do so here. And, if you'd like to see Phelim in person, he'll be joining us on the inaugural Mark Steyn Club Cruise this autumn. I look forward to discovering if he pads the deck as briskly as the nonagenarian Bernard Lewis.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with the launch of the Steyn Club first-anniversary serialization in our popular series of audio adventures, Tales for Our Time. It's a somewhat topical choice: Rudyard Kipling's whimsical yarn The Man Who Would Be King. You can find Part One, along with some observations by me on Kafiristan then and now, here. Click for Part Two and Part Three, and tune in later this evening for Part Four. Our Saturday movie date presented the Royal Couple in Pictures, and our Song of the Week offered Musick for a Royal Romance. If you were distracted by the "Markle sparkle" all weekend long, we hope you'll want to check out one or two of the foregoing as this brand new week begins.
Thank you so much for all the Mark Steyn Club subscription renewals this last week. As our second year begins, I know very well that I would not be here without the support of our members, for which we are all profoundly grateful. For more information on the Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our limited-time Gift Membership.
~Oh, and Happy Victoria Day to all our Canadian readers. I'll be back in my hometown of Toronto next month to celebrate the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and to accept the signal honour of the very first George Jonas Freedom Award. Hope to see you there.
Catch you on the telly tonight with Tucker at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific - and just before that with Part Four of The Man Who Would Be King.
Comment on this item (members only)
Viewing and submission of reader comments is restricted to Mark Steyn Club members only. If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here: