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The British Royal Family: Are They Assholes?

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Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day in London on April 29, 2011.
Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day in London on April 29, 2011.

After a long hiatus, the Supreme Court of Assholedom reconvened in recent weeks to consider perhaps the most difficult case in its brief history; the British Royal family. Considered alongside the House of Elizabeth and Charles and William and Harry and now Kate were a host of co-defendants, including Media members who slobber over the royals, People who obsess over the royals, and a third, interesting, until-now-undiscovered-by-science group of people we loosely defined as People who get way too intense telling everyone how much they don’t care about the royals.

We didn’t actually pose the question this way, but this case was really a matter of the Court attempting to decide whether or not the obscenely mega-hyped Royal Wedding was, itself, an asshole. This gigantic display of cheerfully mindless extravagance promised to attract virtually every species of non-violent asshole on earth, being as it was a kind of all-star gathering of the undeserving rich and the status-obsessed, of gossip merchants and snobs, of viperous paparazzi and only-recently-defanged hereditary despots. It was also very possibly the ultimate example of a selectively-aggressive modern mass-media irrelevantly deployed to over-cover a meaningless news story, an angle that interested a few of the Justices on the Court.

More than anything, though, the Royal Family was selected by the Court for consideration because it is a difficult case. In its first few months the Court has taken its fair share of criticism from readers and citizens who’ve written in to complain that the defendants we’ve chosen so far – people like deposed Egyptian douche-tyrant Hosni Mubarak and “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua – were far too easy targets. “You people are such geniuses,” said “Rick” from Solvang, California. “Who’s your next defendant – George Bush? Maybe after that it’ll be Reagan! The suspense is killing me!”

Yes, well, fuck you too, Rick, although the point is well taken. When you set up a court for judging assholes, there is a strong tendency to drift toward obvious defendants, which can quickly turn your judgifying into a tedious intellectual exercise. If and when the Court is ever granted punitive authority, and we can actually throw the judged into bear-cages or vats of lava, then there will be no shame in lining up one Beck and Bundy and Blankfein after another, for there will be a community service aspect to our work. But for now, we have to pick tough cases in order to keep the steel of our justice sharp.

And the Royals are a hard case, in particular these royals. With a few exceptions, the Justices mostly were uncomfortable putting William and Kate, and in particular Kate (“Lovely and must be fiercely protected,” ruled Justice Magary), on the dock. To the extent that any of us even knew anything about either of them, nobody among us really had any specific evidence of Assholedom gathered against either royal. Even I was ready to rip William for his prissy red medals-and-Garter-sash military garb, which I thought fell squarely into the Brezhnev/Qaddafi self-decorating, epaulette-clad strutting martinet tradition – until I found out the guy actually served in the military and that his service was not even fictitious. Which made me feel like an asshole (this feeling arose several times during the deliberations over this case). So without such direct evidence, the question really became: does being a part of a royal family automatically make you an asshole?

Initially, the debate within the Court on this question was courteous, light-hearted, and as far from confrontational as can be imagined. Justice Magary, who was engagingly pro-Royal for most of the debate,  established the baseline for the discussion by announcing that “I kinda like the Royals, mainly because Kate Middleton is extremely not unattractive.” He added that “people who bitch about the Royal Wedding's excessive coverage are often more annoying than the wedding itself.  And while Prince Charles is a complete dipshit and the elder royal family members are clueless inbreds, I'm all right with William and Harry, bad Nazi costume and all.”

Magary concluded, provocatively, “Royalty could be kind of cool in the proper hands.”

I was sure that last line would generate a furious response, particularly from Justice Kreider, but surprisingly, there was none. In fact most of the Justices accepted Magary’s idea with grace and even warmth. “Wasn't Princess Diana supposed to have been a decent person? I wonder if all monarchs all assholes,” said Justice David Rees, one of the court’s two cartoonists (Kreider being the other).

“It sure seems like an asshole gig,” Rees continued, “but I do believe (in theory) of the possibility of an enlightened, decent monarch… Monarchy is an asshole-y institution that allows people the freedom to not be assholes.”

Magary agreed. “I think monarchs have lower odds of being dicks than Presidents,” he said, noting however that “Prince Phillip is an asshole.  I know that from watching James Cromwell play him in The Queen.”

The Court generally agreed with Magary that Prince Phillip was an asshole, and that we knew that from watching James Cromwell play him in The Queen. We would later vote on the matter (see below).

This polite discussion went on for a little while. Generally speaking, the attitude toward the Royals was consistent with the Rees/Magary notion that Royals are not necessarily bad people, and that one can’t blame a person for being “born into a douchey situation.”

Judges also underscored the relative harmlessness of the institution. “I think it's a good thing there are Royals,” commented writer/Justice Jenny Boylan, “in the same way I am glad there is professional jai-lai. It gives a certain constancy to the world either in spite of, or because of, there being really no reason for it at all.”

Justice Adam Whitmer, like Prince William a military man, added that “people can still use [royalty] to do good, which makes the people born into the institution not necessarily assholeish.”

The first hint of a negative opinion came when Justice Jessica Kourkounis, writing from Philadelphia, challenged the Court. “So ‘anyone in a position of affluence has the potential to use that position for good,’” she said, quoting Whitmer. “So what? I'll admit, I'm no expert in the workings of the Royals (in fact I didn't even know there was about to be a wedding) but they seem to primarily be a bunch of highly paid figureheads who, like children, receive an ‘allowance’ from parliament and can go and beg for more when they wanna buy something or throw a party.”

By now the growing silence from Justice Kreider, from whom I had been expecting a very severe reaction ever since the first “I kinda like the Royals” comment from Justice Magary, was beginning to trouble me. I waited for him to jump in after the Kourkounis comment, but there was still nothing. Instead, we heard, for the first time, a sophisticated and elaborate political analysis of the Royals question from Justice Sirota, who along with Justice Mara Schmid is rapidly developing into the preeminent scholar-theorist of the Court, its Louis Brandeis figure. Sirota attacked headfirst the notion that we cannot judge the assholedom of royalty in general, being as it is not a person but an institution.

 “If a corporation can be considered a person (as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled), then it stands to reason that a corporation can be an asshole,” Sirota wrote. “So for purposes of the Supreme Court of Assholedom, ruling on the Royals is actually a way to establish precedent on institutional/corporate personhood. After all, the Royal family is both a quasi-public institution, and also a quasi-private corporation. They are sorta like the Goldman Sachs of Britain - a publicly funded/bailed-out ‘private’ institution/corporation.”

Sirota concluded with a thoughtful flourish. “I'd say the Royal Family (aka. the institution) is inherently an Asshole,” he wrote. “It lives off the public trough, flaunts its wealth, is famous for being famous, and maintains high social status for no meritorious reason. These are hallmarks of Assholery.”

I thought from there that the discussion would turn in a more serious direction, but it didn’t happen; we got sidetracked somehow. There were some more tangential debates over the merits of presidents versus Royals, and discussions of the nature of British Royals versus our own similar figures in the  American celebrity world, like Paris Hilton. “I think we need to think of the Royal Family in context of our own celebrities,” said Justice Schmid. “The key difference is the government doesn't fund our celebrities; we the people basically fund them directly (but it's optional at least).  That, and we're not sending Paris Hilton or Kanye West to meet with popes and presidents.”

And then, at some point, and the transcript of the debate is not clear on how this happened, we ended up talking about something else entirely. “Ryan Murphy is a galactic cock,” commented Justice Magary suddenly, apropos of nothing.

The Justices at this point wondered over Ryan Murphy, who he was an whether or not he is in fact a galactic cock; some of us had to look him up (myself and Justice Kourkounis for sure). From here it was just more random chatter, until suddenly, ominously, we heard from Justice Kreider.

As noted in the last ruling on Amy Chua, Kreider increasingly has become the strident, volcanic-tempered Scalia figure of this Court, prone to explosive outbursts and naked attempts at clique-building. In ex-camera discussions, the other Justices have privately expressed concern to me, the Chief Justice, about the obvious influence Kreider seems to have in particular over Justice Jenny Boylan, who has openly admitted to being the Clarence Thomas to Kreider’s Scalia. “That’s one judge, two votes,” complained one Justice, who shall remain anonymous. “How come I don’t get two votes?”

And Kreider’s bristling, uncompromising tone seems in particular to have touched a nerve with Rees, the other cartoonist on the Court; the two men seem to be constantly at each other’s ideological throats. In fact, the very first thing that I do as Chief Justice in each case is to try to suss out where Rees and Kreider are on the issue, because I know those two opinions will serve as the informal battle lines for the entire debate.

In any case, until now, there had been little in the way of outright hostility thrown toward the Royals.  That changed rather suddenly with the long and accusatory opinion now rendered by Kreider.

“I'm shocked that so many of my fellow justices are so well-informed about these people,” Kreider wrote. “I don't even know whether this wedding has already occurred or is about to. And this isn't just about faux-erudite non-TV-owning snobbery. It seems to me like monarchy is one of those things, like slavery and veils and genital mutilation and car chases in movies, that we ought to be well rid of by now. Didn't we fight a revolution so we wouldn't have to give a shit about these costumed inbred morons anymore? Come to think of it, didn't Oliver Cromwell lop off Charles I's head, like four hundred years ago? It seems like such pathetic primate dynamics that we're still fascinated with these silly useless ornamental people. I can't in good conscience give them a very high asshole rating because they're essentially neutered and can't do any harm to anyone, but I'm still going to go ahead and award them all a solid 1000 just for not having the shame to abdicate.”

Boylan, predictably, immediately announced her intention to vote with Kreider. And while some of the other Justices used the occasion to debate the question of whether or not car chases were so very bad, others took serious umbrage. Rees, as one might have guessed, was the first Judge to pick up Kreider’s gauntlet. In his ballot, he gave 10,000 points – the maximum, as many points as making-women-into-hamburger killer Gary Heidnik, and more points than Hosni Mubarak, as Justice Boylan later pointed out – to “People who want you to know just how much they don’t care about the wedding.”

“We get it, you're so cool you probably don't even own a TV,” he said. “Hooray.”

Kreider’s response was to draw the following starkly threatening picture and send it, without commentary, to all of us:

 

That pretty much ended the friendly debate on this issue. Because some of the Justices flagged their intention to side with Rees and give points to anyone who people who insisted on telling you how much they don’t care about the Royals, we suddenly found ourselves in a strange rhetorical place, a kind of Mutually Assured Assholedom. I personally commented that I now “had to take out a calculator to see which opinion would make me more of an asshole.” There were even evidences of more profound future fractures within the Court, as Justice Kourkounis noted darkly that “it has not gone unnoticed that many of you, my esteemed colleagues, have now classified me as an asshole for both not having TV and for
not giving a shit about the royals.”

A semi-awkward silence ensued for a few days after that. The Court subsequently recovered its composure and has managed to reconvene and begin debate on new matters, and in fact has put together the foundation for a broad ruling on Automotive Assholedom that should be forthcoming relatively soon. But the main conclusion of the debate over the Royals was that we all felt a little bit uncomfortable with each other. Still, we were able to come to some interesting conclusions:

CASE: THE PEOPLE VS. THE BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY

DECISION: NOT ASSHOLES

POINTS: None of the individuals under consideration in this case received majority votes for assholedom. Therefore, they do not get any points.

 Some highlights of these opinions:

Justice Sirota, on William and Kate: “[William’s] not an asshole - at least not yet. He was born into it, through no assholishness of his own. And Kate - well we don't know much about her yet. All of this is to say, however, that they could both turn into huge gaping assholes.”

Justice Kourkounis: “The whole thing makes me feel like I have Lyme disease.”

ADDITIONAL RULINGS:

People v. The International Media for Making the Royal Wedding a Way Huger Deal Than it Needs to Be

Ruling: ASSHOLE

POINTS: 4,514 (averaged, with two Justices dissenting).

 I gave the media 3800 points on this one, figuring that while obnoxious from my own point of view, the media’s mawkish excess in covering the ceremony is fairly low on the list of media offenses. I tend here to side with Justice Boylan, who wrote: ”The media has a standing average asshole ranking of 4000 from Justice Boylan. They have acted precisely in character in giving us dramatic banners replete with countdown clocks anticipating the revelation of the dress. Be still my heart.”

On Prince Phillip:

The Court agreed, unanimously, that Prince Phillip is an asshole, and that we know this from watching James Cromwell play him in The Queen. Numerous Justices were insistent that Cromwell himself not be held accountable in any way, and lauded his performance as a curmudgeonly old bat in Six Feet Under. Rees noted that “his portrayal of a guy slowly losing his mind while ranting about peak oil was like my own personal Ghost of Christmas Future.”

More to come from the Court, including rulings on truckers and people who behave badly in traffic jams. Concerned Citizens should write to me, the Chief Justice, for clarifications on rulings. 

UPDATE

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind readers who like Tim Kreider’s drawings to check out his new book, the appropriately-named Twilight of the Assholes, a kind of epic review of the later Bush years. My own mother picked up this book when visiting me not long ago and at first I thought I should probably take it away from her before she started worrying about what kind of friends I have these days, but before I could grab it she started laughing out loud at the cartoons. Anyway, I definitely recommend you all check it out …. BTW I’m reading Justice Magary’s new novel The Postmortal now and will post a review sometime next week I hope.

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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