It didn't take long before celebrities started tweeting for clout
There has been something distinctly American about the way in which my country has mourned the Queen. Yes, the flags are at half-mast, but the overwhelming reaction to Elizabeth II’s death has been intrigue, excitement, and nakedly opportunistic attempts to capitalise on it for clout.
The celebrity responses ran the gamut — from Cher’s bizarre (and slightly braggy) tweet declaring her pride in sharing an astrological sign with the Queen, to Kanye West’s typical but distasteful Instagram post linking her death to his own endless interpersonal dramas, to Chrissy Teigen’s ham-handed joke about her husband getting bumped from the Today show after the news broke. Everyone who’d ever had a photo op with the Queen took this moment to resurface it. Few people seemed to be seriously grieving.
The Queen’s death was received in certain corners of the US like something made for television, the season finale of a show we’d been watching all our lives — and in some of the darker corners of Twitter, the discourse surrounding it became quickly and frankly unhinged. The whole thing resembled a competition to see who could be the least sorry for Britain’s loss. The Queen was a coloniser, a racist, a racist coloniser; the Queen had banned ethnic minorities from working in Buckingham Palace; the Queen had personally victimised Princess Diana and Meghan Markle.
The most-discussed post, from Carnegie Mellon University professor Uju Anya, declared a desire that the Queen be punished in her last moments for the sins of the British Empire: “I hear the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,” she wrote. That Anya would express such a sentiment publicly reflects not just malice but a disconnect from reality, an inability to comprehend the difference between the villainous monarch character who lived in her imagination and the flesh-and-blood reality of a 96-year-old woman, dying in a bed, surrounded by a family who loved her.
The truth is that the life of the Queen, by American celebrity standards, is almost disappointing. The rigid expectations, the lack of independence, the drudgery of being shuttled from place to place to host this event or that opening is not the Cinderella story we might expect. That’s why American starlets who’ve married into monarchy — Grace Kelly in Monaco, Meghan Markle in England — have been subject to famously rude awakenings as to the realities of the royal life, as has an American public who expected the whole thing to be much more like a fairy tale. When the only princesses you’ve ever seen are the Disney variety, it gives certain ideas about what it means to be royal.
Now the 96-year-old woman’s body is lying in state in London, with people queuing by the thousands to pay their respects. The slow shuffle of mourners past the coffin is anything but glamorous, and wholly unsensational; if this moment were to be depicted on a future season of The Crown, the throngs will be just a blur in the background of some interpersonal drama (perhaps over Meghan’s reported snubbing from the deathbed gathering at Balmoral.) And perhaps that’s how it should be for Americans, who never really understood what it means to be the Queen. We’ve only ever loved a fantasy version of her, glossed-up and dumbed down and filtered by scripts and screens. This moment isn’t for us.