This is Joshua Wehner's archaic Blog

Heavy weighs the head, indeed

We saw The Queen this weekend (at a packed house - I can't remember the last time we saw a movie on opening weekend.)

The movie focuses on the royal family in the wake of Tony Blair's election as Prime Minister through the death and mourning of Diana. On the one hand, we have Tony Blair as our "everyman" character, who just wants to do his job and go home; on the other, we have a stilted, aging monarchy who are slow, at best, to adapt to the world changing around them.

Lately, movies about the politically powerful leave me asking oddly similar questions. "How do they check their email? How does anyone call the Queen on a cell phone?"

Realstically, I suppose there are filters in most cases - layers of flunkies and voicemail systems and Bayesian filters and what-not - and secrets and hiding in the others. But still.

In the movie, there are marked differences in the worlds that surround our characters. I mean, I suppose that's the point, but it's well done. Buckingham palace is full of ancient desks, older bookcases and old, heavy rotary telephones; while Blair's house has cheap Ikea bookshelves and plastic cordless phones.

Sure, on the one hand, this isn't remarkable - it's just generational. My grandparents' phones are older than mine, no big surprises there. But, if it is just generational, we'll someday have a crop of politicians who grew up with Tivos and Blackberries - who've grown dependent on these devices to work their work and live their leisure. Will Harry make room at the Palace for a plasma screen TV?

I suppose it's something of a Wired/Slashdot generation cliche, that technology works as a democratizing agent - "anybody can email the governor now!" - but I begin to suspect that there's an insulating effect, perhaps an even stronger one. While the masses have their blogs, emails and instant messages, those at the compact end of the attention spectrum - without the filters and secrets and obfuscation - would be inundated if exposed to the full brunt of the world's electronic communication.

Personally, I blame the middle class.

When there was no middle class in our society, the essential divisor between the classes was the degree to which you lived your life in service of another - you're either a servant, or you have servants. In that world, the royalty (or President, or what have you) are at the apex of liberty - no one orders you, you can order anyone. Sure, sure, power corrupts and all of that, but...

Back then, when you ruled, you reaped the bounties - the gold, the art, the rich meats were all yours, as much as you wanted, whenever you wanted. Castle getting cramped? Plow it under, and build a new one!

Today, though, much of that liberty has been replaced with one or another responsibility. Buy too large a mansion or fly around on that jet too often, and get accused of "extravagance" or "decadence" or what have you. Plow under the castle, and the masses will lynch you for ruining their tourist photo-op.

I think the middle class, now, sit at that apex that used to be occupied by the mega-wealthy. We have our Tivos and iPods, our instant messages and emails; we open our own spam and junk mail; we can go where we want, when we want, with little fear of being photographed to death.

Permalink • Posted in: econ, movies, pop-culture