Saturday, February 19, 2011

The King's microphone

I suppose the human interest part of 'The King's Speech' was the contrast in the relationships of the two royals and the foreign-born commoners they have come to depend upon. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, abdicates for the love of American divorcee, Mrs Simpson; while George VI, Duke of York and second in line reluctantly takes up the crown in duty to his country, coached by Australian speech therapist (unqualified), Lionel Logue.

But what interested me more was how the introduction of wireless broadcast media changed Everything. The media brought down and magnified the most human frailties of both royals, Edward and George. In going public, Edward's improprieties rendered him unworthy as a king, whereas George's stutter made him unable to speak with confidence in public, and if not for Logue's unconventional methods would have made England lose confidence in itself.

While the media were making traditional royalty most frightfully human, on the other side of the Channel they were deifying the most common of commoners, Adolph Hitler, who knew exactly how to use them to amass the nearly blind loyalty and adoration of a nation. The Brits were still struggling to deal with radio, but Hitler had already mastered both the audio and visual imagery of film to awe his audience and intimidate his opposition.

The rise of the mass media heralded the end of the power of royalty over the people. Edward and George both recognized this sweeping new change, and perhaps for the first time in history the crown princes of an empire were so loath to follow in their father's footsteps. Edward practically disqualifies himself from the crown, leaving George to make the best of it. Thanks to Logue, George does well enough to galvanize a shaken Britain to prevail over the German war machine.

And now I'm mulling over historical events not covered in the movie (although I expected them to be). Perhaps what won the war for the Brits was the calm resolve that resonated from the voice on the radio. It sought not to whip the masses up into a frothing, mindless rabble but rather reminded them to stay human despite the hardship they were facing in the dark days to come. What lost the war for Herr Hitler was possibly what started the war in the first place: his need to fill airtime with an ever-escalating choreography of excitement, culminating in the orgy of violence that was WWII with himself taking full credit as producer, director and star in order to keep the people mesmerized and pliant under his leadership. Hitler lost it because he ran out of ideas on how to keep the A Hitler Show on prime time TV without eventually grossing out his audience and making them tune him out.

Too bad they don't give Best Actor Oscars to inanimate objects. The nominee representing 'The King's Speech' should have been the shiny BBC microphone and its supporting infrastructure. They were what the movie was about in the first place.

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