Of Cabinets and Kings
ust the other day, I quipped on Twitter that Thomases Cromwell, Wolsey, and More comprised the 'Tommy Trio of Terror' on The Tudors. Alliteration is always an enjoyable pasttime to pursue, but so is parallel seeking amongst art imitating life. How merry I am at the prospect of finding common ground between the two, and my silver medal viewing of The Tudors is never mere entertainment, but constantly fraught with insight about this ugly world we are charged with maintaining.
I first discovered Showtime's salacious interpretation of the Tudor court era a couple years ago, browsing OnDemand selections while virtually unemployed, and quickly succumbed to addiction. The sex! The wine! Jousting and cuckholding, politics and principles. The sweaty, desperate, frequently un-chivalrous sex. There's literally nothing about this story that doesn't intrigue me to immediate contemplation, and I think myself imminently drawn to some of the most compelling female characters the recorded world has ever witnessed. Devouring one episode after another quickly transformed into endless hours of Wiki browsing, Alison Weir volumes, and even a Philippa Gregory or two. (The Michael Jordan of trash lit, truly.)
But in my opinion, The Tudors has always spoken at levels higher than mere historical dramatization. The series premiered in the midst of 2007, right on the heals of the Iraq invasion, wire tapping scandals, and a radical religious ferver that had ravaged the United States in serious ways that frequently managed to permeate the legislative process. At least for me, watching Cromwell stride briskly through an underground tunnel with a colleague and mutter that all subjects of the crown are invited - nay, obligated - to inform upon their neighbors, should any be known to deny the supremacy of the king, it's not hard to conjure up a similar visual involving Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
"Let's fuck some shit up." "Word."
In some ways, the only difference here seems to be that one set of autocrats prefers tights and garters, with the other opting to begin each day by tying a little noose around his neck. And I suspect this might in large part explain the popularity of the series - a thorough dissection of power run mad; an examination of perils that ensue when state meets sacred. For almost as long as the swift and savvy have had access to religious texts, they have found ways to use the commandments therein to justify atrocious decision-making. This is all obvious, of course, and subject to over-examination by the cultural elite; yet I still derive fascination from two sides of the same coin.
Thus, the tyrannical state of England came to expel its subjects (voluntarily or otherwise) oft across the brutal Atlantic sea, into a realm established around the notion of "religious tolerance" and "equal rights." The founding of the New World could have indeed been the utopia More wrote so dreamily of in 1516. The consequences, then, are troubling and puzzling beyond measure. How did yon utopia wind up ravaged by the same state of affairs more than 500 years later? Does this speak to an essential, if utterly pessmistic, truth about the nature of humankind? Hell, half of a milenia later, and the unwashed masses are still cheering executions. If given the opportunity, will the few always rise to suppress the many, subjugate and intimidate and commit acts of taxation without representation, unchecked and driven by the voice of the Lord, as they see fit to interpret? It seems we must perpetually adhere to an existence propelled by terror; even in an age when atheism and skepticism have come to compete with prevailing wisdom, one percent of our populace holds more wealth and power than the bottom 98% combined, and that certainly reveals, if anything, just how static societal operations really are.
At the center of this all is the big guy himself: the motherfucking king. Yes, there's always Henry. A million lords and minor nobles, trial lawyers and politico scum, but always, there's Henry. Think what you will of Hank 8: he was certainly abusive and untempered, a wife killer who harbored the Catholic-ly motivated fear of female power as much as any monarch of his age. (A separate post in and of itself.) But he certainly got shit done. Hundreds of years after the settling decay of his corpulent corpse, and ladies are still willfully giving him their favors. I'm not sure which modern figure I'd compare him to. He was nowhere near as dim-witted as W; and certainly not out of it like Reagan was. By all accounts, he was vivacious as ferocious - undoubtedly the core initiator behind some of the period's most dastardly acts struck out against basic humanism. No figurehead or puppet, the king demanded absolute obedience from every citizen, stopping just short of elaborate wire-tapping schemes. (If only because the technology was unavailable at the time.) Oathes were taken, dissenters were made a head shorter - not even those who had loyally served the crown found themselves exempt from iron-fisted control.
And this continues to happen today, if perhaps at a less drastic and obvious level of engagement. Heads are no longer publicly taken off, but careers and reputations are certainly destroyed. Under the previsions of the Patriot Act, the president is allowed to order the execution of Americans without a trial. Back in the day, they used to call this an attainder by Parliament - just ask the primary mover of most Tudor terror, Cromwell, about it. When the bullies are in charge to serve the interests of a concentrated body, there is no room for debate. Only those voices which sound out their approval will not be shouted down, or, perhaps more eerily, silenced.
So much for utopia.
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