Wednesday, May 23, 2001

I found this piece of advice to King Haakon the 7th of Norway in Goffman's The Presentation of self in Everyday Life, page 68:

Posonby, in giving advice to the King of Norway, gives voice to the same theory:

One night King Haakon told me of his difficulties in face of the republican leanings of the opposition and how careful in consequence he had to be in all he did and said. He intended, he said, to go as much as possible among the people, and thought it would be popular if, instead of going in a motot car, he and Queen Maud were to use the tramways.
I told him frankly that I thought this would be a great mistake as familiarity bred contempt. As a naval officer he would know that the captain of a ship never had his meals with the other officers, but remained quite aloof. This was, of course, to stop any familiarity with them. I told him he must get up on the pedestal and remain there. He could then step off occasionally and no harm would be done. The people didn't want a King with which they could hob-nob, but something like the Delphic oracle. The Monarchy was really the creation of every individual's brain. Every man liked to think what he would do, if he was King. People invested the Monarch with every conceivable virtue and talent. They were bound therefore to be disappointed if they saw him going about like an ordinary man in the street.

I look at this, and almost feel a little annoyed in behalf of Haakon. The way people remember him, he lived the role of king-on-a-pedestal to perfection. But his son, his grandson and most certainly the young crown Prince live the way Haakon wanted to. What Ponsonby probably never knew was that

1) Norwegian sailing traditions include a huge fleet of small fishing vessels. Aboard them there's no such thing as "distance". A norwegian sailor trusts the captain he knows, and if he knows his father, his uncles, his wife, his children and his brothers and sisters as well as cousins to the third degree, he trusts him even more. Familiarity in this country breeds tolerance and trust, rather than contempt.

2) Norwegians don't want to imagine themselves as different. They want to be safely similar, not because they are all feeling drab, but because this is a wide country where people lived isolated for long periods of time, and only the feeling that we are the same with the same needs and ambitions is what could counter this isolation.

In short, Norwegians need different types of performances. Haakon's son, Olav, knew how to do that, perfectly, firmly anchoring the King as a man of the people - just a special man of the people - which I think was the move of a genius actor.

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