05/08/2007 11:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Night and Day

As surely as day follows night, last evening's royal fête at the White House was sure to be followed by fawning on this morning's television programs. And so it was. There is a particular tone of voice, tilt of the head, and sparkle in the eye meant to signal a "Hey-in-this-grubby-world-I'm-here-to-tell-you-about-
a-surpassingly-elegant-event-that-I-WAS-PART-OF" moment. This affect is called 'indicating' in the world of acting: the use of indicators (rubbing one's hands to indicate anxiety, for example) to substitute for the real thing. All of which raises, yet again, the reality versus fantasy calculus that our media culture has engendered.

An ABC visual, from left to right: Prince Philip, First Lady Laura Bush, Queen Elizabeth, President George Bush, Good Morning America beaming co-host Robin Roberts. It was, Ms. Roberts assured us, one of the most memorable moments of her life.

An NBC word picture, offered by a twinkling David Gregory, explaining the subtleties of royal protocol. One shakes the royal hand, Mr.Gregory enlightened us, only if Her Majesty proffers the royal hand first. Fortunately, the Queen was proffering like all get-out last night, to the benefit of not only Gregory's hand, but the hands of so many others who were privileged to be present. Vicariously, our hands benefited too.

All of which is harmless enough, as far as it goes. But let's go further, shall we? Let's conjure up another visual and word picture that we have seen over and over again: the presidential news conference. The contemporary East Room could easily pass for 17th century Versailles, given the deference shown to the elected (or should I say unelected?) chief of state (or should I say monarch?)?

Compare this with any typical news conference at 10 Downing Street, or, for that matter, any instance of question time in the House of Commons. Over here, it's a House of Mirrors, as we scurry to bend our knee to magisterial authority.

Ah, the irony: the land that practiced royalty to perfection now knows exactly how to treat its royal; while we, here in the land that banished royal prerogatives, grab at servility every chance we get.

To quote that great 20th century philosopher, Casey Stengel: "Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?"