The Crown Jewels Are the Original Snapchat Story

Tower of London, September 2016. Photo by author.

Last year I went to London for vacation and visited the Tower of London: home of the crown jewels. Now I’ll admit, I had a misperceived idea of what the crown jewels actually were. Like, I thought they were literally a handful of jewels — no more than 4–5 precious stones — that the queen took out of storage during special occasions. I believe I got this impression from a G.I. Joe: Real American Hero cartoon (“Chunnel” was the episode, I think). So when my friends and I went to see the crown jewels, I was stoked.

After we headed up the tower where the crown jewels were held, we walked through multiple rooms. I saw lots of fancy stuff: crowns, scepters, swords, robes, orbs, etc. They were all shiny, gaudy, and — SAT word alert — ostentatious. I saw outfits that were specially made for the Queen’s trip to India (because apparently these things aren’t allowed to leave the country). All very royal, though one thought persisted with me:

This can’t be very comfortable to wear.

But comfort isn’t the the point of a crown full of shiny rocks. The point, of course, is to be seen. I realized that in the days before Snapchat, Facebook Live, and Instagram… Before TV and big projector screens… Heck, even before binoculars, when dinosaurs roamed the earth… The royals needed a way to show that they stood out from — and thus, mattered more — than the masses. How do you do this? By putting on so much bling that when the sun strikes you, the rest of the world is blinded when it looks in your direction. That is the point of these unbelievably tacky, non-functional outfits: to remind everyone who was important and who wasn’t.

I then took this thought further: How does this compare to today? You don’t necessarily need to wear a crown to command a crowd’s attention anymore (though it’s still pretty effective in doing so). No, you can simply post some words on Twitter, or check-in on Facebook, or record a Snapchat story, or post a picture of your meal on Instagram, and immediately, the world will see you. You don’t need to blind them with jewels — you can blind them with content instead.

And the crazier thing? Only a handful of people ever wore stuffy robes or carried a shiny ball on a stick. But today, roughly 80% of Americans own a smartphone, thereby bestowing upon them the power to brandish their own personal royal sword to the people (NBA players really like brandishing their swords). I’m not saying 80% of Americans is representative of the entire world — the US is the wealthiest nation after all — but from a historical perspective, we’ve never had so many people with the ability to present themselves as kings and queens to the world in our midst. Isn’t that something? I personally found that humbling. What a time to be alive.

Anyways, with this thought in mind, I went through the rest of the exhibits, mesmerized by how the light glittered off all these objects and wondered how many guests tried hatching up potential plans to get these valuable artifacts out of the tower. As my friends and I exited, however, I was puzzled. I saw all these objects of royalty — but where were the crown jewels? One friend laughed and said we just saw them.

Oh. That’s it?? I was expecting to see one massive jewel that would make my jaw drop. That’s what happens when you take words literally. And base your understanding of things from G.I. Joe. Silly Americans.