The Nationalistic Nonsense of Royalty on Instagram

© Koninklijk Huis / Instagram

The Dutch royal family’s net worth is 12 billion euros, yet they are the only individuals in the Netherlands who do not pay income tax. Mind-fuckingly, the cost to taxpayers to maintain them is an astronomical 346 million euros every year. A funny anecdote: Prince Bernhard, operating as a modern kind of feudal lord, owns over three hundred apartments in Amsterdam. Rents are skyrocketing.

This stuff stuns me. The Netherlands is a more or less socialist country, with cheap health care, high taxes and a strong cultural aversion to showing off. I can’t understand why there is royalty here at all.

I took a look at the Dutch royal family’s Instagram account to see if I could figure out what’s behind their seventy percent approval rating. Since Queen Máxima and King Willem-Alexander like to play up their modesty I expected them to look casual on social media. The king never wears his crown and is not referred to as “Your Majesty.” The queen once made headlines for registering to check the heads of local children for lice. Their daughters, the princesses, famously attend public schools.

© Koninklijk Huis / Instagram

Not that they’re exactly salt of the earth. They dress fancily, in a throwback sort of style. Particularly Máxima: as often as possible she is pictured from head to toe. From this perspective this we see the full-scale deliberateness of her dress; her shoes unfailingly match her handbag, and her gloves match both. Her clothes contribute a reassuring orderliness to the family’s visual narrative; the eye can wander wherever it likes, from her shoes to her handbag to her hat, and nothing is ever out of place. Willem-Alexander, for his part, is orderly too, almost always in the same cut of suit, with a neat white pocket-square.

© Koninklijk Huis / Instagram

In photographs without her husband, Máxima is often centered. The world seems to be swirling around her, beyond the border of the photograph. Without her, Willem-Alexander, curiously, is not only represented smaller that his wife, meaning that he takes up much less photographic space, but he is often positioned towards the edge of the frame. I read these photographs as a subtle, perhaps unconscious, attempt to downplay the king’s royalty itself (he’s the one with the royal lineage), an attempt to place his relationship with others at both the center of the frame and of his narrative.

This strategy fails, though, because no matter how much the king is pushed to the side he remains the primary subject of the photo. His is the face we know, the subject to whom our eyes are drawn. He might not wear the crown, in other words, but he’s still the king.

© Koninklijk Huis / Instagram

All of the royal family’s images are very prettily colored. Above, the green of the plants is almost neon, the plastic bottle caps in a laboratory pop. But this cheerful hypercolor is balanced by Máxima’s queenliness. Expressions of beauty for the Dutch royal family must be as pretty as they are old-fashioned, since they are living and breathing nostalgia — their relevance is inextricably linked to the past.

The Dutch royal family’s Instagram is somehow reassuring, or maybe pacifying — the king and queen appear like actors on a stage, so their countrymen can watch approvingly, with nationalistic pride.

But I think these pretty pictures are actually much more sinister than they appear. They make it easy to forget that, despite their 12 billion euro net worth, the Dutch royals contribute nothing in the form of taxes to help maintain the country they represent. Sure, their trade missions and the comfort their unchanging rule offers in this uncertain world serve some purpose, but in that case they are spectacularly overpaid cheerleaders.

Instagram, perhaps the ultimate tool of kings, where beautiful royal propaganda slips into the feed alongside pictures from everyone else, makes it easier than ever to question nothing.

All photos via Koninklijk Huis on Instagram.

A version of this essay was originally published in the Dutch magazine FD Persoonlijk. Je kunt dit stuk hier in Nederlands lezen.

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