How television coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral changed my view of her

The choreography that played as he walked alone down a dark castle corridor and then disappeared seemed ancient, timeless and profound. It tapped directly into what psychologist Carl Jung described as the collective unconscious. I felt like I was part of something as old as humanity itself as I saw it.

That happens a lot in front of a screen, especially for someone who has spent more than 40 years deconstructing and writing the images in front of the screen. But looking back on the 11 days I spent tracking the media coverage of the Queen’s death, I realized that television made me more educated and empathetic towards the Queen.

I still don’t like monarchies and I despise colonialism which England was one of the most brutal practitioners of. But I do admire Queen Elizabeth and maybe understand a little why all those hundreds of thousands of people were lining up and lining the road to catch a glimpse or say their last goodbyes.

The Queen and television arrived together. In England, the televised coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 is a benchmark when the medium began to overtake radio as the main medium in the United Kingdom. For US audiences, the funeral of President John F. Kennedy after his death in 1963 marks a similar media moment: when television became the primary narrator of American life and the vehicle for the collective experience of millions.

Now I wonder if his funeral will be one of the media historians use to mark the end of the television era. Given Monday’s events, it’s hard to believe we’ll ever see a big, powerful global television event again.

Will any of these bystanders ever have a ruler who has served as a symbol of constancy for 70 years during a time when the nation has undergone tremendous change? Will the new media landscape of digital channels offering individualized and siled consumption ever bring them together as television did in moments of national celebration and tragedy after World War II?

As technology and politics further divide the public, shared national rites and rituals seem less and less. Countries may stage and cover new media platforms, but will we leave our silos long enough to live in them and participate in them, with members of the tribes we’ve fought with, say, Twitter? In England, changing attitudes towards the monarchy will make it increasingly unlikely that King Charles III or any of his successors will connect with their citizens as deeply as Queen Elizabeth.

I was glad that most of the anchors and commentators on Monday were wise enough not to comment on the moments when the Queen’s piper appeared. But I was also grateful that several of them later explained that the piper played under the Balmoral window for 15 minutes every day while in residence. It made the final moments of his Monday game even more bleak.

Cable channels MSNBC and CNN started at 5 am. By 6 a.m. CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS and Fox News were providing coverage. The live coverage provided by the BBC was one of the best places to watch the funeral. The comment was understated and informed. And the producers offered shots from different vantage points of the procession routes that I couldn’t see anywhere else. But viewing it on the iPhone didn’t do justice to the sleek, panoramic images offered on TV screens.

In the end, amid the heraldry and echoes of marching bands and artillery fire during the first six hours of the funeral, it was the quieter moments that seemed most evocative and resonant. The sound of horses’ hooves and military boots pounding the pavement in perfect time to the drums surely reminded some baby boomer Americans of Kennedy’s funeral. If those sounds didn’t trigger the collective memory of 1963, an attendant holding the Queen’s favorite horse as the carriages carrying Elizabeth’s remains probably passed on their way to Windsor Castle. It made me think of the horse without a horse in Kennedy’s funeral procession.

Of all the anchors and analysts, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper seemed the most connected to the rhythms of the day’s events. More than once, he silenced any conversation between his colleagues by saying, “Let’s hear the sights and sounds.”