American Knighthood

Becoming a knight must be one of the cooler things that can happen to a person. That's assuming, of course, that winning the lottery, waking up to discover yourself in a Las Vegas hotel next to Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney (your choice), or beating up Carrot Top isn't in the cards.

True, knights don't wear armor, joust, or rescue damsels in distress anymore. In fact, they don't do much of anything except meet the Queen, flaunt their new title over their baron friends, and get a perverse kick out of making their spouse call them "Sir" in bed. But it's still very cool. I suspect that if you asked most English children what they want to be when they grow up they'd say, "An astronaut, a knight, or employed." Hey, it's good to have goals.

It's not like many people get to become knights. This past New Year's Day Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the honor on about twenty-five people, including actor Ben Kingsley and Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson. Because he's British, Kingsley will be known as Sir Gandhi. Well, among the tittering household help anyway. Watson, on the other hand, won't be called "Sir" because he's American. He'll be called "Bud." Foreigners, it turns out, can only be honorary knights. Right, like Kingsley will be spending a lot of time drinking mead, riding into battle on horseback, and yanking swords from stones.

Having people be obligated to address you as "Sir" must be a nice thing, even though in England many people still use the word as an everyday sign of respect. That's very different from here in the U.S. where being called "Sir" is a sign that the snotty kid loading the picnic table into your minivan thinks 30 is old, your haircut is way out of style, and your car isn't nearly as cool as his. Or won't be once he actually earns enough money to buy one.

When a woman becomes a knight she's called "Dame." That too is unlike here, where if a woman spends the night she's called a dame. Of course you have to watch out for imposters, such as comic performer Dame Edna who isn't really a dame. As a matter of fact, she isn't really a she. She's a guy pretending to be a woman who's a knight. I say lock her up before she gets completely carried away and decides that she's the Virgin Mary too.

Queen Elizabeth didn't just hand out knighthoods, she also awarded a slew of lesser honors. The Bee Gees are now Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, an honor which allows them to wear uniforms like the Beatles did on the Sgt. Pepper's album while pondering exactly what the Queen thinks is left of the empire. There are OBEs (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) which went to people like Lynn Redgrave and Sade, and on the low end of the scale there's the MBE (Member of...), which is handed out as often as umbrellas on your average London day.

The MBE was bestowed on hundreds of people, including an Irish singer, a steel drum player from Trinidad and Tobago, an elementary school crossing guide in Scotland, and James Watson. No, not that James Watson. After all, who would want an MBE when you're already a knight? No, this is James Watson the parking lot attendant at Leeds Metropolitan University. Honestly. It's true he didn't discover the structure of DNA or win a Nobel Prize like his namesake, but let me tell you, the guy can park a car, change a quid, and touch up the scratch he put on your fender with the best of them.

We need to have honors like this in the United States. It's true the president and congress hand out medals from time to time, such as the Medal of Merit, Medal of Freedom, and Gold Medal of Flour, but that's just not the same. For one, you have to walk around with it pinned to your chest if you want anyone to know you have it. After all, it's not like it's attached to the front of your name like "Sir," or after it like the initials CBE, OBE, and MBE.

Think about it. We all know Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Edith Evans, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Laurence Olivier, who by the way should never be referred to as Sir Larry--after all, you don't talk about Queen Liz, Jr., do you? But how many American medal winners can you name? Other than members of the U.S. Olympic team.

Not only would establishing an American knighthood let the public become more aware of those who were honored, it would help get rid of the bad connotation the word has had for years thanks to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Knight Rider, and Ted Knight. And it's not like we'd have to worry about it setting up an upper class in this country. After all, as the English will gladly tell you, Americans have no class.

I say we do it. If we set it up right, becoming an American Knight would rank right up there with winning the lottery or waking up to discover yourself in a Las Vegas hotel next to Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney. True, it wouldn't be as cool as beating up Carrot Top, but what would be?

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