It’s not true that everyone admired the emperor’s new clothes. Oh, Fox News ran nightly specials with its correspondents praising the emperor’s fashion judgment. The Wall Street Journal declared that he had “grown into his new garments.”
But occasionally a boy or girl would glance up from a computer screen and say, “What are you all talking about? He’s as bare as the day he was born!” Adults were shocked at the young people’s cynicism. “Every generation seems worse than the last,” they would complain, and throw up their hands.
And in the Senate, venerable Sir Robert would rise to point out that, despite all the hoopla about the emperor’s clothes, one could still tell the size of the Jockey cup he needed, and could still see the scar where he had had his appendix removed. When Sir Robert began to speak, however, the other nobles would yawn, stretch, and look at their watches. “Let’s go read the polls,” they would say, and walk out of the chamber, leaving Sir Robert talking to empty seats.
The emperor’s friends and staff attacked the critics of his clothes. “Jealous,” they said, “and unpatriotic as well. Those garments are made out of our nation’s flags and sewn with threads of gold.” They trotted out tailors who swore they knew where the thread and material had come from. “The evidence for the existence of these garments is massive and undeniable,” they trumpeted. The Prime Minister of an ally declared, “These new garments are fantastic! I must have a set for myself!”
The bill for the new garments was astronomical, but the emperor was unconcerned. He decreed that taxes on the nobles be radically reduced. The peasants cheered, although the burden of paying the kingdom’s bills now fell more heavily on their shoulders.
The emperor’s brother, Prince Neil, and his uncle, Lord William, made their fortunes as “consultants” to companies that worked on the clothes. Billions of dollars of no-bid contracts went to the vice emperor’s old firm, which cleaned, maintained, and repaired the imperial garments; transported them from place to place; and fed the army of tailors at work on them.
Nonetheless, the emperor seems less inclined now to parade his new clothes. “I was given bad advice on the selection of material and on piecing the sections together,” he explains. Only this week he announced that he is creating a committee of inquiry to determine how his tailors could have made something so shoddy.
Of course, the emperor had commissioned the new garments. He and his vice emperor had demanded a certain design and specific materials. They had refused to wait for the royal inspectors to examine the pattern and cloth. “We can’t wait,” they had declared. “The emperor is throwing a big party; it’s been in planning for years.” When some of their tailors and seamstresses had looked at the material and complained, “There’s nothing here to work with,” they had been dismissed, or told to be quiet and get busy spinning and sewing.
There has been no single moment when a child exclaimed, “But he’s not wearing any clothes!” and the whole charade collapsed. Enlightenment has been slow. In fact, 45% of the empire refuses to believe to this day that a “born again” emperor would wear nothing but his birthday suit in public. Millions still look at his goosepimpled skin and see silk and ermine, with golden thread gleaming so brightly it blinds their eyes. One partisan declared, “Of course he’s dressed in new clothes. The proof is the weather. If he were trotting around naked in this freezing cold, he’d catch his death of pneumonia!” Imperial spokesmen have announced that coughing, sneezing, and wheezing heard coming from the palace are caused by allergies. “He’s allergic to criticism,” they explain. “He always has this reaction.”
© Tony Russell, 2004