For those who don’t remember the story about the Emperor and his new clothes, here’s the gist of it:
The Emperor, who had more money than brains, fancied himself a connoisseur of high fashion, which left him open to being swindled by a confidence trickster who posed as a travelling tailor.
The Emperor desired new robes and the con-artist convinced him he’d just come from Paris with the latest fabrics and styles worn by the French aristocracy — who, as everyone knows, always dress in the hautest of coutures.
The con-artist had never been to Paris, bore no fabrics, knew no new styles and had no idea how to sew together a suit of anything, so to bilk the Emperor of his money the fake tailor measured him from top to bottom, side to side and all the way around, and then pretended to cut and sew bolts and bolts of cloth that didn’t actually exist.
When he was finished, he stripped the Emperor of his rich robes (keeping them for himself) and fitted him with his imaginary clothing — leaving the Emperor as completely naked as the day he’d come into the world.
As much as the Emperor believed the smooth-talking traveller, he knew something was wrong since he could feel the sun on his bare skin and he could see in the mirror he really wasn’t wearing anything at all. However, he was too embarrassed to tell this mere tailor that he just didn’t get the new styles. How could he admit this commoner could see something that he, an emperor, could not?
So the Emperor did what many people in power do when they’re faced with an uncomfortable clash between what is real and what they want to be real. The Emperor censored himself.
Since reality was inconvenient, reality must be wrong. The Emperor told himself that he was not nude — that he was indeed wearing the most beautiful and luxurious clothing that he had ever enjoyed on his body in his entire spoiled life.
When the Emperor’s butler and chambermaid came into the room and saw their boss naked, they knew better than to react in any negative way, since they both had bills to pay and neither wanted to lose their employment.
When the apparent tailor urged them to admire the Emperor’s new clothes, the two lowly staff members censored themselves. They said nothing about his nudity, but instead gushed about how finely His Highness was clad.
Next came the courtiers — the Emperor’s advisers and the members of his cabinet. These politicians quickly comprehended the situation and immediately perceived the safest strategy. They banished the words “nude,” “naked” and “starkers” from their minds — not letting them anywhere near their mouths.
One or two of the courtiers who were less inclined towards self-censorship may have tried to hint that the Emperor’s clothing wasn’t quite as sumptuous as he believed. They were quickly shushed by the others.
Next came the public procession. Clothing this fine had to be paraded for all to see.
Word went out to the peasantry to gather in the streets because something really big was going to happen.
When everybody saw the Emperor come strutting down the cobblestones with more on display than any of them cared to witness, they all knew enough to censor themselves, too — just like the lackies and politicians.
“What amazing clothing!” they cried — all except one.
“But the Emperor has no clothing!” proclaimed one boy, who happened to be an apprentice in the Towncriers’ Guild and felt it was his duty to point out such obvious facts.
The Emperor immediately sued the boy for libel and threatened the guild with court action. Some guild members objected, but it was no use.
“The boy’s right,” they tried to say. “The Emperor is nu… He’s na… The man’s sta…”
No matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t pronounce the magic words.
So now everybody of importance is wearing the new fashions from Paris. The Emperor sports his new clothes everywhere and all his courtiers dress the same. There’s even some in the guild and many commoners who are trying to book the busy new tailor.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.