“You’re from England, aren’t you?” asked the lady behind the supermarket checkout. “Will you be watching the Royal Wedding?”
I shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Well,” she said, “I will.”
Royal Wedding fever on this side of the pond has reached bemusing levels of hysteria. The happy couple’s faces smile from magazines at every checkout, and news channels fill their airtime with Royal Wedding stories. BBC America is running a program called “Royally Mad,” in which five Americans, chosen by the BBC for their worrying obsession with the Windsor family, are whisked to London for a few days of royal sycophancy and accumulation of Will-and-Kate souvenir teaspoons. In the interests of research for this post, I watched the first episode and, try as I might, couldn’t understand what made otherwise sane people turn on the waterworks at the sight of a ho-hum frock once worn by Princess Diana. Growing up in England, I was used to hearing the BBC speak of the Royals with hushed deference. This tearful swooning over recent Royal memorabilia was more suited for a US network channel documentary about a pilgrimage to Graceland.
In a very unscientific survey, I asked some of my English friends if they were looking forward to the wedding. The answers varied from a resounding “No!” to “Looking forward to the street party” to “I love a good wedding.” (So do I — when I personally know the parties involved.) Interestingly, the most enthusiastic responses came from expat friends in Singapore and Saudi Arabia. None, however, displayed the starstruck adulation of the Royal Family that I see in America.
So why the American fixation with English Royalty? Americans had their most significant war while ridding themselves of the people whose descendants they now idolize. Legend has it they weren’t ready to give up the idea of a monarchy even then: a group of people wanted to crown George Washington as the first King of America, but he refused. Had his ego been bigger, Americans would now have their own King Paul.
But Washington’s decision prevailed, so another idol had to be found. The Kennedy dynasty is sometimes referred to as America’s Royalty, as are the President and First Lady. Presidents, though, must be elected — even when they are part of a political dynasty. True idols must have a birthright, be it a 1,000-year genealogy, a trust fund from the Hilton empire, or innate acting ability (especially when coupled with a last name of Redgrave, Barrymore, etc.) In terms of public fawning and adoration, I feel it’s fair to compare English Royalty with Hollywood stars.
As I watch the hoopla surrounding this wedding, however, it seems the distinction between Beverly Hills and Buckingham Palace has blurred. Disney princesses are being confused with the real deal. A few days ago on a BBC blog, an American commenter noted that she liked the way the Royal Family did their weddings openly. Hollywood stars, she said, held their weddings in secret now, and that was no fun.
Perhaps the Windsors could learn something from Hollywood.
One of the attractions of the Royal Family used to be its mystique. Unfortunately, with the modern, out-of-control paparazzi and a gossip-hungry public denied the insight into Hollywood weddings, mystique is a thing of the past, and its disappearance was greatly aided by Prince Charles and Princess Diana separately airing their dirty laundry on TV in the mid-1990s. It might be prudent for Royals either to stay out of the limelight or behave with a little decorum and sensitivity, as the Royal Matriarch has always done. Because when newspapers run stories about Prince Andrew spending taxpayers’ money on numerous helicopter rides to play golf, or Prince Harry turning up to fancy dress parties in Nazi uniforms, it’s hard for English Joe Public to go along with the notion that these people are privileged by divine right any more than Paris Hilton is.
I honestly am not being mean-spirited — I genuinely wish Prince William and Kate Middleton all the best for their life together, just as I would wish it for any couple about to get married. She seems a nice enough girl, and he understands the definition of ‘Love,’ unlike his father. But the whole thing has been blown out of proportion, as Jerry Seinfeld controversially – or refreshingly, depending on your viewpoint – pointed out on Friday, when on a British TV show he called the wedding “a circus.” “These are not special people,” he said.
The reaction from the show’s hosts (“How dare he!”) was not unlike that of the Washington Post in response to Ricky Gervais’s comments at this year’s Golden Globes.
“Are we at war with England? If not, then why have we been subjected to two years of Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globe Awards?”
And yet despite the furor, Gervais is rumored to be returning to host the awards for a third time, proving that he did provide the shot of popularity that the Globes needed.
Windsors and BBC take note. Judging by the number of positive comments from the British public about Jerry’s outburst, I am not the only Brit to feel nonplussed about the Wedding Of The Century.
For Harry’s wedding, book Jerry Seinfeld to do the commentary.
Adrian Chiles, host of the British TV show that featured Jerry Seinfeld, suggested that Seinfeld could end up doing his stand-up show on June 3 from the Tower of London. Do you agree? If not, whom would you rather see in the Tower?
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As you know, I’ve been composing blog posts for nearly a year under the heading of “Been There, Done That, Seen the Elephant.” And that I’m afraid is the attitude I take towards the Royal Wedding.
You see, I’m old enough to remember RW #1. And even more fixed in my memory is Diana’s death and the impassioned debate it spurred — all the hand wringing about how she’d been sacrificed to our collective need to put certain of our fellow human beings on a pedestal and ogle them (in her case to death).
I guess it’s supposed to be different this time around. Kate isn’t as ogle-worthy as Diana: she doesn’t seem to have as much of the “it” factor. William is more devoted than Charles was (as you mention, he understands the meaning of “love”).
And maybe the British monarchy are finally ready to eat humble pie and copy the example of the remaining European monarchs, who some time ago assumed a lower profile, more fitting to the 21st century. Didn’t I just now read somewhere that Kate plans to cook for Wills? Now that would be a change.
But even if all of that transpires — and for Kate and Wills’s sake I hope it does — it still leaves open the question: why do we still have these people?
Are they an anachronism — in which case, how sad! And what does it say about the ones who actually enjoy it, like the current queen: can’t she think of anything better to do? Pathetic. (Though I suppose she does have the consolation of leading an extraordinarily privileged existence at the British taxpayers’ expense.)
Alternatively, perhaps the royals fulfill some kind of primordial need to ensure that some human beings stand apart from the rest merely by birth. We enjoy bowing down to them, and though we may grumble about paying for them, the fact remains we do cough up the funds — as long as they in turn subject themselves to our every scrutiny.
In which case, what does that say about homo sapiens?
Now you and I have chosen to become displaced from our native lands and, in the process, have become detached from certain realities. The good thing about this is that we can stand back and say: “The Emperor has no clothes!” But the bad thing is we are no longer attuned to tribal behavior. Indeed, should TDN become more populated, how soon would it be before we ended up with royalty (or its equivalent), too? Just as America, at one time a brand new nation without a king, ended up with Hollywood…
I’m pretty sure that there’s a long tradition of making a big stink about royal weddings – especially once there was a means for mass manufacture and distribution (you can find prints and china going back centuries).
And actually, celebrity among royalty in England isn’t new – my husband wrote a book about a bigamous duchess who literally had thousands of people attend her trial (they had to build bleachers) in the late 18th century.
BUT the difference is that now with the Internet, TV, etc., it can become a 24-7 enterprise. And that is what is just tedious and leads me to say “who cares?” (Although I am curious about her dress. Because I like dresses.)
Ah, the dress. You’ve got me there. I know what will likely happen — I’ll get up on April 29th, and at some point will wonder, “What’s she wearing?” and tune in, get drawn into wondering what the bridesmaids’ dresses are like, what music the couple chose… Never mind. A cat may look at a queen-to-be.
In theory I am absolutely not a royalist. In practice, I cannot see the point of sweeping away an institution with an irreplaceable history which draws the interest of the world every time there is a major event in our country and which generates so much income for the smallest to the largest businesses.
The Queen serves as our head of state. The marriage of the heir to the throne cannot be private. From this marriage will come a future King or Queen. The wedding represents the continuity and the stability of both the family and the state. The parades stand as symbols of the nations power, such as it still is, wealth and status in the world. Whether the naysayers like it or not, such events serve a unifying purpose. This sort of show is actually what Hollywood stars mimic.
What I thinks is interesting is how many people I meet who, perhaps in the interests of appearing sophisticated, claim no interest in the wedding, but who unwittingly display a huge amount of knowledge about it. Despite these people, this will probably be the most watched event on television ever. Not only, terrorist threats aside, will it show Britain in a positive light, particularly as I watch from the chaos of the Middle East, but it is going to generate a huge amount of money. Supermarkets, vendors of all descriptions, hotels, taxi firms and a host of other will all benefit from this. Some of them for years to come.
I suppose their existence is privileged, but if it generates something bigger, I would prefer not to risk cutting our noses off to spite our faces. There are so many examples of presidents around the world stealing their countries’ wealth and salting it away in private Swiss accounts that I say, better the devil you know. Afterall, who is interested in getting up to see what the presidents of Libya, Syria or, dare I say it, America are wearing!
Love the article — it’s great to think about and discuss these things. More please.
Joanna in Saudi
Your first paragraph sums up my ambiguous feelings to the letter. I suppose it’s my contrary nature that makes me feel irritated whenever someone assumes that, because I’m English, I have an inherent love of/interest in the royal family. Well, I used to…I watched the wedding in 1981 with the obsessive passion that I’m berating now in other people. So something changed in the last thirty years. I’m not sure what the tipping point was.
But you’re right – why sweep away centuries of history when it attracts this much income and attention?
My hunch that the royals can be compared to Hollywood, though, was somewhat backed up yesterday in the Huffington Post, who reported that NBC is cutting back its coverage of the wedding because William and Kate are ‘too boring.’
Apparently, being second in line to the throne or being a Cinderella princess isn’t enough to generate interest. NBC denied this report, however…
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