Why the royal wedding is not so royal
By Dan Friedman
The opinions expressed are his own.
July 29, 1981 was a beautiful day for playing soccer. The sun was bright, the sky was blue and, like a schoolboy’s dream, the normally crowded streets were empty, making the whole world a soccer field. The only drawback was that I had to make my own sandwiches for lunch because my mum was otherwise occupied, glued to the television.
It was the day of The Royal Wedding, when the definite article was resounding. Television in a hundred countries played nothing else and chinaware in a million British households carried the imprint of a fresh-faced Lady Di opposite her less fresh, famously big-eared groom. The eyes of the world were on England and the eyes of England were on the thronged streets through which the royal carriages would proceed with pomp and ceremony.
In 1981 I didn’t care because I didn’t know enough to appreciate its moment in history. I still don’t care to this day because the last three decades have seen the drastic devaluation of the importance of such an event. Three and a half royal weddings (if you include Charles’s marriage to Camilla as a half), two royal divorces and a tragic royal death have made royal dramas almost commonplace. Moreover, royalty doesn’t command the premium it once did.
Back when the Windsors were still called Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and could hide in their palaces with their privacy intact, they could pretend to be dignified, but, after Prince Philip’s racist remarks, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s sordid financial bloopers and Prince Charles’s well-aired desire to be Camilla’s tampon there’s not much romance or respect left for them.
For my class (middle) and generation (middle) of Britons who largely believe in a meritocratic state, where wealth, privilege and office are not passed down through families, the royal family is an embarrassing anachronism. It’s a feudal atavism which appeals to those parts of society who find comfort in nostalgia, reassurance in pomp and spurious balance in the idea of an independent branch of government to rein in any elected excess.
Moreover, now the British royal family — and they are only tenuously British since Prince Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and the Queen’s family only changed its name from its German-sounding one during the First World War — is not just competing against European monarchies for glamor, but against celebrities who spend their whole lives in the sort of superficial glittering spotlights that gladiators and emperors have sought for millennia. In the television wedding viewing stakes, Kate and William have to compare themselves not only to William’s parents in 1981, but also to the likes of Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom.
This, of course, is the way it’s always been. Give the people bread and circuses and they’ll leave the governance alone — and between cable television and the Internet there are plenty of circuses. When Lady Di, as she was known before she married aged barely 20, was featured on the cover of every major glossy magazine it was a novelty. Although the astounding ability of her face to sell issues is well attested, the novelty was that her celebrity was thrust on her. She was not a model, her shyness was evident, her beauty natural and, ironically, her pedigree was so impeccable that it was arguably more English and more regal than her groom. The only blow against her — laughably so, with the benefit of hindsight — was that her parents were divorced.
In 2011, though, there’s a steady stream of hustlers and self-promoters flirting across the front pages. Professional intruders like TMZ and Gawker spend their time making news out of celebrities. Reality television (even as it wearily reaches the end of its first decade) promotes a degraded version of democracy where any citizen can subject himself or herself to a royal level of invasive scrutiny, becoming the latest victim of their 15 minutes of fame.
I have no quarrel with William or Kate and, like any young married couple I wish them the best. But like Kardashian and Odom their wellbeing is of almost no account to me. The hushed tones of the commentators describing the carriages’ arrival at Westminster Abbey are just the barely acceptable side of the despicable paparazzi who make a living from extracting pictures from the unwilling and the desperate (Suri Cruise anyone?) to thrust into the living rooms of the sad and distracted (uprisings in the Middle East anyone?).
Around the time of Diana’s divorce and death I moved to the United States of America which, despite an indecent amount of interest in them, does not owe the British royal family allegiance. While I won’t be playing soccer in the streets this time around during a royal wedding, one thing hasn’t changed — I won’t be watching it and I’ll still have to make my own lunch!
Dan Friedman is also the Arts and Culture editor for the Jewish Daily Forward.
Photos, top to bottom: Britain’s Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Adrian Dennis/Pool; The carriage carrying Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and the China’s President Hu Jintao drives along The Mall in London November 8, 2005. REUTERS/Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/WPW Pool; A set of commemorative Pez candy dispensers, to celebrate the wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, is pictured at the Pez headquarters in Traun March 30, 2011. The dispensers will be auctioned on the Internet to raise money for a charity to be determined by the royal couple. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer