Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Obligatory Royal Wedding Post

This is the obligatory royal wedding post, obligatory in the sense that the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton has all the earmarks of an epochal media event, so I feel I ought to say a little something about it. This may turn out to be one of those moments that will come to define the era, just as Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding did thirty years ago. I must have seen the news clips from that day a hundred times, and heard countless commentators wax poetic about the fairy-tale beginning of their troubled marriage. If I have to constantly hear about William and Kate's big day for the next thirty years, maybe I ought to get all the enjoyment out of the communal experience of the wedding excitement while I can.

But do I really want to haul myself out of bed in the pre-dawn hours to watch Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters tastefully shoehorn references to Princess Diana into the narrative wherever they can, or watch the "Good Morning America" crew have conniption fits over Kate's wedding dress? West Coasters like me will have it the worst, because the ceremony begins at 3AM in our time zone. I'm all for the excitement of a live event, but all the highlights will be aggregated in a couple of prime time specials, and the media will be running clips and post-ceremony analysis for the rest of the day anyway. I'm sure a couple of stations will be rebroadcasting the coverage at a more reasonable hour, and it shouldn't be too hard to find relatively commentary-free videos on the internet later, to avoid the media excess.

On the other hand, half the fun of the royal wedding is the media excess. Oh yes, I agree that it's annoying, inescapable, and getting entirely out of hand. I'm sure there are plenty of people desperate for all the fuss to be over with, so they can get on with their lives without being reminded of the wedding every five minutes. Yet, can you blame the media for their excitement? The wedding is something frivolous and happy to talk about, another chapter in the soap opera saga of the British royals, and a break from all the wars and the disasters and Donald Trump. The gossip magazines that have been chasing Charlie Sheen and those pregnant teenagers around for months must be thrilled to have a reason to talk about the royals again, who just haven't been generating as much drama in recent years as they once did.

And so the media has gleefully pounced on everything with any sort of peripheral connection to the big day. The wedding souvenirs have been cataloged. The donkey named after Prince William has gotten press. The guest list has been turned into a political battleground. The Middletons have been profiled everywhere. And the biggest non-story of the year must be the wedding dress that nobody has laid eyes on yet, but has nonetheless been inspiring endless speculation. And the fed-up wedding haters? The media loves them too. Story after story has given the gripers plenty of airtime and column inches to vent their spleen. Bloggers need no such invitation, and have spent the past several weeks declaring, one after another, why they don't care about the royal wedding.

There have been some good articles that have offered analysis on the broader historical, political, and cultural significance of William marrying Kate, and what it could mean for the future of the monarchy. However, with less than two days to go, probably the most fun reads have been the ones by journos who are totally out of ideas on how to stretch out the coverage for a few more hours, and have started giving into the madness. Are the Americans paying too much attention? Not enough? Are we all secret monarchists who wish George Washington had decided to become a king rather than a president? The New York Times says the French are excited. Why are the French excited? Should we be worried? And the Obamas weren't invited? But then, neither were Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. But how can that be possible? What does it all mean?!

Well, for most of us it means that on Friday there's going to be a big, shiny event wedding which will feature a lot of pomp and circumstance, pageantry, and celebrities everywhere you look. For older viewers, it might be a nice time to look back and take stock of everything that's happened since the last royal wedding in 1981. And it's as good an excuse as any to take a day off, stay up all night with friends, and make a long weekend of it. Or disconnect from the grid for a day or two until the whole thing blows over. These royal weddings are irregular, once-in-a-generation events, like coronations and papal ascensions. They have undeniable historical significance, but in the end they mean exactly as much or as little as you want them to. And there are really no rules on how to celebrate or acknowledge them, if you choose to.

Which is why I'm sleeping in on Friday... probably.

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