There's a very funny comment attached to yesterday's post about London, in which someone points out that apparently, some media outlet or other "did a minute and a half on the vacuuming of Westminster Abbey." To all who lament this particular kind of fixation on finding an angle — ANY angle — on which to hang a story, I say: I am with you. Whether it's the "it turns out that this international incident that took place in Paris hit close to home for someone right here in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin!" story on the local news, or, yes, the vacuuming of Westminster Abbey, it can be trying.
But let me posit something else, which is that it wouldn't be unreasonable to give people a break for looking forward to watching the wedding.
Look, you can blame Disney for Disney princesses, but you cannot blame Disney for princesses. Storytelling about princesses — or girls who grow up to meet princes — go back a lot farther than Disney, or cartoons, or television, or the all-in all-the-time environment that brings you "The Abbey Vacuumed: A Special Investigation."
Storytelling about princes and princesses — and their equivalents — goes back considerably longer than television and is not a product of American media. If you don't believe me, ask Andromeda.
Moreover, I keep hearing that (some) Americans are more interested in this wedding than (many) actual British people, which I'm sure is true, and which makes sense as well. Let me ask this: How often do you read about the British monarchy from the incredibly America-focused American popular-culture machine? I would venture to say that the answer is probably that you don't hear about them all that often. Yes, for a few years, there was the occasional Prince Harry Is At It Again tale, and back when Diana was alive, she was obviously heavily covered, both in life and in death.
But these people, the ones getting married? William? How many times have you actually heard William's voice? If you heard it on the radio, would you recognize it? I doubt I would. I certainly wouldn't recognize Kate Middleton's. Compared to our own celebrities, who are always popping up on late-night television and in magazines to talk about themselves, we barely know these people. And that, it seems to me, is a bit of a relief, particularly if you don't usually experience it.
American media has a chokingly chatty relationship with the famous. They talk constantly to us. They're interviewed, they're on DVD extras, they're making their own perfumes, whatever. And sometimes, this is fantastic — I love it that actors go on Fresh Air and talk about their work for an hour at a time. But everything has ups and downs, and the trade-off here is that what you don't get with this approach is any sort of remove that allows the romanticizing of public figures in the way you can romanticize them when they talk a lot less. This is not to condone the romanticizing of celebrities as a good thing, but again, it's not something that's been ginned up for this wedding, and it far predates Ryan Seacrest.
The paparazzi, of course, follows the royal family doggedly; we need not repeat the stories of that, I don't think. But they don't chatter back all the time. They'll do an interview now and then, but for the most part, they're not yip-yapping in public about every thing that comes into their heads. It's kind of quaint, when you read regularly about celebrity sex tapes, to see people who issue official palace statements when they have something to say instead of calling TMZ.
It's perfectly logical that this event has raised questions about the monarchy and whether it should continue to exist, and about lavish ceremonies during bad economic times, and about whether "The Abbey Sucked Clean Of Lint" should really be dominating the news. Absolutely fair questions, absolutely.
But if you find yourself saying, "I cannot imagine why anyone is interested in this story of young love involving a handsome prince who has experienced terrible adversity and now seems to have found love with a beautiful young woman who undoubtedly never expected to become royalty," try to pause on that bafflement and think about how how much sense it makes. It's not necessarily correct or brutally rational to be touched by all this, and if we knew more about it, it would undoubtedly lose some of its luster, and for actual British people who have to contend with their own form of government and the consequences thereof, the frustration makes more sense to me.
But the buttons a royal wedding pushes at some level were not installed by E! and are not unique to crass American consumerism. There's a reason why royalty, going back as long as royalty has existed, frequently goes hand in hand with pageantry. (This despite the fact that British royal weddings specifically have certainly not always been the hootenannys you see today.) Enjoying a certain amount of ceremony and ritual — big dresses, military uniforms, horses in formation, music in a chapel — is not a sign that the end of civilization is upon us. In fact, it has a fairly long history as part of any number of civilizations that did not have cable.
Don't get me wrong: There is an entirely reasonable debate about how much fixation on which aspects of an event like this makes any sense at all. But being utterly confused about how a big fancy event centered around a love story between two young and pretty people gets anyone's attention seems a little silly to me. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.