OHATCHEE, Al. May 24, 2011 — As the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have just returned from renting a private island in the Seychelles for their honeymoon (and finally met President “smart alec” Obama), the Royal Wedding news has cooled somewhat.
But hither and yon, bits and pieces of the story still appear, and I can’t manage to go without commenting on the famous royal matrimony of my generation now, can I?
I’ve never been a particularly romantic girl. While my friends wanted to play “house” and “princess” games, I was usually painting watercolor landscapes or cataloguing my personal zoo of earthworms, pond snails and water bugs. That being said, I never thought much about weddings, royal or otherwise.
But last month, I noticed something odd. While researching Middle East politics - or 2012 U.S. election rumors - or listening to a podcast of wise old scientists chatting about intelligent design - suddenly some headline about Prince William’s bride would show up and I just had to click it.
I don’t know why – it’s as if suddenly I was acting like a girl or something.
Yet, I have a reasonable excuse – it just wouldn’t be right for a history major working in media to be totally clueless about our good old ally’s future queen (and her absurdly perfect hair, smile, figure, wardrobe…).
I wasn’t among the nearly 23 million Americans who were up before dawn to watch the Royal Wedding proceedings (here is managing editor Jacquie Kubin’s minute by minute run down of it if you missed it). I’ll confess that my sister Rachel and I toyed with the idea of getting up at five in the morning to get a glimpse of the ceremony of the century, just so we could say we did it.
However, a tumultuous tornado system happened to knock the electricity out of our home, just in time for the event. Oh well…
When our grandparents brought over some hot breakfast that morning, Grandmomma informed us of the Royal Wedding details we were deprived of (Granddaddy, needless to say, thought all the hoopla was ridiculous).
“It’s totally embarrassing that Americans cared about that. We fought a Revolution against the royal family,” said Ann Coulter, commenting on Americans’ fascination with the Royal Wedding and Princess Diana through the years.
Coulter’s assessment is understandable (I’ll note that she said she liked – albeit felt sorry for – Kate Middleton), and I’m inclined at first thought to agree with her.
But now I want to determine if that’s a fair enough assessment.
Allow me to sort through a few ideas about why Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton caught some Americans’ fancy.
Besides the picturesque handsome prince and beautiful princess iconism, what was it about the event that got America interested in snooping on her ex-monarchy?
1. Fashion is one part of it, to state the obvious. Undoubtedly American women’s fascination with the Royal Wedding had some basis in fashion. Traditionally - perhaps ironically - the New World has apparently always been concerned about catching up (or down) with what the Old World is doing, whether it be hairstyles or socialized medicine. (I’m not sure I’ll ever understand fascination with the latter.)
When the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil to escape from Napoleon, the society women of Rio de Janeiro eagerly showed up at the dock to welcome European royalty to American shores for the first time - and catch up on the latest European fashions, of course. To their surprise, the royal ladies had shaved heads.
Not realizing that this was due to eradicating lice infestation during the long voyage overseas, the colonial women presumed it was fashionable in Lisbon and promptly went home to shave their own heads.
I don’t think we have to worry about shorn female heads anymore (just some funky hats, maybe - unless Britney Spears’ odd antic caught on somewhere). Personally, fashion has never been my thing anyway - so it’s usually best if I leave the shopping to my dancing, songwriting sister.
Although, I do love that blue Issa dress Kate wore to announce her engagement. If only I could find one like that in…I don’t know, a shade of crimson maybe…
Royalty has often been the arbiter of style. In America, first ladies and film actresses served to set fashion trends through example as well. But, on the subject of royal weddings, it was Queen Victoria who essentially gave us the tradition of the white wedding dress. See? We owe more to royal weddings than we think we do…
2. Heritage is another element to consider. While skimming comments and tweets about news coverage of the Royal Wedding throughout the internet, I came across some that called critics of Americans who followed the Royal Wedding “Anglophobes” who were disrespecting the ethnic heritage of a vast number of U.S. citizens.
I know, our English heritage goes way back there…but it’s still there for many of us (like the old English family of Read). Concerning our ex-monarchy, it was the Hanoverians we had a problem with, not the Windsors. Okay, there was a name change. Big deal - and no, we’re still not interested in having a monarchy ourselves. They’re just fun to look at from the distance.
We share a language with England (although we know that Americans spell everything the right way), we share a legal heritage with England, we can’t get enough of that rich British literature…is it really surprising that a deeply Anglo-American culture gets a little interested in a British royal wedding?
The forbidden aspect might be intriguing too. What is so naughty about a title of nobility that it is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution unless Congress gives consent? (See Article I, Section 9, US Constitution.)
3. Our president and first lady didn’t get invited (so we were all the more curious about what they were missing out on). After a few awkward years of President “Chalaque” Obama giving Britain the cold shoulder, they incidentally returned the favor. Oddly enough, on the wedding day Obama ended up in my neck of the woods, consoling tornado ravaged areas and getting harassed by a wasp.
An American president not attending a royal wedding is not unusual. But usually somebody at the White House is at least invited, and some sort of emissary manages to attend. (I haven’t found one for this recent wedding yet, feel free to update me if I’m wrong.)
President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan were invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The Gipper didn’t bother going (typical American man, though he had a good excuse - he’d almost been assassinated a few months before), but Nancy did.
4. Marriage is still considered important. While summarizing the whole event, the issue of marriage itself came to my mind. Girls are fascinated by royal weddings, perhaps because of the glamour it represents - attaining power by falling in love and becoming a bride.
That’s an embellishment, of course. In the past, when such monarchs had considerable power, marriages weren’t as likely to be for love first, and now, when the romantic relationship is a more prominent factor (Kate was a genuine commoner that Will met at college!), political power isn’t a big deal. The influence of the British monarchy may still be significant, but it’s obviously not the same as it used to be. We’re in an era where, for the most part, commoners rule the world.
But, considering the unfortunate drama that surrounded British royal marriages in the near past, the prospect of observing and well-wishing a healthy and happy marriage between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seems enjoyable. The predictably stuffy ceremony actually had a sweet sermon, which Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s prayer complemented.
My great-grandfather used to call weddings “a poor form of entertainment,” and I, too, used to think the pomp of weddings in general was silly. But, seeing how the basic unit of governance in society - the family founded by one man and one woman, husband and wife - has been so threatened by human folly and cultural decline, celebrating a marriage is important.
When I interviewed conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway last year, I mentioned statistics about an increasing fraction of the population believing that marriage is becoming obsolete because of the rampancy of divorce. Conway pointed out to me that a problem with the conservative movement regarding this issue is that “they present themselves as ‘being against same-sex marriage,’ instead of trying to buttress traditional marriage. We have decades lost of trying to explain to younger generations why marriage is an important institution. People weren’t defending traditional marriage at this level until it was threatened by same-sex marriage.”
While I don’t consider myself a fan of the royal family, at the end of the day, I think I would rather see the media give preferential treatment to the Royal Wedding than to Judge Vaughn Walker’s favoring of gay “marriage” against the will of the people, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mistress.
Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 17 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.
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