After a week in Beth Woodward’s basement, being tortured by endless reruns of The Vampire Diaries and Off the Map, our CC2K Book Editor was kind enough to release me just in time for a global event: The Royal Wedding. I can feel the wave of your sympathy rolling my way now as you might think I would have been better off buried in that basement for another week than having to endure that, right? As I understand it, by now many of you may be sick and tired of hearing about the wedding of one Kate Middleton and one Prince William of Windsor. If this is the case, I tell you this: I have long been sick of the hype around Harry Potter, Robert Pattinson, Justin Bieber and every new comic book movie that is coming out, but that doesn’t make any of you shut up about it, so I am gonna write about the Royal Wedding, even if it kills me.
And kill me it might, because I hate admitting that I actually got sucked into this romance against my will and what I thought would be cultural torture turned into a cultural please the more I thought about it. But let me start at the beginning:
Last year I happened to be visiting my grandparents when Princess Victoria of Sweden got married to the commoner, fitness coach Daniel. My grandma, being of a different generation and reading a certain gossip magazine that covers the royalty of Europe every week, naturally tuned into coverage of this royal wedding on TV. And made me watch the entire damn thing. From the pre-wedding coverage of the arrivals, to the ceremony, to the celebratory boat ride through Stockholm’s harbor, to the walk into the palace, to the kissing on the balcony, to the replays afterwards. I saw the whole entire thing. And I mocked it the entire time, remarking how uncomfortable and out of place commoner Daniel looked and how hilarious some of the fashion was. Until my grandma told me to stop being so mean and cynical.
In the weeks leading up to the English Royal Wedding I wasn’t particularly interested or excited in the events that were going to unfold, but I knew all the media would be talking about it, my Twitter feed would blow up with it on the day and I would be curiously out of the pop-culture loop if I didn’t watch. For once, I was also in the fortunate position to live on the right side of the big pond for a big event, so that I didn’t have to defy sleep and sanity to watch the Royal Wedding happen. I just had to get up at my regular hour and turn on my TV.
An approximate 2 billion people across the globe did the same, not even half of which were members of the Commonwealth and therefore subjects of the family holding the wedding. The rest watched because it was an event, a “celebrity event”, hyped by the media, featuring beautiful, privileged people in expensive wardrobe following a protocol, i.e. a script to create the perfect illusion of a dream wedding. There’s only one thing: that’s not what it was. Or at least that’s not all it was.
Sure, that’s what it may look like from the outside, but to most of us Europeans royalty is still something other than celebrity, even though the two concepts overlap and have many of the same features and the former always ensures the latter and may in fact even be its origin. The younger generation, the one I count myself amongst, doesn’t care about the royals in any way other than their celebrity status, at least not during any regular day of the week. The concept of ruling monarchy itself is a highly divisive issue in some of the countries still working with such a system, not the smallest of criticisms being launched from the platform that “maintaining royalty” costs an outrageous amount of money, because after all, the tax payers pay for all the stuff the royals have in some way or another. But then again, don’t American taxpayers pay for everything the Kardashians have by purchasing their clothing line, their branded water and watching their TV shows?
You can’t tell me that all those among you who have been raving about Game of Thrones and other such epic fantasy stories don’t share in the eternal fascination that is royalty and all the concepts, myths, duties and rules that come with it. While we might be tempted to condemn royalty as “a thing of the past” and cite our treasured egalitarianism as a sign that we have overcome such arbitrary systems of power, I would maintain that we have created monsters far worse than today’s royalty and that egalitarianism is an illusion anyway. After all, don’t we bow to the demands by Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey et al. when they demand their dressing rooms be furnished in white, with vanilla scented candles and Moroccan lilies? What made them more equal than the rest of us?
The rich and (politically) powerful families in countries without a monarchy may not carry a “Royal Highness” in front of their names, but being born into these families still guarantees power, wealth and privilege, sometimes even with the added benefit that the paparazzi won’t be lurking outside your door to snap pictures, simply because the world is still in denial about the power these elite families really hold.
I’ll take my old-fashioned royalty over that any day and before we get too political in what is supposed to be a TV column, let’s look at William and Kate and their story and the media’s role in it.
Back in high school, my best friend had a huge crush on William, as did many teenage girls. Back then, he was just a handsome young lad with money and a huge mansion to live in. I myself on the other hand always thought “The poor bastard has the worst luck in the world being born into that family”. You’ve all seen enough history dramas to know that being born a future king of any country is the guarantee for a non-carefree life, being scrutinized for every mistake and living under an eternal microscope. Now, all kinds of celebrities claim they never wanted the eternal spotlight that shines on them because of their job as actors or singers and so on. But in William’s and Harry’s case that is actually true. There is not a damn thing they could do about all the media attention they got from their birth onward. And because their family are literally public servants, who cannot justify withdrawing from the world to get some privacy, because the public is their business, their purpose and their legitimization, William and Harry (and of course Diana back in the day) had no way of escaping the avalanche of attention and expectation that has tried to bury them every step of the way.
Am I getting a little carried away in pathos here? Sorry, it must be all that Game of Thrones and Camelot and The Borgias I have been watching. What I am trying to say is: being a royal sucks on many, many levels. Academic failure is not an option, for example. Sure, you might think getting into the most prestigious schools of a country simply because you carry a title is a great thing. But you may not find it so awesome when you get a C on your research paper about 16th Century literature and your grandma, The Queen of England, and your father, the Prince of Wales, and half of the Commonwealth is on your case about it.
If you’re a boy, like William and Harry had the bad fortune to be, things get even worse: no matter how much you might be a pacifist, you have to serve in the military. Chances are you’ll even attend a military school for your whole education. Oh, and you can’t just get away with trudging along unnoticed, following the rules but never making much of a splash. You have to prove yourself, you have to go where your troops are fighting, even when you know that just because your damn last name is Windsor, every ‘bad guy’ on the planet would love nothing more than to make your head a trophy (all the more kudos to Harry for serving as an air controller in Afghanistan anyway, until someone leaked this fact to the press and made it way too dangerous).
It’s easy to forget that the royals aren’t just celebrities, they serve a function, they work, just like all other politicians do. At all times must they be informed of global politics, internal politics, current debates and the mood of their country. After all, the Queen still has the ultimate power to veto any law the English Parliament wants to pass and that will be the end of that discussion.
Every occasion in the royals’ life is an event covered with duties and expectations. You can’t even stay in bed on your nth birthday because you feel crappy about getting older, without incurring the outrage of a lot of people at your ungratefulness, because technically they paid for the renovation you did for the leaky palace roof earlier that year, which they all love looking at and taking pictures of and would miss if it went away, landmark that it is.
Keeping all of that in mind I have nothing but respect and admiration for the way William and Catherine handled the ‘family affair’ – as he joked – of their global event wedding. They knew they had no way out of it, so they played along as best they could, even though everyone knew this was not the wedding they would have chosen, if they had been given a choice. What pervaded the majestic shots of Westminster Abbey, the designer gown, the carriage ride, the staged kissing on the balcony was the sense that here was a couple who was truly in love – much in contrast to what transpired with Charles and Diana or many other royal couples in the past – and who were doing their own families and all the other people a favor by giving us all the images we craved in the quiet hope that afterwards, we’d leave them alone for a while. Can’t you just see Aragorn and Arwen doing the same thing? Aragorn, the reluctant king, marrying a woman of a species he wasn’t supposed to be marrying and then putting on a show for all of Gondor and Middle Earth to see, to inspire in them a sense of joy and security, even though all he really wants is to get Arwen alone in his bedroom and get started on making a family?
Reportedly, William asked The Queen for a two year period of grace for him and his new bride, so that they can enjoy their newlywed lives in Wales, where William is serving as a rescue helicopter pilot, and don’t have to attend every single official event that requires royal attention. The Queen herself back in the day wanted to actually take a decade or so off with her husband Philip and do the same, but her father’s death put an end to that dream and she had to succeed him to the Throne. One can only hope William will be luckier, he has suffered enough bad luck for a lifetime, I’d say. And he should be fairly safe, given the fact that his father will definitely become King before him, no matter how much we may stomp and froth at the mouth (it’s a very complicated protocol, basically hell would have to freeze over for things to go differently than that.)
So given all of these circumstances, the insane expectations and demands, I appreciate the show William and Kate put on for us for what it was: a show. This was not the way they would have chosen to express their love, but they know all too well that in their lives, not a lot of things will boil down to choice anymore.
What they represent to many of us Europeans is a curious mixture of nostalgia for the past and our long, long history and a yearning for modernity and breaking with ancient rules and traditions that don’t make sense anymore. Much like every one of us rebels against our parents or even grandparents in some way, denying that their values still hold true or their way is the best way to do it, when it comes to our granny’s 80th birthday, we still all dress up in our nicest clothes, buy flowers and sit straight because our granny likes it that way.
These days royalty is not an easy concept to understand – although maybe it never was – because what once counted as a legitimate claim to power – “God put me here” – now sounds arbitrary to many and in clear contrast to the principle of equality for all. It seems though that at least the younger generation of royals is acutely aware of this tension and you can take William as a prime example for this. Unlike his rebellious brother Harry, who has the comfort of knowing he will probably never be king and so enjoys more leeway, William has never been described as anything but kind, humble, giving, intelligent and an all-around pal. It seems he has never assumed he is better than anyone, and more often than not, has wished himself to be Joe Normal and it is this humility that lends new authority to the Royal House of England, which has become more and more criticized over the years – especially since Diana’s death – for the lack of humanity and emotion shown by The Queen. With a stern, unforgiving ruler like that, you’d be a fool not to question the concept of monarchy, even if she technically hasn’t used her power in 50 years. But when you see the potential and the intelligence and the humility of someone like William, who had the good wits to land himself the most gorgeous and equally intelligent of women (seriously, how can you not be in awe of how kind nature has been to Kate Middleton?), it’s hard not to think: “Eh, maybe royalty isn’t so bad after all.”
When I compare William to the politicians out there, I think I’d choose to make him my King over them any day of the week. And royalty all over are becoming more modern, more relatable and more and more well-liked again. In the Netherlands charming Willem Alexander and his Brazilian bride Maxima play volleyball in the streets with people. In Sweden Princess Victoria couldn’t refrain from kissing her Daniel in the wedding carriage several times, protocol be damned. In Norway Prince Haakon married his common-born Princess Mette-Marit in spite of the fact that she already had a child and consumed drugs in her youth. (Suddenly I am wondering why in the world I know all this stuff I claim to have no interest in! Damn you, sponge brain for cultural knowledge, damn you!)
Royalty is no longer the dusty, stiff, outdated concept presented to us on The Tudors or on our beloved medieval-inspired epic fantasies and as Europeans, we treasure our heritage, which royalty is part of. Surely, you can’t blame us for that, America, can you? You understand that concept better than anyone. And really, didn’t the royals put on a fantastic show for you last Friday? Didn’t it have all the makings of a love story you could ever want? Wasn’t it sufficiently over the top to make you forget your troubles for at least a minute? And isn’t that the purpose of almost all entertainment the media produces? Yes?
Alright, then quit your whining about the ‘overexposure’ and fall in line behind the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, you lowly commoners!
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 4 below.
Topics this week include NBC’s The Voice, Parks and Recreation and a rave about Game of Thrones, in keeping with the royal theme.
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.