Royal Pain

I remember watching CNN one day to update myself on the crises in Japan and Libya (much less the rest of the Middle East), of course weary of the inherent and skewed bias and representations the mass media would have in portraying the events. But those are quite irrelevant to what I am going to discuss here. Whilst watching, I encountered a commercial, very minimalist and clean-cut, advertising the live coverage of the British royal wedding coming up April 29 between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

I first wondered why the American news media would cover this event, seeing as it seemingly has no role in American politics, but I quickly suffocated that idea since the event is no doubt important general world news, and it’s not every day that a royal wedding occurs for the first time since Princess Diana and for the first male monarch that the UK will eventually have since 1952 (although there have been other female monarchs besides Elizabeth). Although, it is valid to question why it has become such a big story in the United States and to analyze the controversy surrounding the nature of the marriage.

Let’s jump right into things. I read an article called “God save Kate Middleton! Unless she’s Catholic because that would complicate things” in the Los Angeles Times by Leslie Gornstein. The article explained that the fiancée of Prince William had recently been confirmed to the Anglican Church, the official Church of England, when previously she had been a Catholic. Why would this matter? Well since Henry VIII declared separation from the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England, declaring himself the head, all monarchs of England are prohibited from being Catholic and are barred from the throne if they are married to a Catholic. Furthermore, the article pointed out that if William and Kate were to have a first-born female child and then a male, the male would be next in line for the throne (once William takes and exits the throne) despite the female’s earlier birth. This is due to the male primogeniture law in the United Kingdom that legally states preference over males. Of course these two ideas of basically discriminating on the basis of religion and gender unsettled me, but it was the next line of the article in which the author stated, “religious discrimination and misogyny: Not exactly American values,” that really confused me.

Let’s back up now. Okay, yes religious and gender discrimination are generally not great things, and yes they may violate so-called “American values,” but that is not to say that prejudice or discrimination against religion or gender, much less any other discrimination that exists in the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” are absent from American society. The supposed equal opportunity of all people in the United States is an origin myth that the country was founded upon. The values are things written in words that can definitely be said to be aspired towards, and the ultimate goal of our constitution. But they are arguably not realized in praxis. The current debate over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero or the controversy over teaching creationism versus evolution in schools display at least a certain amount of religious discrimination and the failure to separate church from state in our own institutions. Just because we have a supposed Freedom of Religion does not disregard the differing opinions that often clash at a public level, this includes the religion of science.

The same goes for gender. While it is almost hypocritical and depressing that no matter the first-born’s gender, patriarchical hierarchical structures in place ban women from the throne even if they are elder than their male siblings (is there some age-discrimination going on here too?), women are still discriminated against in the United States. We don’t have a monarchy or some form of royalty, but women are continually second-handed in government and the public sphere subjected to gender roles and cultural criticism in underlying institutionalized ways. In fact, even England has had a female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Who knows how our monarchy would be implemented if we had one. But let’s not take the slippery slope argument that exalts our “American freedom” as superior to the “archaic patriarchy and discrimination” in British politics and culture.

The question is what does the United Kingdom’s royal structure have to do with the United States, and why is it such a large part of contemporary pop culture? The royal wedding itself has become a huge story in the American mass media. Live coverage, Disney is having a contest in which the first prize is a Disney World fairy tale nuptial, some bars (or pubs?!) are planning on staying open all night and having some special celebration of the wedding, and Times Square is throwing a quasi-New Year’s party including airing the wedding and performances by pop culture icons like Colbie Caillat or from television. Why so much press when we severed ties with the UK in 1776? It comes back to the notion of “American values.” Kate Middleton, besides her religion and gender, is also a commoner of the English working class. Americans might be drawn to the Protestant Ethic and the idea that hard work can get anyone anywhere, including the throne, or at least close to it, showing that the attention is also about socioeconomic status. Another factor in the equation is the common aspiration of girls and women to have a grand fairy tale royal wedding, arguably a product of the culturally ingrained idea that women need men in order to succeed and Middleton has clearly done that for herself. And furthermore, the tragedy of the death of Princess Diana also plays into this, since this is the first royal wedding since hers, and she was similarly in the international spotlight from her birth.

Other things that play in the role in the popularity of the royal wedding include possibly immigrants from the United Kingdom’s interest in the event, or the objectification of Prince William as a sex symbol. In any case, I believe that the hysteria and controversy in the mass media and in popular culture over the royal marriage is the effect of a complex interplay among all of the above factors. There is nothing different about this pop culture story from any others—it prescribes to imposed gender roles, exhibits the quick consumption and mass distribution of media coverage in the name of capital, and the popular myth that America is post-gender, post-religion, and post-bourgeosie.


2 Responses to “Royal Pain”

  1. 1 Apryl Berney 19 April 2011 at 9:16 am

    Excellent analysis. You do a good job of using Gornstein’s piece in order to expose how US audiences fascination with the royal wedding isn’t all that contradictory, but in fact touches on a number of the inherit contradictions and/or myths used to found America.

  2. 2 Apryl Berney 26 April 2011 at 11:01 pm


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