In some ways, the most valuable reactions to Great Britain’s royal wedding tell us little about the event and much about the commentators.
Almost a year of quiet planning among Buckingham Palace, its advisors and the British media demonstrate why the UK puts on a better show than almost anyone else; and more than 2 billion estimated viewers worldwide–more than one in four members of our species–attest to it as well as the numerous Britons who attended 5,000 street or garden parties.
From the carefully-planned altitude shots in Westminster Abbey to ensuring that the two families and their guests arrived in motor-cars so as not to detract from the married couple departing in storybook carriages; to the Battle of Britain fly-past to the unorchestrated smiles and glances between the royal couple, it demonstrated how a measure of planning and artifice can help to convey something real and sincere. Disney could not have done better. Similarly, the angelic choirboys, unplannably belonging to many races but all truly English, or the sensible and plain-folks sermon, portrayed a nation and its monarchy at once contemporary and yet traditional. The picture is not unrealistic.
The British public response nails the anti-monarchical, republican minority (chiefly of the chattering classes) into their coffins for another century or so. I suspect that Britons admire the royals for what they are not as much as for what they are: they are not politicians.
Like the rest of us they muddle along chiefly out of duty, which is only another word for love. Three business dinners would make my week a hateful experience, yet at least this many events every day have filled Queen Elizabeth’s life for more than 60 years; and the same for her husband, her daughter Princess Anne and her first son Prince Charles. How many posh palaces or Vermeer pictures compensate for a whole adult life given to such exhausting service? Like her equally-adored mother, who refused to flee the Blitz for safety in Canada and who bragged that surviving a Nazi bombing of Buckingham Palace let her “look the East-Enders in the eye,” this monarch and most of her family just get on with responsibilities as we all must do.
Secondly, I think that the royals endear themselves to ordinary Britons simply because they are not meritocrats: they fell into their lives much as we do ours. Many recognise the Queen’s lack of formal education but more admire her decades of statesmanship and experience, savvy and restraint as well as her dogged sense of responsibility. Unlike Her Majesty, some of her children are not very bright and have married unwisely, but (unlike the late Princess Diana who confused duty with celebrity) the wiser and more prudent ones compensate for their own dim kinsmen as we must cover for ours. Thus does the loyalty of Britain’s armed forces, and the monarch’s power to sack elected governments, enjoy overwhelming popular support in the hands of a family not utterly unlike our own. Would you prefer Bush or Blair, Obama or Donald Trump?
Not by mistake are these little islanders, whom the Emperor Napoleon dismissed as ‘a nation of shopkeepers,’ the parents of real and thoughtful conservatism.
But of particular interest to Britons is the reaction of various foreign nations to this recent royal wedding, for it sheds light on what matters to its spectators. As Prince Metternich observed, “we are all Sophists of our passions,” or we are all advocates of what we support or desire.
Much of the foreign reaction validates Britain’s general perceptions of various nationalities, reassuring us that perhaps we were right all along. Alone, this pleasure justifies any expense.
According to London’s Daily Telegraph, the Italian media is obsessed that Zara Phillips (the daughter of Princess Anne) has a pierced tongue and that members of “the defunct Italian throne have not received invites to the ceremony because the last time they attended a royal wedding, in Spain in 2004, they got into a punch up with each other.” Par for the course, one imagines.
Earnest Germans rejoice that the wedding demonstrates what the establishment Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper called “A Royal Wedding for the Middle Classes,” while indignant Chinese television announcers defended the bride and her family from charges of being middle class by saying “They have worked hard to become millionaires!” Apparently in China being middle class is a slur and being rich is not: our royals take a somewhat different view as do we.
Russians, with their rigidly state-controlled media as well as having no obvious values apart from power and money, complain that the wedding meant that “Russian oligarch Yevgeny Chichvarkin would not be able to access his yacht which is moored in London, while another wealthy Russian exile, Boris Berezovsky, would not be able to get to his office. The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton will cause inconvenience for fugitive Russian businessmen (in London while)… Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted drily that the event was good for business.” Right-o, as we say, do have another vodka.
New Zealanders merely celebrated vigorously, much as white Kenyans served “tea and scones, Pimms and champagne, bedecked in Union flags and bunting.” The rather more insecure Australian media (unlike their countrymen who, so far as I know, ate, drank and celebrated relentlessly) babbled on about royal “rebranding” as if the royal family were marketing lavatory paper, and what the Aussie Prime Minster wore to the ceremony. Jolly good and do carry on, chaps: but apart from Ozzie media no one remembers.
There seems to have been no comment from the wholly liberal and unfettered Syrian media, perhaps because the British royal family pulled Syria’s ambassador’s invitation after some clever-johnny in the Foreign Office noticed that they were gunning down hundreds of anti-government protestors. What if the Syrian ambo gulped down a few complementary G&Ts and opened fire at the Buck House reception? Not precisely British, if you catch my drift. Better to ere on the side of caution, we think.
Americans rose before dawn and watched it in droves, but the US media viewed it through the prevailing ideological lenses of youth, trendy life-styles and immediate, practical value because writing anything else would have exposed their inconsistencies. The LA Times commented, “On the face of it, William and Kate, university-educated, nearing 30, already living together seem practical and modern enough to survive as a couple and future monarchs. We just have two words for them: mazel tov.” The English-language Israeli media conveyed their best wishes in English.
So, we muddle along wishing our handsome, young couple all happiness, whilst we remain semi-satisfied with a status-quo that has served us for around a millennium thus far. Meanwhile, our elected leaders at least make the pretence of cutting budgets to restore fiscal solvency and prudence. If that sounds appealing, your Dr. Bernanke might ring the Bank of England for advice or Mr. Obama might phone Her Brittanic Majesty and enquire nicely about readmission. Operators are on hand to take your calls.
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