What kind of society do we want to live in? An egalitarian culture? One which welcomes divergences in sexuality? One which believes that women and men are equal? One where there are not massive gaps in wealth?
I was wondering why my lack of interest in the wedding of two young people had turned to loathing. While definitely a republican, I’m not a monarchy-hater. I have had a vague interest in the various goings-on in the royal family. I don’t mind a good frock. And a bunch of celebrities in one place is always entertaining. And then I thought about it for half a minute. The whole event is an orgy of the things that are wrong-est in our culture, the things that maintain and reinforce the cultural hegemony which constricts change and stops us achieving the kind of world we might like to live in. With wall-to-wall media coverage.
I think the moment that my stomach really turned was when I read the story about how Wills had invited a (former) homeless person to “sit with Royals” at the wedding. She got to wear a $3000+ frock and Jimmy Choos and everything (no word on whether she gets to keep them). This seemed like the ultimate “let them eat cake” moment; a total failure to understand the problems which face the homeless, or to do anything much to address them. She was also such an obviously carefully vetted and chosen homeless person – while she may have shared the shelter with drug addicts, it doesn’t appear she had the same life long struggles with drugs, alcohol and mental illness facing most of the homeless. She is also a “success” story – she now has a job and is no longer homeless.
This aside though, there is something about the entire tone of the reporting on the wedding which reinforces the most conservative and old-fashioned of values. I can cope with wall-to-wall media coverage: this is a moment in the history of the Britain, it resonates with what has come before and it carries on traditions which have been in place for centuries. So it is not the amount of coverage that really bothered me, but the overwhelming tone and content. I am sure that there have been divergent columns which critique the overwhelming monarchy-matrimony-patriachal-heteronorative dominance of the coverage, but overwhelmingly it is fairytales and romance.
The construct of the “fairytale wedding” serves to reinforce both patriarchy and class systems. The impression that every newspaper cover gives us that this is a woman’s ultimate dream, to be the beautiful wife on the arm of the Prince. Ambition for women is not about success in their own right, it is about marrying the right guy, especially if that guy is a Prince! Because being a Prince, part of a ruling, class-based elite automatically makes one better looking and more desirable. I know almost nothing about Wills as a person, but apparently that doesn’t matter. This kind of fairytale construct was used back in 1981 when Diana married Charles, and again with Sarah Ferguson and Andrew, and Mary and Fredrick. The press hasn’t moved on an iota in its approach to these things. There is also the whole question of what Kate is really getting herself into, nicely covered off by Ideologically Impure.
While I do not chose marriage for myself, and believe that there are some inherently patriachal things about it, I also acknowledge that people have their own ideas and beliefs and that many people have tried to make their ceremonies and their marriages something beyond the patriachal norm. But there is none of that in this most conservative and traditional of weddings. The bride is given away, the property of her father transfered to her new husband. At the end of the ceremony this is reinforced – they are man and wife, not husband and wife or man and woman, but man and wife. I know this could be seen as a quibble about language, but language is powerful.
There is also the massive focus on the body and the politics of looks and thinness. I’ve always thought that Kate was an ordinarily pretty young woman who often seemed to wear too much makeup. Now she is the beauty of her generation. Her thinness, and the disturbing thinness of her sister Pippa, were widely lauded – didn’t they look fantastic and fairytale like and beautiful and blah blah. Fairytales don’t happen to the dumpy and plain.
It is also annoying how interest in the wedding is parlayed into interest in or support for the monarchy. I liked what I’m Not Tina Wheeze had to say on the topic. If they broadcast most Hollywood weddings we would watch them too. This is not about loving the monarchy, but getting caught up in the spectacle. And the constant and overwhelming coverage is pushing us down the path of watching it anyway. The idea that the popularity of Wills and Kate has meant that we are less interested in the monarchy seems like the argument of someone not willing to take up the cause. I just don’t believe that Wills and Kate are that popular. It is also like saying that the popularity of Angelina and Brad means that The Tourist will be loved by everyone. Celebrity culture does not equal the popularity of the monarchy.
The final real annoyance is the focus on the idea that Kate is a “commoner”. The very use and re-use of this language reinforces the most despised aspect of the class culture which is still evident in Britain today. Wills is somehow better than other royals because he has deigned to marry a commoner. It boggles the mind that we are still talking like this is 2011.
So the pomp and ceremony is over, and we won’t have a similar wedding for a while. Harry, who plays Prince Andrew to Wills’ Prince Charles, will probably tie the knot eventually, quite possibly to someone outrageously inappropriate. But wouldn’t it be awesome if they eloped and got married on a beach.