Is it still 1981? Or maybe 1881.

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 laudedĀ  – 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.

The modern child

So last night I was admiring some new D&D figures that my partner had bought, in particular a new unicorn for Frala (that’s my D&D alter ego. The unicorn’s name is Fion).

My eldest son noted my attention to it.

Quoth he: do you loooove that unicorn, Me-Me.

Me: Yes, I do.

He: Do you love it so much you’re gonna marry it?

At this, of course, I had to take the opportunity to disabuse Sebastian of the need to get married.

Quoth I: No, I’m not going to marry anyone because I believe that marriage is an outdated and patria….

At this point, he cuts me off…

He: Well, do you love it so much you are going to choose to spend your life with it?

That left me come-backless. At least he’s learnt something from the rhetoric.

Love and shooting

Am currently rewatching The Sopranos from start to finish as part of our regular DVD night viewing. As always, struck by the acting and the magnificent writing and also the beautiful framing of some of the shots. At the moment we are just getting into season four. In the three episodes we watched tonight, and in the season more generally, I am struck by how much it is focused in season 4 on the relationships between husband and wife and the different kinds of relationships. The contrast between Bobby’s intense grief over the death of his wife Karen, and Johnny Sack’s murderous rage over the insulting of his wife with Tony’s disengagement, so much so that he does not even stop to watch when he wife dances with another, younger, good looking man. We know that Tony does love Carmela, but his efforts at pleasing her tend to involve the purchasing of products rather than any sort of engagement with her emotional needs. It is hard to picture Tony sobbing over her coffin the way that Bobby does with Karen. The wives themselves understand the difference, the rarity of that sort of love in their world as they look to their husbands and partners, talking business and discuss the fact that Bobby was the only one who had never had a comare – a mistress – and that the other men had laughed at his for it. In constrast they recognise their relationships as transactional, that they make their own bargains within them to access the things that they want and the lifestyle they have chosen. Janice herself, with her failed relationships and dangerous engagements with men like Ralph, also recognises the genuineness of Bobby’s love for Karen and is desperate to gain that for herself.

This focus on relationships, with the way in which we see the actual distance between Adrianna and Christopher, because of the secrets and the drugs, which eventually leads Christopher to make the decision he does, and in the flirtation between Carmela and Furio which develops and grows continues throughout the season. This The way that men and women interact and the effect it can have on them is a clear focus in this part of the series. Johnny Sack’s outrage nearly leads to both his and Ralph’s murders and it puts another young man in intensive care. When he catches Ginny secretly scoffing chocolate bars in their basement he realises the extremity of his actions. He has overreacted but his reaction is so caught up in multiple layers of humiliation, love, blame, outrage and helplessness that he cannot help but say to her “do you realise what you have done” when it is he who has made the choice to turn Ralph’s (admittedly very poor) joke into a matter of life and death.

The depictions of these contrasts remains subtle and understated and the emotional complexity of the characters is such that often they don’t understand their own motivations. Janice is so panicked by the turn in her relationship with Ralph that she has to throw him down the stairs, unable to in any way communicate her fear, helplessness and panic except by obsessing about his shoes. Carmela uses and obsession with financial security as a substitute for the emotional security which eludes her. And no one is really happy.