Who cares about the royal wedding?
Marcus: Let me start by saying that, to an extent, I do kind of understand what some of the fuss is about in terms of this being an event—a spectacle people don’t want to miss out on. But beyond that, I find it hard to understand why there’s so much interest in America for a royal wedding—that has nothing to do with Anne Hathaway—besides presenting an opportunity to purchase a wide array of awkward souvenirs and commemorative plates. I understand why this is such a huge deal in England (besides the day off work); the monarchy, though reduced to a primarily symbolic role, still plays an incredibly large part in that country’s national identity. But I have no idea why there’s such a fascination with it here in the States besides, “Hey, a prince is getting married.”
It’s a fairy-tale wedding, right? That’s what they said about Charles and Di, and look at how that marriage turned out. (Plus, Kate will be left unprotected while Will gets his very own “bullet catcher.”)
More galling is the amount of airtime and print space being devoted to the pair stateside, like their recent inclusion in the annual Time “100” list. Not to give the list more credence than it deserves, but I’m not aware of any ideas Will and Kate have that “spark dialogue and dissent and sometimes even revolution.” As I’ve ranted to friends, how are they more deserving of recognition than, say, the Fukushima 50? A year from now—hell, a month from now—everyone who’s so involved at the moment won’t give a damn what those two crazy kids are up to.
I know, I know—if I don’t care, I should just ignore it. But with the way coverage of the event has saturated the media and the U.S.’s collective conversation, it’s impossible. This is a continuation of the ridiculous bandwagon mentality, something we saw last year here in Chicago with the entire city suddenly becoming full of Blackhawks fans overnight—except there’s no payoff, no Stanley Cup. Well, at least there’s no payoff other than getting up at the crack of dawn to watch a wedding that involves no one you know.
Marah: For someone who doesn’t care about it, you know an awful lot about this wedding, Marcus. I’ll give you that these two don’t really matter, per se. They can, of course, do a ton of charity work and be ambassadors for goodness around the world as Princess Diana did, but they haven’t really done that yet, so let’s not assign them any real depth.
The thing is, depth or no, people still care about royalty. It’s just like how people care about The Oscars or RPattz or what ol’ Bill Clinton’s up to these days. They’re just interested, for whatever reason—so they’re interested in this wedding. Plus, they want to see what a really, really rich wedding is like. It’s the same reason there are celebrity weddings in Us Weekly. What would a wedding be like if you didn’t have to worry that the cake cost $16 a slice, or if you could even think about having Beyoncé and Jay-Z perform at the reception? It’s opulence to the extreme, and it’s just fluffy, flighty fun. What’s so wrong with being interested in something kind of silly, as long as you know it’s silly? I doubt most people think that they, too, could marry a prince, but there’s no harm in caring just a little about someone else who is marrying into royalty—even if you think, pessimistically, that the marriage will end up in divorce.
Marcus: Well, now I feel like a curmudgeon. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in something kind of silly; it’s how interested people are that bugs me. And, frankly, I think the fuss surrounding any awards show is overbearing (outside of the VMAs, of course). But at least things like the Oscars have some sort of pop-cultural impact, building the legacy of film and giving us things to argue about. (Shakespeare In Love over Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture? Really?) And topics like specific actors (RPattz) don’t saturate the media like this event has; if I want to ignore news about Pattinson, I just avoid Us Weekly and similar publications. But the overall coverage of the royal wedding has over-saturated our current media culture to the point of ridiculousness. (And yes, this Crosstalk is contributing to that as well.) There are already books and Lifetime movies about the wedding. And, beyond that, check out this screencap of the main page of CNN’s International Edition from Wednesday morning: Royal wedding coverage received an inordinate amount of space while topics like Syria, Libya, and the flooding in the Midwest were relegated to the side.
I know complaining about media coverage is as exhaustive as the poor coverage ratio itself, but media react to what people are reading. The more the masses are indulged with this over-saturation/disposal cycle and this out-of-whack perspective, the more likely we are to consume and treat stories that matter (Japan’s tsunami and earthquake recovery, war in the Middle East, the storms across the South, etc.) with the same importance of disposable stories like the royal wedding. And we, as the consumers, have a responsibility to respond in kind—indulging in these more trivial stories to a point, but not over-indulging and trying to keep some damn perspective.
Marah: Touché, Marcus. As someone who shamefully spends more time reading about all-terrain bunnies than about Libya, I’ll admit that I—and presumably the vast majority of people—could definitely do better.
On the other hand, I think that Prince William definitely has a pop-cultural impact, and has the potential to have a much deeper impact beyond that. Will’s been in the headlines for years, and whether those headlines were in Bop or Time, he means something to people. He’s an icon—along with the rest of his family—and people care what icons do. If people care where the happy couple went to college or what dress Kate Middleton’s wearing at any given time, they might care what AIDS charities the couple supports or how they’re working to make certain parts of Africa less impoverished.
That, of course, assigns a kind of depth to these wedding watchers that a lot of naysayers seem unwilling to do. I don’t see why caring about something like a wedding should preclude a person from caring about something more serious, or should preclude a website, let’s say, from also reporting on more hard-hitting and serious topics for those people who want to read about them. If CNN.com was strictly coverage of the tsunami, would these Brit-watchers be reading that instead? It’s not like, “I was going to read about these miners, but this story about cupcakes caught my eye instead.” A person doesn’t walk into a library and say, “I just want to read something,” and pick up the first book on the shelf. People have interests, and no matter how vapid or boring or inane those interests might be to you, there has to be an outlet for those interests in the media. Thank God for that, or else all of us at The A.V. Club might be out of a job, right?
You could argue, I suppose, that all of this wedding coverage should be driven to more frivolous sites like PopSugar or DListed, or strictly to morning news chat shows, but don’t wedding watchers—myself and a bunch of moms included—have just as much right to read CNN as anyone else? If you’re looking for hard-hitting news, click on over to The Economist or something. It’s not as if Lifetime had all that great of a tough-guy reputation to begin with.
Marcus: From expanded coverage of the English Premiere League to BBC America’s success to this, America has seen a growth of Anglophiles in recent years. And if you want to get even more historical, you could go all the way back to the British Empire to find out why the world is so much more interested in the monarchy of England as opposed to, say, that of Belgium. So, sure, I’m willing to concede the two princes (and the rest of the monarchy) have a cultural and, to a lesser extent, some sort of pop-cultural impact beyond poor choices for Halloween costumes. But does it deserve the attention it’s being given? No. I have no problem with CNN covering it—to an extent. The coverage shown on that screencap is pretty amazing, no? It shows no fewer than 12 links to royal wedding coverage (there were even more on the page) far outweighing the space dedicated to other stories.
Again, it’s not so much about the fact that mainstream media outlets are covering the wedding so much as it is the amount of coverage being given. Look at the Associated Press’s planned coverage of the events. The AP compares it to the Super Bowl and the World Cup—which, I’ll admit, aren’t on the level of, say, the skirmish in Libya, but I feel that the global interest in the World Cup is a bit more widespread than a marriage for a mostly symbolic monarchy. (Admittedly, however, William is far more likely to become King in his lifetime than his father was.) While that feeling is certainly debatable, at least that’s an event that pertains to 32 specific countries and fans of the world’s most popular sport; that a single wedding should demand similar coverage feels incongruous. To use an example you mentioned earlier, when Bill Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, got married (the closest thing we’ve had recently to the royal wedding, since neither Sasha nor Malia Obama will be getting hitched any time soon), it got a certain amount of attention, but nowhere near this level of coverage, even within the United States.
Earlier, you said I know a lot about a wedding I have no interest in. That’s because I can’t get away from it! Just perusing the site of our local CBS 2 affiliate in Chicago, I came across this story. I don’t watch Lifetime (okay, except for the occasional Mother, May I Sleep With Danger drinking game), but I still know about Lifetime’s movie, because this damn wedding has successfully pervaded every aspect of the media, even for the people who don’t care (guilty). At least if I want to get away from Super Bowl or World Cup coverage, I can turn off ESPN and switch to E! or some other channel; if I want to get away from Oscar coverage, I just do the reverse. But with this royal wedding, I have the feeling that SportsCenter is going to be updating me on how the wedding has an impact on the EPL schedule for the weekend or how the Bulls’ Luol Deng, who lived in England for a good chunk of his life, plans to honor the new couple during the NBA playoffs. Besides, as Chicagoans, shouldn’t we be more focused on a more local celebrity wedding?
Marah: Call me when Jay Cutler and Kristin Cavallari get heads of state at their wedding, and we’ll talk.
Somehow, even as a royal wedding aficionado, I’ve managed to avoid all the hubbub that you’re referring to on the net. I haven’t read about penguins that are getting married or commemorative teacups. I see those tweets and stories in my RSS, but they’ve been going in one eye and out the other, like so many other little bits of information that wash over any of us on any given day.
There are thousands of people dying on any given day in countries that aren’t Japan or Libya, and we, as a population, don’t whip ourselves into a frenzy about that. We should, absolutely—but instead, people have chosen to get upset about this wedding, making it emblematic of all these problems with the mass media.
Look, fair enough. People get too obsessed with weird things, like Paris Hilton’s dog or Michael Jackson’s funeral. But if there’s anything we’ve been taught by modern media, it’s that these kinds of stories will continue to come and go, and we’ll just have to do the best we can to either care about them or ignore them.
So, Marcus, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree here. And, please, take satisfaction in the fact that while I’m up at five in the freaking morning this Friday, you’ll be fast asleep.