Friday, April 29, 2011

Who is behind all the Royal Wedding hype?

I’ve struggled with the Royal Wedding. Not with my own feelings about the monarchy which the stimulus of the event has made me articulate here. No my problem is to try and understand why as a Nation we are going through the invasion of our privacy that the blanket media coverage of the Wedding has become. I sense very little bottom up enthusiasm - in the jargon of Twitter most of us are “Meh” to the whole caboodle. Despite what the publishers of the oleaginous book the cover of which is illustrated here claim this isn't at heart a “Very Public Love Story” at all. The public’s interest, such as it is, has only come about because there has been a pretty deliberate attempt to create it. So what is actually in play and why do I think that its an unwarranted invasion of my privacy?

The principal parties in the creation of the Royal Wedding hype are the Establishment, the Media and Commercial interests. What is the “Establishment” – a quite old-fashioned term you might think in an age when there is rather greater (if insufficient) social mobility than when the term was first coined by Henry Fairlie in The Spectator in 1955 ? The Establishment today is that loose group of people who set and police the norms of what we are as a nation.   It includes politicians of all parties – at least the 90% of them that broadly toe the conventional line. So for example the Leader of the Opposition is part of the Establishment. Ed Miliband said in respect of the Royal Wedding  “I’m delighted for Prince William and Kate Middleton and send them my very best for their wedding. The whole country will be wishing them every happiness.” I don't know whether Mr Miliband, the son of a Marxist refugee from Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, is really a closet monarchist but I very much doubt it. But as an establishment figure he has to issue anodyne statements like this - not least because the tabloid furore if he didn't would be huge! There is a strong element of the Emperor having no clothes about all this. A few of the usual suspects have used the Royal Wedding as an opportunity to voice anti-monarchy views – I’ve done this myself. But few of them are public figures and none of them is a leading politician. On this one the ranks are closed – the Emperor's nakedness goes unremarked upon.

If the political establishment is conforming to type so to is the Media. True there has been some coverage given to those who oppose the whole thing but they are mostly portrayed as eccentrics from the fringes of the real world – they are there just to confirm how right the  mainstream is to be “celebrating”. The coverage on the print and television media is little different from what I recall when Princess Margaret got married 51 years ago – and every Royal Wedding since. The coverage then as now was deferential, uncritical  and wall to wall. There is no escape. The media presumption is that the event is important and that it is legitimate to shovel away all the real news for a while as we wallow in saccharine. There is little or no real challenge to this presumption and so like a virulent virus the contagion spreads across all of our newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Even the social media are all atwitter as journalists who can normally be relied upon for balance climb onto the bandwagon. Why is this happening – it cannot be as a consequence of any sane editorial assessment of news values? The wedding is only a news story because the establishment says it is and the media happily agrees.

The most facile argument for this excessive media coverage is that the wedding is a “feel-good story”   - a charming counterweight to all the terrible news of wars and famine, death and doom and destruction. This argument is offensive for two reasons. First there are plenty of “feel-good” stories around if the media wants to find them. Stories of heroism and sacrifice. Stories of human courage in adversity. Stories of challenges to tyrants and triumph against victimisation and oppression.  But these are stories about unknown people and it takes some effort to find them. But the Royal Wedding is an “on a plate” story about ready made celebrities famous for – well what exactly? One of the couple is famous because of the accident of his birth – and the other for marrying him. But does it have real news value – no way, except  in the trivial pages of “Hello” or “OK”. The second reason the “feel-good” story doesn't work for me  is that the very premise of it is patronising and anachronistic. We the people are being force-fed a premise that not only is this a news event, so we’d better pay attention but also that it is good for us. I’ll decide what’s good for me thanks – I won’t be told by the media establishment that because there is a pseudo-glamour and pageantry and hyperbole therefore there is significance - and that only a killjoy could object. I wont be patronised – and I’ll also use my sense of history to say that we really should have moved on and learned our lessons from the past. Virtually every super-hyped Royal Wedding of modern times has been the first scene of what turns out to be a disastrous Royal Marriage. If the track record is so spectacularly awful wouldn’t  you think they might be a bit more humble this time around and give it less rather than more hype? 

Then there are the commercial interests. It’s good business to make a buck from any event where the media coverage is massive – wait for London2012 to see that in extremis. But the Royal Wedding isn't far behind. It will sell newspapers and magazines of course and advertising on television. It will sell all the tacky trinkets that commemorate the “Great Day”. Search for “Kate Middleton” on Amazon and you’ll be offered 1688 different products - from face masks to biographies (a biography of a 29 year old who is, shall we say, lowish in the achievement stakes!)  And no doubt there will be a tame economist somewhere who will tell us about about the boost to the tourist industry  that comes form the Royal Wedding and the figure will be unverifiable but will soon gain the credence of most urban myths.

So it is my contention that the public’s Royal Wedding enthusiasm – and I concede that it exists – is largely a creation of the establishment, the media and of people who want to sell us things. In itself the event is of little consequence and what there is is based on a pretty offensive premise not too far removed from the “Divine Right of Kings”. Across the channel our French allies have Liberté, égalité and fraternité and a Head of State who, for all his faults, they did actually choose. We have deference and obsequiousness and a presumption that the marriage of the grandson of our hereditary Head of State is a matter for rejoicing.  We need to grow up.








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