Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the steps after their wedding at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Saturday, May 19, 2018. Ben BirchHall/Press Association. All right reserved.Why does V S Naipaul go to Africa to record mass hysteria? He could witness it in his adopted land during every royal wedding and funeral. That is when the long-suppressed emotions of the reserved Britons find a release. The un-British act of crying in public with joy or sorrow is there for all to see.
Prince Harry married Meghan and Britons came out to dance with joy. Nothing else mattered to the revellers forming a sea of Union Jacks.
The young royals, when they marry or produce babies, also serve the Queen! Every such event increases the longevity of the monarchy. The carefully choreographed spectacle enhances the monarchy’s magic and mystique.
The British monarchy is criticised for not becoming as modern as the bicycling kings of northern Europe. In Britain, royal traditions are hard to discard. Even then the monarchy keeps trying to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant.
Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle. She is a commoner from a former colony, daughter of a black mother and white father, product of a broken home, an actress with a record of social activism and of saying things that are not said in Britain’s palaces. The pet phrases of the British aristocracy such as “simply not done” or “simply not said” are as foreign to Harry’s new wife as light to a coal mine. Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle.
Harry made a powerful social and cultural statement by picking Meghan as his wife and magically transforming her into the Duchess of Sussex. He brought Buckingham Palace closer to Balti Britain and showed that he had grown up since the days when he used to utter words such as “Paki” and ‘raghead”.
What could be more modern than marrying a mixed-race American divorcee? The British people once refused to accept their king marrying an American divorcee. The king responded by giving up his throne for love. But in 2018 more than 100,000 flag-waving ecstatic Britons turned up in Windsor town to catch a glimpse of the bridegroom and the bride.
The nation loved the lovers. The people trusted the choice of their Prince. The class, colour and creed of the beloved was not a matter of contention. Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers! Had he chosen a Hindu bride, the cries of Love Jihad would have been muted. Had he chosen a Muslim girl, it would have stopped the radicalisation of her community.
Harry made Britain appear as an island of diversity and inclusiveness. The Queen merrily went through her grandson’s wedding ceremony that included strange new elements such as a powerful sermon by a black American minister. The Bishop’s repeated and emphatic reference to “love” sounded novel to the British ears. If some royals were made uncomfortable by the unusual ceremony, they did not show it. Had Prince Harry chosen to marry a British communist, the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain would have gained followers!
Royal bouts of inclusiveness
In a distant past, this castle of white privilege has undergone bouts of inclusiveness, like when Queen Victoria got too close to her Indian Munshi Karim or when Princess Diana took to hugging. An American visitor came to celebrate the wedding in Windsor with the placard, “we are Americans, we hug”.
Britain’s social and cultural transformation over the years made the monarchy abandon some traditions. Jeremy Paxman, the TV anchor, commented that Britain ran out of virgins after Diana got married to Prince Charles! The perquisite of virginity for a royal bride was scrapped without a murmur by the loyal subjects. Following Diana’s death, Prince Charles married his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorcee.
Many royal alliances in the past were firmed up to yield a strategic advantage to the ruling families. Prince Harry’s choice of wife has strengthened the Anglo-American special relationship at a time when Donald Trump is weakening it. A British think tank may hold a seminar on Harry’s role in promoting the most important relationship.
By marrying an American, Harry has also sent a powerful message against the British Government’s hostile policy towards the immigrants. This policy has popular backing as the Brexit referendum results proved. But the Government unrolled a red carpet for the American immigrant wanting to live in the UK by marrying a Briton. It will not be so for brides from India. In fact, at one time the Government had wanted to subject them to a virginity test at Heathrow airport before letting them marry anyone in Britain!
Even before Harry confirmed it, it was known that many British men prefer American women. In the past the Englishmen wanted the dollars and American women wanted to live like aristocrats. In contemporary Britain, this attraction has been portrayed in films hinting at the sexual allure of American girls. English maidens should think about it.
A commoner in the palace
Meghan Markle is currently bathed in public adoration. But a fairy-tale wedding does not always lead to a happy married life. The Prince’s bride must have read how a British royal wife is expected to conduct herself. A commoner has to be quite careful while living in a palace.
Her being an American makes Meghan’s task more daunting. Britain and America are divided not just by a common tongue but also by customs, and the people’s behaviour and temperament. Americans are loud and demonstrative. The British people are reserved and cold. Britons consider Americans to be vulgar. In popular American imagination, funny people inhabit the small island. Meghan will have to be less of an American or her British husband will have to jump to her defence every now and then.
Meghan will be unable to follow the footsteps of her sister-in-law who has endeared herself to the nation by saying nothing in public. Meghan’s upbringing, family background, American education, film career and activism have not prepared her to keep her mouth shut. Her conduct will make the monarchy look modern but may cause strains within the palace.
The fawning media coverage does not always last. Interesting material about Meghan’s feuding family in America is floating around. British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts. A tabloid once published a photo of a royal wife’s toes being sucked by someone other than the husband. That led to a royal divorce! British tabloids are committed to transparency related to bottoms and breasts.
Strangely, such developments have not harmed the institution of monarchy. The republican movement got no stronger even when daylight fell upon the magic of monarchy. Much publicised marital misery, bed-hopping, adultery, sordid exhibitionism by young royals and the financial scandals have not lessened the charm of the royal family.
In fact, such disclosures made the royalty a major player in the celebrity circus. The royal narratives are made for tele-visuals, a staple of popular cultural entertainment. Harry’s wedding was a grand performance in contemporary celebrity culture that values the famous for being famous!
A royal event turns Great Britain into a mass observation laboratory of interest to serious academics apart from those writing on current fashions and royal traditions and scandals.
Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births. A few days earlier, Harry’s older brother, who would be the king one day, and his wife were blessed with a baby. Hundreds of people had slept outside the hospital in order to catch the first glimpse of the baby hailed as the most influential entity. Most Britons live to celebrate royal weddings and births.
Serious ideological debate
Of course, the royal wedding, apart from causing mirth and laughter on a massive scale, also sparked a serious ideological debate on the future of the monarchy.
The media came under scrutiny because many enlightened citizens, not necessarily republicans, felt disgusted by the excessive coverage of the wedding. These readers and viewers did not like the news about the people’s problems being blacked out because of a royal wedding.
The newspapers and TV channels know their readers and viewers. Afraid of losing the ratings war, they deployed hundreds of journalists to cover the wedding that enthralled the royalists who dressed up in Union Jack suits and camped for days to catch a glimpse of the Prince and his bride.
Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex exit St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their royal wedding ceremony, in Windsor, Britain, 19 May 2018. Pool/Press Association. All rights reserved.The high level of public interest forced even a newspaper such as The Guardian to go all out to cover the wedding. It shocked many of its serious readers. A typical comment was: Appalling, sycophantic coverage worthy of the Daily Mail. There could have been no greater insult to The Guardian. Some readers declared on social media that they are cancelling their subscription.
Once the Morning Star could be different. It dismissed the 1973 wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Philips with a two-sentence coverage: “Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.” “Some traffic congestion is expected in Westminster today due to the wedding of Anne Windsor and Mark Philips.”
Public interest in stars and styles was so high that every newspaper wanted to publish eight royal wedding stories on the front page. The minutest detail was broadcast about what the bride wore, and what the bridegroom looked like. Every bit of information was lapped up. When Prince Charles had married Camilla, a million words were printed about her hat. This time it was all about the bride’s gown. One person thought the white gown was not well-tailored.
Another had no interest in the design or the fabric. He said: “Oh wow, look at her taxpayer-funded dress.” Guess who is footing the massive bill for the wedding? That question was raised by some penny-pinching kill-joy Britons. They did not like the people having to cough up 300 million pounds to spruce up one of the palaces! Another mean Briton asked why a 33-year old should have a wedding treat costing millions of pounds on security alone.
The homeless on the Windsor footpaths were moved away to “make room for those wanting to gawp at the tawdry display of the wedding procession”. This attracted many adverse remarks.
The anti-royalty Britons were called mean, but some called the royalty mean because the ordinary invited guests for the wedding were asked to bring their own picnic lunch! One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for. One invitee protested by binning the royal invitation which many were prepared to die for.
The few moaners reminded the nation of the problems of daily life. Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong).
A vocal minority criticised the royalty-mad majority for its euphoria. It consists of a section that has no problem with the monarchy but disapproves of the excessive and vulgar way of holding the wedding.
May 19, 2018 - London, UK - Royal wedding well wishers at Waterloo station on their way to Windsor. Veronika Lukasova/Press Association. All rights reserved.Some commentators referred to “bread and circus” and compared the wedding to a football match. They were attacked by the revellers for being emotionally constipated. The revellers said: “Oh, sod off, we’re having fun.” But one said: “I’m avoiding this display of bourgeoisie elitist shit at all costs.”
More emotional constipation
Take another comment: “This royal wedding is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with society, people coming out to celebrate greed and indulgence of the super wealthy while the homeless are swept away like garbage and kids go hungry.”
Others counted the benefits of monarchy such as the Queen bringing in tourists. Even during the reign of Queen Victoria, some used to ask whether the nation was getting value for money from the monarchy. But that did no harm to the institution. The public interest in the monarchy was noted by Walter Bagehot who wondered how the actions of a retired widow and an unemployed youth had become of such importance.
A monarchist argued that a royal wedding, like a football match, brings the people together. It gives them a sense of pride and belonging. “The monarchy gave us a strong national identity and has done a lot for the people, historically”.
Others asked them to read the history of the royals who came over from Germany in the 17th century and “subjugated us”. One social media user whose comment was not deleted just wrote: “Off with their heads!!!”
The usual Left-Right divide crept in. A fun-loving Briton condemned Lefties as a miserable lot! Some called the Conservatives hypocrites since they advocate meritocracy and yet support privileges based on heredity.
Mass psychologists must investigate whether the people play this charade in order to escape from their miserable life. It is also said that many critics of the excessive coverage only feign to be against it. They love to watch it either secretly or while pretending to do so for a higher serious purpose.
Forward to June!
The royal wedding mattered for the young couple. But it was critical for the Queen as it demonstrated her hold on the British psyche. It reassured the Queen that her people want to remain subjects instead of becoming citizens. She can safely ignore the few Republicans and true democrats shouting in the wilderness. That they are allowed to shout and not beheaded serves the purpose of telling the world that Britain is a democracy!
The dramatisation and popularisation of royal spectacle is set to continue as the nation gets ready to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in June. The magic and mystique of the mediated monarchy will endure.