LONDON -- As news of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton spreads like wildfire around the globe, reactions seem to fall into one of two camps. On the one hand, there are the people like British Prime Minister David Cameron
, the entire British press corps
and -- well, come to think of it, just about everybody else on the planet -- who are over the moon with elation.
And then there are the few, the proud . . . the only ones who really wish the whole thing would just go away. In case you haven't guessed, I'm in the second camp. I went so far as to launch a new hashtag on Twitter last night: #icouldn'tcarelessabouttheroyalwedding.
I realize that I'm an outlier on this topic. Most people are much more like my colleague Suzi Parker who described how she "got up at an ungodly hour to watch every minute of Diana's wedding to a prince named Charles
." As Suzi writes: "For Generation X, too young to fully remember the first moon landing, Diana's wedding was our first shared global television event. . . . Who didn't want to be in England that summer?"
Who didn't? I didn't. That's who.
Don't get me wrong. I loved the film "The Queen
," starring Helen Mirren. I can't wait to see Colin Firth take on the part of King George VI in "The King's Speech.
" And I positively devoured Hillary Mantel's brilliant "Wolf Hall
" (about the court of King Henry VII) this past summer. So it's not that I've got something against royalty per se, at least as represented in popular culture. It's the real thing that gets to me.
Not the people, mind you. Prince William and Kate Middleton seem like a perfectly nice, romantic young couple, with a sense of both humor and proportion about the whole thing (at least as far as I could tell from this interview
with the couple, which is the only one I watched.) And -- as my colleague Donna Trussell mused aloud
-- we all deserve a party.
So why am I such an Ebeneezer Scrooge when it comes to this wedding?
Part of it is the media frenzy that began Tuesday morning and will now dominate the headlines in the U.K. right through next summer. Yesterday, the BBC dispatched a helicopter to provide an unchanging aerial shot of Buckingham Palace as it provided all-day coverage of the announcement and its aftermath.
Over at the Daily Mail, they've already done a day-by-day analysis of next May and June
to rule out dates when the wedding couldn't occur because of conflicting events. (Apparently, bookies are no longer taking bets on July, because that is the most highly tipped month.) As one media commenter wryly noted
: "As TV events go, Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding will be even bigger than 'The X Factor' final. Just don't bet against Simon Cowell being at both of them."
And of course, that frenzy isn't just over here in the United Kingdom. The BBC website ran a story yesterday headlined "Royal Wedding: Americans React to the Prince's Engagement
," which was all about the American obsession with all things royal. Simply put, we eat that stuff
up in the States. As Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote
: "ABC's 'Good Morning America' opened with a trumpeted fanfare over pictures of the couple, proof that in the US, Britain remains more period drama than real country, a Ruritanian theme park that is forever charming and quaint."
Then there's the cost of the whole thing. Princess Diana's wedding to Prince Charles back in 1981 cost a whopping £30 million ($48 million). Prince William's wedding will likely be considerably less lavish than his parents' and Prince Charles will reportedly pay for the bulk of it with his private fortune
. But police and security costs for the event will almost certainly be met by the state. And -- not trivially -- the country is undergoing a major belt tightening right now to cope with a profound economic crisis.
I'm with the political scientist who spoke on BBC Radio Four's "Today" program
Wednesday morning. As he rightly observed: "This is not a normal downturn. In this very serious situation I think it's the role of government to be absolutely right about this, that we are all in this together. We don't want extremes of wealth and poverty and we don't want lavish, pompous weddings." (Something tells me that he won't be on the guest list.)
Which brings us to that delicate, oh-so-English question of class. According to Royal historian Lady Antonia Fraser -- also a guest on the U.K.'s "Today" show Wednesday -- the wedding is a powerful symbol of how Britain has changed
. "This bride seems to me not to symbolize an age of deference but an age of democracy. Good for her," she said.
Lady Fraser is referring to Kate Middleton's middle-class background. Middleton is the daughter of a flight dispatcher and a flight attendant (who later went on to make millions in a mail-order children's party business, but never mind). A Daily Mail headline says it all: "Could our First Middle-Class Queen Save the Monarchy Itself?
" This, then, is the new narrative about the royalty: In opening up the monarchy to a "commoner" (yes, we're really called that), Brits are somehow transforming the elitism that pervades this notoriously aristocratic institution.
But here's where the British could take a page from their more savage cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. Americans know a thing or two about elitism, you see. Just ask our president
-- who somehow went from being seen as the biracial son of a single mother who took years to pay back his student loans to being known as a detached, Ivy League-educated, millionaire elitist. In just two short years. The dirty secret about the institutions of power is that once you grace their halls, the glue sticks to whatever you're wearing.
But lest you think I'm all doom and gloom about this whole royal wedding, let me tell you one thing I am psyched about: the swag. Gawker ran a great post about royal wedding memorabilia
on Tuesday featuring some of the real stuff that's already (yikes!) been ginned up, as well as a few imaginative offerings of their own.
My favorite? The royal wedding slanket (a blanket with sleeves). Cuz' we're all gonna need one of those suckers when we plunk ourselves down in front of the television next summer to watch a certain five-hour extravaganza.