By **Julianne Escobedo Shepherd**
Since it was announced that Prince William, progeny of Diana, had become engaged to his classmate Kate Middleton, both the British and American media have been plastering every minute detail across their front pages, often with exclamation points as though audiences will die if they do not know the up-to-the-minute wedding news. Even as Japan grapples with nuclear disaster, as Western countries become more deeply involved in the Libyan war, as unions and students stage protests across the U.S. and the UK, the media fever pitch about the royal nuptials continues to swell, increasingly frenzied as the April 29 wedding date nears.
William isn’t even next in line for the throne, as Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger wryly put it. And while the excitement may echo that of the 1981 “fairytale’ nuptials of William’s parents—complete with nearly identical commemorative plates—there may just be more at work than celebrity obsession and conservative/archaic monarchy worship.
Last week, The Independent reserved its front page for a slightly more informative piece on the prince’s nuptials. Titled “Royal Bonfire of the Vanities,” writers Nigel Morris and Cahal Milmo posited that by extending government powers to halt protests on the day of the wedding, Home Secretary Theresa May was actually making a power grab and a larger move to silence protest afterward as well. UK Uncut, an organization that’s fighting against huge cuts in public programs to make up for corporate tax dodgers (sound familiar? there’s a U.S. Uncut, too), has staged protests in Parliament Square and elsewhere—protests that have been unfairly characterized as ’violent’ by mainstream media and May. The Independent:
Despite the appetite for a crackdown on protest, it emerged yesterday that peace campaigners camped on the pavement of Parliament Square will remain in place beyond the royal wedding. Campaigners who were evicted from the grass on the square, just yards from Westminster Abbey, have moved on to the adjoining pavement, meaning they can only be evicted by Westminster Council. The local authority was told yesterday that it cannot obtain a court hearing for the eviction until 9 May.
The former assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, Andy Hayman, has called for “snatch squads” and “dawn raids” to be carried out by police against suspected troublemakers.
The Labor chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, who has summoned Bob Broadhurst, commander of the Met, to appear before the committee today, called for “bold and radical” measures, but added: “What we need is a big and open conversation with the police, giving them whatever they need to police effectively.”
Japanese radiation is draining into the Pacific Ocean, and corporations are gobbling up everything in sight meanwhile, otherwise useful outlets are speculating on what Middleton might wear.
It’s not just that England’s conservative government sees opportunity in the mass distraction there are many other reasons to thumb your nose at the on-high brouhaha wrought by two people getting hitched. Here are five of them.
1. Monarchy is the enemy of democracy.
England’s monarchy is not the monolithic power structure it used to be—rather than an all-ruling king or queen evoking the most archaic eras of serfdom, it functions in modern times as a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II serving as a symbolic head of state under the constitution and discretion of the prime minister and Parliament. There’s a long-running movement for Republicanism in the UK—not in the GOP sense, but in the Platonic, pro-democracy sense. But with constitutional monarchy entrenched in British political culture for centuries—and with the obvious enthusiasm for the William-Kate union—the cards are stacked against democracy.
2. The wedding will cost the UK economy $7.9 billion.
April 29 is an official bank holiday as declared by David Cameron, who also called it “A great day for our country, a great day for the royal family and obviously a great day for Prince William and for Kate.” But some people might be prone to disagree, as the British economy is poised to take a nearly $10 billion hit in order for the country to celebrate the wedding with a day off. The total losses are projected to be offset by money spent by tourists and on memorabilia, but the country is still bracing for a $7.9 billion loss.
3. But wait! It will actually cost UK taxpayers millions more than that.
One of the starkest aspects of the wedding details has been contrasting the dollar [or pound] signs. As the working class gets gutted so corporations can have a break—a neo-con policy we’re feeling deeply in the U.S., too—the ceremony at Westminster Abbey will be followed by a lavish reception at Buckingham Palace. And while the costs will be split between Prince Charles and the Middletons, the state will have to pony up for security and troops on parade—which will cost over $15 million more than security for the G20 protests in 2009. The Daily Mail:
“The April 29 wedding is now said to be the most expensive security event staged in Britain. Because of government-imposed budget cuts, The Met is so hard up it has sent a “begging letter” to the Home Office asking for help in meeting the extra costs, which were piled on when David Cameron declared the wedding day a bank holiday. In a perfect synergy of symbolism, Middleton will roll up to the proceedings in a 1979 Rolls Royce that was damaged last year by student protesters. In 2009, a similar model went for $2.5 million at auction.”
4. Royal wedding coverage is siphoning budgets and reporters from actual newsgathering.
On April Fool’s Day, The Guardian published a joke piece saying it would bring home all its foreign journalists in order to contribute to a 24-hour-a-day liveblog leading up to the nuptials. It even launched an accompanying site. But four days later, the prank hit home when the newspaper published a truthful follow-up about the media coverage: not only are 2 billion viewers expected to tune into the live television broadcast of the event, but coverage is in fact decimating resources for foreign reportage. “Despite the severe strain placed on newsgathering budgets by the recent glut of major foreign news stories, UK and overseas broadcasters have committed considerable manpower and resources in one of the world’s most expensive cities to cover the Westminster Abbey wedding,” wrote The Guardian. “This will almost certainly be the biggest team of broadcast crew and reporters ever assembled for an outside broadcast in London,” says a senior BBC source.”
5. And it’s siphoning eyes from actual news.
See above Japanese radiation is draining into the Pacific Ocean, and corporations are gobbling up everything in sight meanwhile, otherwise useful outlets are speculating on what Middleton might wear.
6. Gawking at such a thing contributes to a dehumanizing, hierarchical culture.
Vapid celebrity culture is bad enough for myriad reasons—i.e. misogyny, addiction-gawkery, the normalization of schadenfreude, to name a few. But further elevating the royals and all that they stand for—imbalanced concentration of wealth and power, pedestalized whiteness, and the concept that those things somehow render certain people superior to others—is bad for society. The royal family might be comprised of fantastic people—certainly Princess Diana’s work in charity around the world was irreproachable—but continuing to act like such profound wealth and isolation from “commoners” contributes to the notion that severe wealth gaps are normal, acceptable, and desirable. And that keeps the power structure we’re protesting intact.
Copyright 2011 Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
This post originally appeared at Alternet.Org.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.