Marriage of novelty with nostalgia
The British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was a festival of exclusion which denied the reality that exists behind the image of impeccable decor.
EXACTLY 30 years after
the disastrous fairytale wedding of Charles and Diana, it was the turn
of their son to rewrite the recent matrimonial history of the House
of Windsor. This was accomplished by doing everything imaginable to
erase the ghosts of 1981. It was as different from that alliance as
could be imagined: a love-match, an anomaly in perpetuating royal dynasties.
The couple knew each other intimately, and had spent much time together
since they met at St Andrew's University almost a decade earlier. Kate
Middleton is a 'commoner', although her family figure among the top
few percent in
Apart from that, it
seems that everything else was in duly regal order. The glittering processions,
the colour, the choreographed ceremonial, the high fashion, the apotheosis
of the fusion between royalty and celebrity, the eager crowds camping
out for days on the hard stone pavements, the idiosyncratic dress and
patriotic fervour of people waving the union flag and singing ancient
imperial ditties, 'Rule Britannia' and 'Land of Hope and Glory', to
keep themselves warm in the chill April night. A floodlit
But there are at least three elements that deserve closer scrutiny. First of all, efforts to reinstitute erstwhile popular activities such as the street party, of which some five and a half thousand apparently took place up and down Britain, including one in Downing Street, with its invited celebrities behind the black iron railings, eating what looked like retro nourishment of jelly and cupcakes. This is of a piece with Prime Minister David Cameron's determination to create the 'big society': a reassertion of the power of community, which is to take over from a retreating state. No matter that this is in defiance of reality; since community has been fragmented and broken into pieces by the florid individualism of the past 50 years. It might also be noted that Cameron's dedication to the benign hypertrophy of Society stands in stark contrast to the efforts of his inspiration, Margaret Thatcher, who famously announced that there was 'no such thing as society'.
These were the nuptials
of nostalgia with modernity. A fly-past by
The second noteworthy quality of the day was the distinct triumphalism of the traditional ruling castes. Absorbing one commoner is as much social mobility as we are going to get in this generation. To remind us that this was simply a daring experiment, everything else spoke of continuity, irreproachable propriety, the reactionary reflex of a royalty whose foreign representatives constituted a sadly depleted phalanx in the Abbey. Much was made of the omission from the guest-list of the two most recent Prime Ministers of Britain, Labour's Blair and Brown. The sparkling assembly seemed to declare with a single voice that the levelling doctrines of socialism had finally received their quietus. Labour, it appears, ingested by the Establishment, has been chewed up and spat out again, notwithstanding the wan presence of Ed Miliband. It was almost as though Labour had never existed: Kate Middleton is a symbol of the only form of progress now on offer - the personal ascent of the individual high-achiever.
That Tony Blair was
absent also shows the remarkably selective memory of the
Tony Blair's even
greater service to the preservation of the social edifice of
The third aspect of these celebrations was the virtually monochrome nature of the people, not only in the Abbey but also on the streets. BBC cameras sought out, with some anxiety, and in a traditional reversion to cliche, the happy smile of non-white faces on the Mall and elsewhere; a mock Hindu wedding was held in Southall, where members of the Middleton family once lived. Ritual obeisance was made to the 'commonwealth family', but if the spectacle was for global diffusion, the political message was strictly for home consumption.
Amid the spectacle
and majesty, it seemed that a redundant imperial pomp had been forced
back upon itself, too extravagant to be contained within the narrow
confines of these islands; clearly the ceremonial had been designed
for wider horizons than those of
The TV channels, uncritical,
fawning, sycophantic, gave the impression that this all captures the
This royal wedding
was not just a love story, as TV presenters declared it to be. Nor was
it 'a private family occasion.' It was difficult not to feel sympathy
for the nervous gaucherie of the groom, the fate of whose mother cannot
have been far from his thoughts, and the poised charm of his bride.
This ought to have transcended the mummery. But it was impossible to
ignore that this was a festival of exclusion, a denial of all the other
Perhaps the assertiveness
of the restoration of government by millionaires and boys from
Jeremy Seabrook is a freelance journalist based
*Third World Resurgence No. 249, May 2011, pp 40-41