Why it’s OK to love a royal wedding

by The Listener / 10 May, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Meghan Markle at an Anzac Day service in London, 2018. Photo/Getty Images

Meghan Markle at an Anzac Day service in London, 2018. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Meghan Markle royal wedding

The royal wedding between actress Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is a reminder that even the most consciously egalitarian societies create their own elites.

It may be about as relevant and life-improving as Dancing With the Stars or the latest food fad, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much for taking delight in the royal wedding.

It’s not just a matter of our shallower selves succumbing to some extended click-bait. Nor is seeking to avoid the massive publicity surrounding Prince Harry’s marriage to American Meghan Markle (and good luck with that) necessarily a sign of superior discernment.

In the great scheme of things, this is mostly just a feel-good celebrity event. A nice-seeming man, whose grandmother is this country’s titular, but purely ornamental, head of state, is marrying a nice-seeming A-list television actor.

Slightly more resonant appeal lies in the fact that the British royal family is finally reviewing its stultifying protocol. Markle has African-American heritage and is a divorcee: both of those characteristics would, not very long ago, have made it difficult for her to marry into the family. The elimination of antiquated rules that have caused misery – including to Harry’s parents and his great-aunt Margaret – is cause for celebration.

It’s also irresistibly cheering that Markle is no simpering handmaiden, but intends to express opinions as a newly minted royal. Styled “Ms” on the wedding invitations, she renounced the shallows of serial television for humanitarian work before her engagement. She clearly has no intention of becoming a mere fashion plate.

But there are deeper reasons so many of us respond to events such as royal weddings, even while we suspect it’s a bit silly of us. Anachronistic though they may be, the doings of royalty are probably a natural human preoccupation because human societies always seek hierarchies.

Democracy has helped us evolve beyond hereditary rule and oppressive feudalism, but even the most consciously egalitarian societies create their own sets of elites. In this country, as in many others, sports stars, actors, newsreaders, musicians, business figures – all manner of “commoners” – are hoisted onto unofficial pedestals.

They have great influence over us, if not actual power, and in that regard, they sit above our elected leaders, whatever our constitutional arrangements say. It’s in this grouping that the royals, with their exclusivity and mystique, now belong. They help fill our need for exemplars and norms: people to look up to, people to inspire us, people we identify with, people who make us feel less alone.

Another driver of our fascination with royalty is the human need for stories and archetypes. Royals have been staple protagonists for nearly as long as humans have been telling stories and our appetite for them endures. One need only look at what’s wryly termed the Princess Industrial Complex, the Disney-led global marketing mania around anything to do with princesses: endless new riffs on Snow White and Cinderella – and even a Polynesian princess, Moana – have been among the biggest marketing phenomena of recent decades.

It’s more than just escapism; it can be reassuring. As Victoria University psychology professor Marc Wilson says, “We can tell ourselves that here is a nice girl who has married a prince, no less – and if this can happen to her, then the world is a fair and just place.”

Naturally, we need to keep our infatuation with fairy tales, fictional or real-life, under control. There is well-founded anxiety about what messages the pink and sparkly princess franchise gives to young girls. As kick-ass as some of these fictional princesses are – and indeed, as Markle appears to be – there is generally the same rather dubious motif: girl meets prince and is swept off to a life of kept splendour. This needs constantly to be balanced by ensuring children are equipped with more empowering messages about what girls can aspire to – including not giving up careers for a man.

It’s also hard to argue there’s much of an intersection between the boutique reality of the royals and the lives the rest of us lead. They do good work for charity and can be a progressive force for societal tolerance and compassion. But for every viewer swept up in the royal pageantry, there will be another stewing about the regressive worship of hereditary privilege and the conspicuous expense.

It may be best not to overthink things. The truth is probably that the sceptics revel in their Grinch-like responses to this event as much as others rejoice in it as a happy occasion.

This editorial was first published in the May 19, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose the Ku Klux Klan
95069 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z History

As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose t…

by Dick Lehr

How a young reporter infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan - and discovered the truth about its conman leader David Duke.

Read more
The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to support green technology
95080 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Environment

The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to supp…

by The Listener

With nearly half of New Zealanders considering buying an EV in the next two years, the results could be electrifying.

Read more
Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work
93844 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work

by Kate Richards

Otara-raised Aloalii Tapu uses a myriad of dance influences to express his ideas about manhood, suicide and post-colonialism.

Read more
The artist and poet who refused to play by the narrow rules of NZ art
94118 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The artist and poet who refused to play by the nar…

by Sally Blundell

Decades in France have made Douglas MacDiarmid an elusive figure in NZ art history. A new biography delivers a vital portrait of the 96-year-old.

Read more
12 of the best op shops in Auckland
95053 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Where to go in Auckland

12 of the best op shops in Auckland

by Vomle Springford

With Auckland’s high cost of living, it can be hard to fork out for new clothes, or new anything really. But op shops are plentiful here.

Read more
How virtual reality can help us understand how we think
95019 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Psychology

How virtual reality can help us understand how we …

by Marc Wilson

When you're flying through the air like superman in virtual reality, chances are you'll brace for impact at landing.

Read more
Where to eat this ski season
94882 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Food

Where to eat this ski season

by Kate Richards

A trip to the snow doesn’t have to mean a diet of hot chips and sad hotdogs.

Read more
Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begins
95064 2018-08-16 10:38:12Z Politics

Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begi…

by Jo Moir

All eyes are on National Party MPs, the office of the Speaker and Parliamentary Service now the hunt for the leaker has begun.

Read more