Why it’s OK to love a royal wedding

by The Listener / 10 May, 2018
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.

Latest

Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer
99461 2018-12-14 00:00:00Z Dining

Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer

by Michael Donaldson

Here's what to crack open on a hot day, from our very own Kiwi brewers.

Read more
Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates local history and family
100443 2018-12-13 16:46:27Z Auckland Eats

Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates loc…

by Jean Teng

Nickson Clark's new cafe The Sugar Grill is a project 19 years in the making.

Read more
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the global assault on journalism
100431 2018-12-13 11:36:23Z World

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the …

by Peter Greste

Time Magazine has just announced its “Person of the Year” for 2018, and for once, it isn’t one person.

Read more
The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plastic
100417 2018-12-13 09:31:47Z Planet

The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plas…

by The Listener

Over the European holiday season, the Mediterranean Sea’s plastic load rockets by a whopping 40%, as people buy then simply ditch plastics like lilos.

Read more
The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no one knows about
100384 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no…

by Todd Pitock

A country rarely in the media spotlight, here's why we can't ignore Chad.

Read more
Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who did his bidding
100401 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who…

by Emma Land

If you thought Donald Trump came up with the slogan "Make America Great Again," you’d be mistaken.

Read more
Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life became stranger than fiction
100261 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Profiles

Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life …

by Diana Wichtel

When Liane Moriarty was summoned to meet Nicole Kidman in a Sydney cafe, the Hollywood star made it clear she was serious about optioning the book.

Read more
Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mother
93895 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mothe…

by Peter Wells

A reminder that nothing can really prepare us for the death of a beloved parent.

Read more