As a non-Brit, the royal family was always a bit of an oddity in our family. I grew up in a Commonwealth country where the Queen’s image appeared in every classroom and on our money—every single bill—and by mid-childhood, when my family migrated to the United States, these images of royalty had no bearing. Yet, when the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana took place in 1981, my mother woke my siblings and I up at four in the morning to watch it. There was a morbid fascination with the royal family by the least likely onlookers, million of Americans, who like us, were also awake at this early hour to watch this multi-act wedding unfold.
For weeks surrounding this event, every bookstore in the US sold one of the many variations of a royal wedding coffee table book, each replete with hundreds of photos of Lady Diana’s clothing, her outings, Charles playing polo, Charles in a kilt, and, well, you get the idea. Those of you old enough to remember that wedding know better than I the kind of media investment that this event represented. It was the schmaltz of every fairy tale wedding with a heavy dose of 1980s fashion. In short, it made for great watching! While the fallout of that marriage was far more interesting than the actual wedding, what Americans took away from those nuptials is that the British royal family know how to do it up big for weddings. And why shouldn’t they? It’s only British tax payers’ money in the form of the annual Sovereign Grant which this year is £76.1million. Now years later, the second of Charles’ sons, Harry, is to marry an American this weekend. And this wedding seems anything but the “fairy tale” that the media have spun. One must question if Buckingham Palace needs at all do any press releases as every single media outlet—from major to gossip rags—has queued up to spin the same tired narrative we saw with Harry’s parents and then again with his older brother. It’s not that the weddings are casting each unique love story from 1981 to today—it’s that they are all so very much the same. We cannot even escape this storyline by deferring to the BBC where one might hope for more serious news about the Syrian crisis or the plight of immigrants in the UK under threat of deportation, to include a distant cousin of the Queen. Instead, we are hammered with yet another “picture book wedding” which resembles more Dario Argento than Grace Kelly.
Alarms bells went off for me when it was announced that Meghan Markle gave up her acting career last fall as she moved to the UK. This on top of having to leave behind: one of her dogs, her lifestyle site The Tig, her social media accounts, and her privacy. But good news, feminists—after the nuptials, Markle might be allowed to be “more vocal”—translation, she might actually talk (just a bit)! And there is even a Lifetime movie on this couple, Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance which offers juicy information that only amps up the horror genre. In one scene Markle’s character is furious with Harry for making a press statement on an incident that was uniquely Markle’s to handle. Markle was rightfully alarmed by the way in which Harry tried to “protect” her as his statement read, “Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her.” Fictional Markle’s response to this statement: “I am not some damsel in distress needing rescue from her Prince Charming…Fairy tales don’t exist.” And all this from a Lifetime production which is the American equivalent of Channel 5 daytime movies.
Still, the wonder persists: Did Harry use his mother’s ring to propose to Meghan? Will Harry wear a wedding ring or a watch? Will Meghan wear Princess Diana’s tiara? Or, will they just dispense with clothes altogether because this all sounds so exhausting. And if you’re not ready yet to hit the liquor cabinet bored to tears of the problems of enormously privileged folk, here’s the latest: Harry and Meghan are staying in separate hotels. The Daily Mail even draws this story out accompanied by an elaborate photo spread of Cliveden House hotel in Taplow, Berkshire and the Dorchester Collection’s Coworth Park whose rooms are so luxuriously decorated that one would not let Julie Andrews and scissors within twenty feet of the curtains. But what’s the takeaway from this latest episode? That they will have a chaste night before their wedding? That somehow the tradition of virginity can also be recreated, if only for a media sub-plot?
While we don’t know the inner workings of this couple, what we have been given is sheer simulation of this story recast from many older stories. And it begins like this: woman gives up her career, her freedoms, her social life, her voice, her identity. While so many are obsessed over the wedding, few are noticing the fabric of this relationship which is riddled in age-old patriarchal design. The real question to ask is this: why should we expect a happy outcome from what is a rather typically shackled beginning?