Prince William, the grandson of a powerless figurehead, married Kate Middleton on Friday, and America was embarrassingly captivated by the whole spectacle. I've heard a lot of people of similar mind say they don't understand the fascination with the royal wedding, but I can't entirely agree. Don't get me wrong; If what they mean is that it's a ridiculous, meaningless occasion, I completely agree. But on some psychological level, I think it makes perfect sense for Americans to be this infatuated.
It has nothing to do with sincere Anglophilia; last summer England saw some genuinely intriguing goings-on during a contentious election, but it received scant coverage from the American media. The satirical newspaper The Onion eloquently summed up Americans' attitude with a brief headline: "Tony Blair Apparently Not Prime Minister of UK Anymore." Ditto the protests that have been sweeping the country over austerity measures by Prime Minister David Cameron's government. No, Americans' love affair with the royal family has more to do with our national mindset than anything else.
Here's the sad truth: American pop culture has become structured almost entirely around celebrity as a concept. In our society, fame, talent and celebrity are three entirely separate universes, and the third is vastly preferable to the first two. Take one of the royal wedding's high-profile guests, Kanye West. He's an excellent, consistently innovative musician and yet — largely by his own design — he's much more famous for publicly behaving like a tool at every opportunity. Or look at Charlie Sheen. He's a decent actor in both dramatic and comedic roles, and he was in some of the best films of the '80s, and yet he's a nationwide phenomenon because he's stopped acting to be a full-time creepy, misogynistic junkie.
In perhaps the inevitable culmination of the difference between celebrity and talent, one of the guys from "Jersey Shore" (you can't honestly expect me to know who) has been approached for a three-album deal by 50 Cent, a mediocre rapper who owes his celebrity largely to the mystique of his criminal past. And now, with the wonder of online social media, not only can we treat these people's antics as news, we can do the same thing with their every banal thought. Infamy has been pretty much engineered out of existence. The worst possible fate is instead obscurity.
What does all this have to do with the royal wedding? It's the exact same principle at work, and that's why Americans follow it so closely. Prince William's mystique and his fame have nothing to do with anything he's accomplished; they are entirely the result of his parentage and his general existence. He, like his father and his grandmother, was born to be famous.
In a reality-television culture obsessed with people famous for being famous, it's only natural that we should admire modern-day princes and princesses — people who claim the divine right to be where they are. They've refined the vapid celebrity worship on which we thrive and made it seem classy; they're the Kardashians for the squeamish. Hell, Princess Diana beat Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the field of "attractive, privileged people frowning at the problems of the Third World as though that solves them" by several years.
Royal wedding mania is such a distinct product of celebrity culture that when actual world events threaten to intrude on it, they're forced to the sidelines. Recently, human-rights advocates publicized that the couple had invited Bahrain's crown prince, currently engaged in the brutal suppression of an uprising by his people; the prince declined his invitation and the media was content to largely pass the story by. Lesson learned: Stay away from our fairy tale, yucky geopolitics.
One of the principles we as Americans pride ourselves on, and rightly so, is our foundation on the revolutionary idea of a state without kings or queens — but that's only partly true. It's true in the more important sense, that we don't put power over our nation in the hands of a single sovereign who inherited the position. But if we view "royalty" in a broader sense — that is, people who didn't earn anything, who lucked into their power, and yet are still given our adulation and undivided attention — we could teach the Britons a thing or two. S
Zack Budryk is a journalism major at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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