Royal Wedding, Take Two: the sermon, the hats, the kerfuffle

We had planned for 20 guests, but in the end several who had promised to come to our royal wedding party found the early (or late) hour too much of a stretch. A dozen of our friends did make it over at 1:00AM California time this morning to watch the royal wedding. We offered tea and scones, Stilton and Plymouth gin. We had a wonderful time, enjoying the build-up as well as the ceremony itself. I tried to explain the intricacies of the British class system to our guests, but gave up; it was an overask for the middle of the night.

I’ve explained my fondness for the royal family before, noting the distinction between respect and undue reverence. Both American and British, I’m comfortable with moving in two different cultures — though I am certainly at my core more coastal Californian than anything else. (I feel more at home in L.A. than in London. But I feel more at home in London or Exeter or Durham than I do in Bakersfield or Baton Rouge or Boise. My thoroughly cosmopolitan wife feels much the same way.) My brother, raised as I was in the same places, feels English, and has chosen to make his home in the land that saved my father’s family from destruction.

I posted on Facebook about the wedding, and “live-tweeted” my response to various happy aspects of the ceremony (like Princess Beatrice’s splendid hat and Bishop Chartres’ wise homily). I was stunned by the vehemence of some of my friends and acquaintances who were not only uninterested in the goings on at Westminster (perfectly understandable) but nakedly hostile to the entire event. I knew it was coming: on this Feministe thread, some commenters were unhappy that a feminist blog celebrated the wedding uncritically. And a few Facebook friends of mine went further, insisting that progressive politics were fundamentally incompatible with affection for the monarchy. It got a bit heated.

I like Dan Hodges’ bit in the Guardian today: We needn’t be royal wedding party poopers just because we’re leftwing. Hodges wrote: What we saw today wasn’t a celebration of aristocratic privilege. It was a celebration of a shared heritage. A heritage that is owned as much by the left as by the right. I agree.

As for the sermon by the Bishop of London, it was splendid. My favorite bit:

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

Bold mine. (And I’d add that this is true of any enduring commitment, including those between two people of the same sex. What is needed is the complementarity of spirits and hearts, not necessarily the complementarity of male and female.) We all need reminding that no other person can be the sole, or even primary, source of our joy.

27 thoughts on “Royal Wedding, Take Two: the sermon, the hats, the kerfuffle

  1. I’m glad you had a wonderful time Hugo.

    My friends and I had a champagne breakfast, then viewed the event on TV and, afterwards, had a party in the garden complete with scones with cream and strawberies, copious amounts of bunting, lots of Kate and William banners and plenty of wine.

  2. I have nothing against people getting married! But this event was a convergence of so many things in society today that drive me crazy. Celebrity culture. Media frenzies. Wedding frenzies. Princess culture. Stupid, uninformed Anglophilia (not the kind you describe, Hugo, but this strange thing so many Americans seem to have, in which they have little to no idea what that actual country across the Atlantic is actually like in 2011). Fascination with monarchy and aristocracy. And most of all, consumerism and marketing über alles

  3. I find “meh” to be an appropriate response. Don’t care for monarchies, even those whose shape today are principally ceremonial, and don’t care to hate on those who are captured in its thrall.

    But were you really surprised at the hostility? I mean, people feel pretty strongly about monarchies.

  4. No, lisa. It was those who turned this all into a litmus test: stand against this spectacle or lose your progressive credentials. And I got a ton of that crap today on FB and Twitter and email.

  5. Monarchy, patriarchy, I can see the connection. But is that what’s happening in Great Britain today, and does being an anglophile mean you need to turn in your feminist card?

  6. I thought feminism was partly about undoing the unearned privilege given to certain folks. And what is the monarchy, if no unearned privilege?

  7. Is it really that hard to say “aw, what a nice young couple, they look so happy”? It’s not as though they slaughtered peasants and walked over the bleeding corpses to get to the ceremony.

  8. I could care less about the royals, all I know is I need one of those fascinators!

  9. The British monarchy has a pretty long and sordid tradition of ethnic nastiness, a tradition that extends directly to this particular groom’s brother. It has a pretty long and sordid tradition of sexual nastiness, a tradition that extends directly to this particular groom’s father’s treatment of this particular groom’s mother. It has a pretty long and sordid tradition of class-based nastiness, a tradition that absolutely and completely suffused yesterday’s spectacle.

    Add to that the fact that the wedding is speculated to have cost the British taxpayer as much as fifty million pounds, at a time when Britain is slashing services to the poor. Add to THAT the fact that a huge number of left-wing activists in London were rounded up over the last week, in a flagrant violation of their civil liberties, under the pretext of keeping things calm and cozy for the royals and their clique. Add to THAT the fact that each living Tory Prime Minister and ex-PM was invited to the wedding and neither of the two most recent Labor PMs were.

    Add all that together, and I’d say that it’s at the very least an event that deserves some skeptical progressive analysis along with all the rah-rah. Anyone who says “stand against this or lose all your progressive credentials” is being a doofus. But I can see someone being disappointed, even angry, with a progressive who seemed to be embracing the whole thing too uncritically.

    And no, I don’t think that makes me — or them — “joyless.”

  10. Sorry Hugo but I just can’t agree. I felt happy for the couple and the affection they have for each other was clear to see. The Republican cause isn’t about criticising joy. It’s about equality and freedom. Having the monarchy creates and maintains a pervasive culture where it’s ok for privilege and power to be a natural and deserved birthright. There are surely similarities to patriarchy here. As joyous as a wedding is, the deference having a monarchy requires is damaging to British society and culture on so many levels.

    And as a democrat I can’t see how supporting an institution with unearned hereditory power is compatible with any democratic political theory. It just seems to be a fundamental democratic right to have a say in who your head of state is.

  11. Ed, what kind of freedom is lost in monarchies? What is the great suffering of people in monarchies like the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands? (Nations famed for their egalitarian values, especially the latter four?)

    Democracy is about choosing the head of government. Not necessarily the head of state. Republics aren’t inherently more democratic (ask the Cubans or the North Koreans or the Zimbabweans). Monarchies aren’t inherently less. Evidence shows one can be a small d democrat without being a small r republican.

    And yes, Angus, there is a time to criticize — if you read my post comparing this royal wedding to the 1981 version, you’ll see that. But there’s a time and a place. The time to load up the criticism is not during a wedding or a funeral. Don’t speak ill of the recently dead and the newlyweds is a temporary and worthy restriction.

  12. Hugo, as I said, it was a convergence of a lot of crazy-making things for me. Also, I find there are a lot of things in our culture today that I would be a lot cooler with, if they didn’t seem to be the excuse for some kind of frenzy, an intensity and investment (however short-lived) that seems out of all proportion. Weddings are a big one. The wholesale attachment of old sexist paradigms, and their willing embrace by the women involved; the voracious self-involvement (“It’s MY DAY!”); the absolutely rampant consumerism, the valuation of appearance above all. Add an anachronistic monarchy and class system to the mix, and AAAAAAAAAAAH! Get me out of here!

  13. Nobody’s speaking ill of the newlyweds, Hugo. What folks are doing is raising structural critiques of a powerful institution.

    You can’t separate out “the royal wedding” from the police repression that preceded it, from the cultural artifacts that arose out of it, from the deeply political messages that are embedded in it. The idea that politeness demands a wedding-day moratorium on the discussion of such things is preposterous.

  14. The preventative detentions were appalling. I absolutely agree. That it is a decision that might also accompany the Olympics, but wouldn’t be an argument against the games themselves.

    The embedded political messages aren’t inherently reactionary — it’s more complicated than that. I want equality of opportunity, not equality of title. The former doesn’t require the latter, as the Scandinavian example shows.

  15. Long time lurker, first time commenter.

    Let’s leave all the abstract arguments on the table and look at some realities.

    Reality 1: The charlie foxtrot of evil known as the libdem-con alliance is about to sack hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

    Reality 2: The very same government, which is SO broke that it has to sack hundreds of thousands of workers, is spending as much as 50 million pounds on a wedding for a cadre of genetically fortunate, hemophiliac Germans.

    Now wouldn’t that incense just about anyone? That money won’t save all the jobs on the chopping block, but 50 million pounds is enough to keep 1000 workers or so on the payroll, performing much needed services. That’s 1000 families who get at least another year of employment.

    But no, Cameron and Clegg, the evil ones, have decided to thumb their noses at those 1000 public sector workers in the name of hereditary privilege. For those aforementioned endogamous twits.

    At least the bicycle monarchs of Amsterdam and Scandinavia have the decency not to suck up the public treasury or act like entitled fools. They know that they persist on public forbearance alone. But the Hanoverians don’t seem to get it. They don’t understand that their monarchy won’t survive the 21st century. They don’t understand that the monarchy might well end with Charles III, which is ironic considering how auspicious the other Charles’ were.

  16. I didn’t watch the ceremony and had little interest in it, but I did see one picture. I typically have little interest in celebrity culture anyway and I don’t have a fascination with monarchy and aristocracy either. With that said, I do wish them happiness and success. I wish it were not such a media event and spectacle and I wish people were more respectful and less intrusive about their private lives.

    Matey’s party in the garden complete with scones with cream and strawberies and a little wine sounds quite lovely though.

  17. Dobb, did you see this YouGov poll of British public opinion?

    Two thirds of respondents (66%) believed that there would still be a monarchy in 100 years’ time with 69% thinking that the British monarchy should continue, compared to just one in five (20%) who thought that we should instead have an elected head of state.

    Small “r” republicans aren’t getting any more popular, either. There was no mass indignation at this expense. You can say the people shouldn’t want a monarchy, but you can’t deny that they want one.

  18. I didn’t watch it. What is a fascinator?
    Hemophiliac does not equal genetically fortunate. And neither of these should have anything to do with one’s worth. I have no affection for monarchies, but not much liking for most of the people in charge closer to home either. So I can’t say I have any answers save that reading all this was a bit informative even so.
    Why does any wedding have to cost so mucking fuch?
    [Shuffles off to look up fascinator]

  19. Hugo you’re skirting the issue. The fact is, Britons were not in favor of spending millions of taxpayer dollars for a bunch of cousin marrying, upper class twits. You talk about one poll, and I’ll talk about the Scotsman’s 80 percent of Briton’s “don’t care” about the royal wedding” poll. At the end of the day, one poll this way and one poll that way don’t prove a damned thing. However, we do know that the government spent money on a royal wedding when it could have spent that money keeping people employed. I and just about any sane person finds that repugnant.

    We really don’t know how Britain feels about the wedding because only one side was allowed a chance to speak. The scum we so charitably call the “police” used the public order act to confiscate any signage and accost any person denouncing the occasion. Then there were the preemptive arrests on social centers and anti-cuts activists. A lot of Britain might just be pissed, but you know, since Britain doesn’t have to go through the rigmarole of violating various amendments, it can go straight to silencing dissent without those pesky civil libertarians having a legal case. If the tuition protests are any indicator then a whole lot of English men and women would prefer the royals defunct.

    As for the monarchy surviving this century. Even if your poll is correct, polls change. In only half a decade American attitudes to gay marriage have gone from general disgust to general acceptance. Fact is, the British people’s tolerance of the monarchy largely rests on the cultural capital built up by Elizabeth II. Once she croaks, the monarchy passes on to Charles, a New Age wackadoo who’s gonna run through that reserve of good feeling like a true prodigal son.

    And even if it bypasses charlie boy altogether, the monarchy can’t survive the new neoliberal normal. Third world Britain won’t stand for a polished scepter while the streets play home to riots over bread prices and oligarchic wealth. The next century is going to be an interesting ride for the global uber rich. And while the real super wealthy can flee the turmoil, the royals by definition have to be out in public. When the time comes to throw a bone to the frothing at the mouth masses, don’t be surprised if that bone is a republic. Just as you shouldn’t be surprised if hungry slum dwellers start looting Westminster abbey and melt down the gold relics. At least then the place would serve a practical bloody purpose

  20. I wish American parlance made more use of the word ‘kerfuffle.’

  21. I was one who chose a poor place to express my views (Jill, if you are reading, my apologies). By all means, if you want to take time out from the dour realities and use your blog as part of the celebration, then it is bad form to dismiss the tenor by statements that could be charaterized as party-poopery.

    I am, however, astonished by the way that otherwise thoughtful critics of societal, patriarchal norms are able to suppress the cognative dissonance inherent in lauding an event that serves to set back the causes they otherwise espouse (pun noted).

    The couple are seemingly charming young folk and they have my sympathies for having to serve up thei nuptuals for public consumption. The price of privilege (noblesse oblige), I suppose. I would have been more comfortable celebrating with them had they chosen a small, private ceremony.

    The whole spectacle could stand a feministe analysis but the conformity police (and real ones) cucooned this event in a way I would not have believed possible.

    I may never comprehend this.

  22. I’m a left-wing feminist and British and I want a monarchy. We need a figurehead, a head of state – people who represent us, but who do not have any say in the way we live etc. The monarchy are a massive part of our heritage, they are a shared experience that goes back thousands of years and they can unite us in a way the inconsistencies of elected heads of state cannot. If we lose our identity as British, and English, then we sink deeper into universal, anonymous culture. The Royal family are a massive and higly effective PR excercise that give us a sense of belonging while keeping the eyes of the rest of the world on us.

  23. Not a fan of this, and principally because of the wedding frenzy + princess frenzy thingy.

    Wasn’t it Queen Victoria who started the notion of spending the equivalent (today) of millions $ for a wedding, making is as spectacular as possible, and ‘her day’, and all that?

    Which translated to well-off people spending years of wage for a ceremony. And Disney commodifying the whole thing for their own profit.

    I’m not sure the prince charming narrative is that old.

    If I marry someone, I hope it doesn’t cost much for both mine and my partner’s sake. We invite close people, not every acquaintance we ever had. That probably means just family. Rent a small place for the after party, without fussing over flowers or throwing money out the window for show-off-ing’s sake.

    I also won’t wear a hat, even if you pay me. But *especially* not hats that seem to defy gravity…and simply don’t look like hats at all.

    In Canada, weddings cost on average 20,000$. At least according to some poll. I find that more than a bit much. What a waste of resources for an over-glorified ceremony which doesn’t signify, in any way, wether a relationship will last or not.

  24. Here’s a feminist question– do a lot of those hats look like vaginas, or am I making that up?

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