Let’s face it. Pomp has a way of pulling you in.
Which is probably why it was invented, and why it persists.
Were it not for our innate attraction to ritual and spectacle, combined with our fondness for celebrity and ceremony, networks in this era of austerity would never have engorged themselves on the wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William — a member of the royal family we removed from power over us back in 1776, and the second in line to become a British tourist attraction.
It’s hard to imagine an event with less relevance to an economically troubled America, but perhaps that’s the point. We’re a nation eager for distraction, and few things are more distracting than the kind of symbol-soaked, hat-happy, linked-to-the-past parties our relatively new nation struggles to provide.
It’s not for everyone. If you’re immune to the draw of glamour and parades, pomp and circumstance, you didn’t tune in. But odds are if you did, you enjoyed it. Weddings tend to self-select their audience.
Not that newscasters weren’t in there pitching to endow the event with greater import — and explain their presence in London rather than in, say, a storm-struck south. “Sometimes in the storms, the true storms around the world,” said ABC’s Diane Sawyer, “a splash of color can give us a sense of hope.” Which is the kind of thing that’s far easier to say when you haven’t actually lost your home to an Alabama tornado or a Japanese tsunami.
Still, to be fair, these kinds of news conflicts are inevitable, and this particular party aired at a time of day that effectively filtered out the disinterested or disaffected. Unless you’re a night owl or a very early riser, you don’t exactly stumble upon a broadcast that got underway around 4 a.m. in the East. The networks were safe in assuming that people who were watching went out of their way to watch.
But surely even the most devoted monarchist cringed at some of the gushing going on before the wedding imposed its own blessed silence on the yapping analysts.
On the sparsely populated plus side of the ledger, place ABC’s Tina Brown, who was frequently amusing. On the more crowded downside, place CNN’s puffed-up Piers Morgan, who insisted the royal couple were “the biggest stars on the planet,” which may have come as a surprise not just to folks in Hollywood, but to William’s grandmother, who remains a pretty big name herself.
There were, as you’d expect, constant references to William’s mother, Diana, with frequent comparisons to her wedding to Prince Charles and sad reminders of how badly that marriage turned out. And yet the most obvious lesson there — that most storybook fantasies are, indeed, just that — didn’t stop ABC from labeling the wedding “a true modern fairy tale,” or NBC’s Matt Lauer (among others) from referring to “the fairy-tale nature of this wedding,” while struggling to explain why William’s fairy tale was going to have a happier ending than his mother’s.
Obviously, all people of goodwill hope that it does. But it does seem that newscasters might have wanted to gently remind viewers that when it comes to marriage, the royal family doesn’t have the best track record.
Yet, as often happens at such events, the ceremony itself eventually asserted itself, overwhelming the blabber about dresses and hats and tiaras and suppressing sensible doubts. At around the time Prince Charles entered Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth left Buckingham Palace, the weight of British royalty — and the enduring strength of the cultural and historic bonds between our countries — took hold.
After all, if anyone could pull this off, it’s the British, who have had centuries to perfect events designed to strengthen the bonds between aristocrats and commoners while not-so-subtly emphasizing the distinctions. Money can buy most anything, but only royalty gets you a wedding in Westminster Abbey.
And what a wedding it was, drenched in tradition and mostly allowed to play out without anchor/analyst intrusion. There may have been times when your desire to have a name associated with some face the camera picked out in the crowd went unfulfilled. But you know TV talkers: Give them leeway to start, and they’ll never stop (as we found out when the bride and groom temporarily left the stage to sign the register).
It’s a truism, of course, that all brides are beautiful — but she really was, wasn’t she, with her beauty enhanced by the happiness that seemed to surround her and her groom. As the couple stood on the palace balcony, sealing their wedding with two chaste kisses (a countdown clock, NBC, really?), you couldn’t help hoping that maybe this time, Cinderella had found Prince Charming.