Spare a thought for Prince William and Kate Middleton. They probably just want to get hitched, with as little fuss as possible, and head off and enjoy their honeymoon. Instead, their wedding has become a cultural signifier—but does it really warrant all the media attention it's getting?
William's popularity has ushered in a wave of affection for the Royal Family. He's young, reasonably attractive, and it helps that he looks like his mother, who still occupies a prominent role in the mysterious place known to commentators as the nation's heart. Oscar-winning films such as The Queen and The King's Speech have equally helped rehabilitate the Windsors, ten years after one broadsheet risked being accused of treason by openly supporting the abolition of the monarchy. And nothing makes the public love you like getting the day off work.
The UK is in a recession. Hospitals and libraries are having their funding slashed and the blame for the economic crisis is being placed on the public sector instead of the banks. Now that tuition fees have rocketed, fewer people from underprivileged backgrounds can afford university, and the much-vaunted social inclusion that allowed a girl from a reasonably well-off family to meet and marry a boy from an incredibly well-off (if deeply dysfunctional) family is at an end. And yet despite this, the haves and have-nots seem to be united in celebrating a wedding that will have little impact on their lives barring a brief influx of tourism and the opportunity for enterprising individuals to cash in on the plethora of Wills & Kate merchandise.
But not everyone is shelling out on the commemorative tea towels. Although the bulk of the media coverage suggests that the 29th of April will be a day of festivities, little has been reported worldwide of the skepticism with which many of William's future subjects view the ceremony. It's not just a rebellion against our celebrity culture—although the heir and the spare have long been fodder for the same tabloids that drool over footballers and former Spice Girls—it's the timing and the scale of the event.
The wedding itself will take place a month after 400,000 people descended upon London to protest massive cuts to public spending. Among the buildings peacefully occupied by protesters was Fortnum and Mason's, a department store that does double duty as a bastion of all things English. It was yet another sign that a sizable part of the population is growing tired of the elite that defines us in the eyes of the world.
So is this wedding just the last hurrah, a decaying institution relishing its final moments of cultural relevance, or does the Windsor-Middleton union herald a renewed love of all things regal? Only time will tell, but over the next two weeks, I'll be going behind the bunting to discover what the Royal Wedding really means to Britain, the world, and women in general—and taking a look at some of the odder aspects of this most aristocratic of affairs.