This must have been the most widely watched kiss in the kissing history of the world. Two billion people around the globe keenly watched as the newly-appointed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kissed each other at the royal balcony of Buckingham Palace. Surely it was the costliest kiss ever, costing the British taxpayer a staggering $60 million. With the royal kiss began wedding parties all over the United Kingdom which will go on for weeks.
Anthropologists may find it difficult to explain this irrational fascination for the joys and sorrows of the British royal family. The massive turnout at Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 and the extraordinary outpouring of grief at Di’s tragic death in 1994 were dramatic manifestations of this phenomenon. And now, over a million Britons danced on the streets and thousands queued to occupy the best spots to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Was it a reflection of a suppressed desire to relive the lost glory of the Empire or a longing to return to the outdated values of joint family and Victorian morality? Or was it a grand show orchestrated by the British establishment to boost the tourist industry? Some may want to explain it away as the commercial compulsion of producers of royal merchandise and the print and electronic media’s obsession with ratings and revenue.
Whatever the explanation, the latest royal extravaganza has once again highlighted the contradictions in western societies. The bizarre costumes worn by the dukes of Edinburgh and Cambridge, the transportation of hundreds of trees to convert the Abbey into an English garden, the fuss over Kate being the first commoner to wed an aspirant to the throne in 350 years and the excitement over the kiss, all would have been dismissed as primitive and weird if not couched in flawless flowery language and glitzy packaging. It is amazing to see a wedding being celebrated with such gusto in a society where the institution of marriage is in rapid decline. The fact that the prince and the commoner had been together for not less than eight years, had lived together at their Scottish cottage when studying at St Andrews and had holidayed all over the world, makes the enthusiasm over the ‘kiss’ and the consummation of the marriage rather silly. The track record of royal weddings in recent times has not been that admirable either. Except for Queen Elizabeth’s own marriage, almost all royal marriages have ‘malfunctioned’, if not failed altogether.
In a country where weddings are usually interrupted by loadshedding or law enforcing agencies (imposing one-dish rules or setting time limits) the royal wedding was just like a distant dream: A grand Bollywood awards show or a classical Hollywood musical. It was too glossy, too disciplined and too spectacular to be real or relevant.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2011.
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