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What’s wrong with the royal wedding fantasy?

Ahead of the royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle in May 2018, Damien Kingsbury, Professor of International Politics at Deakin University, issued this warning to eager viewers: prepare to tune out of reality and into fantasy – unless you take a critical eye.

One has to be happy for Prince Harry and his prospective bride, Meghan Markle; a wedding is always a time of hope and celebration. The problem is, as much as one might like to be happy for them, theirs will be just one of hundreds of thousands of weddings around the world on that day. Good wishes should be generously shared.

Yet Harry and Meghan’s wedding is dominating our air waves and news pages. The spectacle and pageantry will be prodigious, in about equal proportion to the inherited privilege and popular fantasy that accompanies the event.

What’s the problem with the Royal Family?

That the United Kingdom still has a Royal Family – and is still known as a kingdom rather than a commonwealth, much less a republic – is a matter for the citizens of the UK. It seems more than a bit odd, however, that the Queen of England is also the Queen of what is often, if falsely, claimed as egalitarian Australia.

So, buying into the fantasy runs strong in Australia, a country that traces its language and much of its cultural heritage to England, but which is, and has long been, in every other respect a separate and sovereign state. There are many, it seems, whose lives are so bereft as to find fulfillment in the vicarious thrill of what is presented as a public fairytale; a child-like fantasy writ large on the public stage.

It is true that the UK Royal Family finally began, like mere mortals, paying tax in the early 1990s in exchange for an annual government grant, and that they are not nearly so inbred as a few generations ago. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip do, however, share the same great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. The royal village has been small, and produced its solid share of idiots.

'It seems more than a bit odd, however, that the Queen of England is also the Queen of what is often, if falsely, claimed as egalitarian Australia.'

Prof. Damien Kingsbury,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

But what about the corgis?

One cannot take issue with the royal corgis, however, which are a sturdy Welsh dog originally bred for cattle herding and were popular with poverty-stricken coal miners. Queen Elizabeth received her first corgi, Dookie, as a young child, and has since owned more than 30. Dookie (real name Rozavel Golden Eagle) was chosen because of his slightly longer tail, which then young Princess Elizabeth said would show if he was happy.

The last of the royal corgis immediately took to Markle, in contrast to Harry, who noted he’d been barked at his whole life. Alas, there will be no corgis to celebrate their wedding, with the last royal pooch going to the big kennel in the sky in April. Markle, also a dog lover, favors beagles.

But, the question has to be asked, so what? Many people love dogs. What makes Markle’s fondness of pooches special? This is where we return to accidents of birth, inherited privilege and infantile fantasies.

How did we get to romantic bliss from divorce, death and scandal?

The UK Royal Family is one of the most prominent remnants of the feudal era, in which position and power were passed from one generation to the other via the first-born child (known as primogeniture). Political and economic power was only lost through overthrow or failure to have a first-born child to pass that power on to. On this basis, Harry, the larrikin second son, will remain an also ran; the consolation prize for any young woman aspiring to one day be a queen.

By the mid-to-late-1990s, the Royal Family was in a public relations tailspin following the divorce and then death of that other fairytale princess, Diana, and the stories of royal affairs and marital unhappiness. Doubts about Prince Charles’ appropriateness to succeed his mother as monarch took on a new urgency which, in Australia, remains the key marker for moving towards an Australian head of state.

The royal palace has, however, since then embarked on a major public relations campaign to put a shine back on the tarnished image of the Royal Family as more just than a bunch of over-privileged misfits. Prince Harry has toned down his public stupidity (remember the Nazi uniform and nudity in Las Vegas), while Prince William neutralises his desire for other women by fathering royal babies.

As PR campaigns go, it’s been successful. The special paparazzi access, the cutesy family stories and the royal baby photo opportunities have played well to the fairytale imagery. For people in the UK, the US and Australia increasingly disenchanted with real politicians making real decisions about real day-to-day problems, the Royal Family again floats above it all, returned to that otherwise unreachable state to which only the extremely rich and privileged can aspire.

Should we really be keeping this dream alive?

So, on Saturday, there will be pageantry, pomp and ceremony. One young couple, among very many, will be married. For a brief moment, many ordinary people, particularly in the English-speaking world, will forget their increasingly insecure dead-end jobs, their stagnant wages and the growing gap between rich and poor. For a few hours, many will dream.

On Monday morning, however, when they wake up, nothing will have changed. Inherited privilege will be retained for the lucky few, the rest will return to a more challenging reality and the circus will have moved on.

Have the royals caught your attention in recent years? Test how much you know about them in our Royal Family quiz.

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Professor Damien Kingsbury
Professor Damien Kingsbury

Personal Chair And Professor Of International Politics, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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