Friday, April 29, 2011
Happily Ever After?
Once in a while an event comes around that unites us— sometimes, unfortunately, it is an epic tragedy, such as the recent devastation in Japan; other times, it is a royal wedding, like the recent union of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
In the weeks leading up to the most anticipated royal event in decades, there’s been a lot of bombastic media gushing, with everything from Ms Middleton’s semi-nude catwalk to the prince’s previous dalliances touted out for our consumption. There has also been some rather vitriolic condemnation of our societal fascination with an institution that no longer seems relevant, much less in-touch, with today’s culture, and with a group of people who dwell in a rarified glass bubble of privilege that never reflects anything but the fantasies we cast upon it.
All of which is, to a certain extent, true. Monarchies have by and large become relics clinging to the crumbling edifice of past glory, even as the real world speeds up to pass them by. And past hyped-up royal marriages that ended up being personal and public calamities have certainly plagued the House of Windsor, with the celebrated marriage of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana being the most sobering example.
Nevertheless, this wedding seemed different right from the start. Oh, the bells and extravagance were all there; so were all the over-the-top hats and dowdy rituals and botoxed famous guests. And so were the inevitable comparisons to the union of Diana and Charles. But none of this managed to overshadow the actual sight of two radiant young people, who have had their own ups and downs in their journey to the altar, taking the first steps into marriage.
For those of us who watched Diana’s wedding and painful transformation from shy prey to suave cover model and crusader for the less fortunate, even as she weathered the blinding glare of her own celebrity and devastation wrought by it and the collapse of her marriage to Charles, there are marked differences to be noted. Diana entered the cathedral in an armorial frock garnished by enough tulle to conceal her very person— a symbolic representation of the life that awaited her as royal prisoner. She had to literally claw her way out of that gown to uncover, all too briefly, the stunning flesh-and-blood woman underneath who demanded the right to her own life.
In contrast, the new duchess of Cambridge glided over her red carpet in breathtaking elegance, sheathed in confidence and arm-hugging lace, unable to contain her smile, proof that no matter what the future may hold, she will be no princess-in-peril. And her groom, stalwart and blushing in his military order, gazed upon her with genuine awe, so that all that pomp surrounding them faded to insignificance. Unlike Charles and Diana, who even while standing on the palace balcony appeared to be strangers, this was a couple in love, celebrating their union before the world— and it showed.
Weddings are by their very nature ephemeral. After months of frenetic planning and dieting and expense, they burst upon us and for a few hours rivet our attention with their glamour and endless possibilities, only to be captured as if in amber through videos and photographs, while the couple itself embarks on the challenging road of daily togetherness. As evidenced by Diana's experience, royal marriage can turn catastrophic, much like ordinary marriages all over the world. In essence, there is therefore nothing different between her wedding and her eldest son’s –swathed in gigantic expectations and witnessed by millions, there is still no guarantee of success.
Except for the hope that this time, William and Kate have found the elusive happily ever-after.