Thursday, April 28, 2011

All tomorrow's parties

It’s being called the Wedding of the Century; never mind, apparently, what the next 89 years of this century might bring. The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton has already obsessed the world’s media. On Friday when all’s said and done, more than 1 billion people around the world will have watched the proceedings from Westminster Abbey.

We wish them all well, but the fact is, in a world that’s increasingly on edge about everything, from wars to the hazards of a global economy gone wrong, a marriage between two people — even two fantastically privileged people — may be just the reliable, comfortably predictable exercise in ceremony we need right about now.

Royal watchers have sliced and diced the differences between this Wedding of the Century and the last one, back in the last century, when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer in July 1981. Of all the distinctions between then and now, they’ve overlooked the fact that Friday’s splashy nuptials will be the first such event in the age of the Internet. The global village that attended the earlier event will numerically pale in significance compared to the audience that’s coming tomorrow.

Thanks to a 24/7 media environment, the relentless power of cable television and the presence of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, everyday people around the world will have an incredible real-time stake in this event. The global village may never be larger and smaller than it will be hours from now.

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Any good wedding is as much a celebration of the guests as it is a celebration of the principals, and the celebration doesn’t stop when the bride and groom make their way to a secret undisclosed location. For the invited guests, that’s when the party begins.

Wills and Kate’s will be no different, and very different. Pubs in London are already anticipating selling oceans of ale. The Associated Press reported that Home Office minister James Brokenshire said all licensed pubs may be allowed to serve customers until 1 a.m. Brokenshire said the looser drinking rules will be in force on Friday – already a public holiday – and Saturday. London, and other cities in the UK, will be a great place to get your drink on this weekend.

But that’s the party on the ground. The experience for the rest of us will be shared on television. All the pomp and pageantry that’s about to begin will give way to something that’s already longer than the ceremony itself will be.

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In the United States, people have announced plans to hold “Wedding parties” of friends gathering over drinks and meals timed to coincide with the events in London. CNN reported that one party planned by someone in Australia would enforce a ground rule: everyone has to have a self-invented title.

And what’s the common thread? This time, unlike before, television and the viral media world is the glue that knits every strand of this story together, in real time. So far it’s been incessant, exhaustive, granular to a fault. We know everything about Wills and Kate but the size of their hat bands — and trust me, someone’s got that locked up too.

But tomorrow when the ceremony begins, or just after, a lot of people around this numb, tragic, angry, hopeful planet will tune in, and be there. And later in the day, watching one of the repeats of the repeats … so will you, if only for a moment. We know so much. We don’t want to buy into the fairy tale, but we do, if only to reinforce our defenses against it.

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In the last three years, we’ve lived through a series of disappointments, watched the economy and our job prospects decline, and hunkered down in underwater homes, beating back the wolves at the door with two-by-fours ripped out of the wall.

Since the year began, we’ve seen an awakening as viral as the media that covers it; across north Africa and the Middle East, a burst of battered but hopeful optimism has emerged, one that, by its populist origins, is viscerally at odds with the very idea of royalty.

But despite all the regal exclusiveness of what’s about to go down … we need this. We need this pause in the mayhem, this weird anodyne moment, this utterly fairy-tale connection of the old to the new. We need it if only to remind us what order looks like.

Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting married. All of tomorrow’s parties will be very much about yesterday. You may think you’re not invited, but you are. The world party set to explode in London hours from now says more about us — is more about us — than about the bride and groom.

Image credits: Wills & Kate plate: Facebook logo: © 2011 Facebook. Libyan protester: Amr Abdallah/Reuters. 

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