Why Americans can't stop obsessing over the royal wedding

For a nation without a king, America can't seem to get enough of the British royalty. Is it admiration of an elegant culture or just drooling over their jewels – or both?

Evan Vucci / AP / File
Lauren Wilson displays Union Jack pins she made for the royal wedding watch party plans to host at her home in Washington.

Behind the patina of pomp – the bunting, flags, trumpets, and carriages – Friday’s royal wedding highlights the ironies behind why people who tossed off monarchy 235 years ago now find themselves riveted by royalty.

Indeed, Americans and Brits will view the wedding very differently, say historians, magazine editors, and sociologists.

“The Brits may be calculating a bit more about how much it’s all costing, and who’s who – they’ll be paying sharp attention to snubs, and who’s seated where, says Sally Kilbridge, deputy editor of Brides Magazine.

“We Americans are an easier lot to please – easy to dazzle with pomps and parades, since we have so little of it,” she says. “Show us an Irish Guard in polished boots and we just about fall over backward, so imagine what the scene of hundreds of gorgeous horses and shiny carriages and smart uniforms will do to us. Add a gorgeous young woman in a real diamond tiara and we’re besotted.”

America and monarchy

“There is clearly something odd going on in America’s fascination with the royal wedding,” says Patrick Allitt, a native of Great Britain who teaches American history at Emory University in Atlanta.

The American Revolution could have led to “a complete American revulsion of all things British, but that didn’t happen,” says Professor Allitt.

“Even though Americans tossed away the idea of monarchy for themselves, there is still this lurking feeling that Britain is still the repository of high English culture that Americans can’t quite match,” he says.

Chad Martin, assistant professor of history at the University of Indianapolis, thinks English royalty fills the same American hunger for celebrity that feeds fascination with the Oscars and Grammys.

“They want to know who’s invited, who’s sitting where and what are they wearing,” says Professor Martin.

A British take on the American dream?

In another twist, the prince’s choice of bride evokes the American dream, says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife."

“Marrying up has been done in America for years, whereas in a class culture like Britain, you don’t have that kind of fluidity,” she says. “[William’s] choice supports the American dream as women in the US see it.”

Brides Magazine’s Ms. Kilbridge echoes that idea. “Americans clearly appreciate the fact that Kate is a commoner – a bit more like us than all those posh aristos,” she says. “This wedding feels much more ‘American’ than royal weddings past, what with Kate inviting her butcher, arriving in a car instead of a glass coach, and having an after-party with friends, not politicians.”

But America still cherishes meritocracy over aristocracy, Kilbridge notes. “An awful lot of Americans … seem furious that the Obamas weren’t invited to the wedding, even though this is clearly not a political snub, but simply a way of controlling numbers and security expenses. As practical a move as it might be, we seem to feel that our president earned a place at the wedding!”

Nobody does excess like royalty

One additional explanation for American fascination with the wedding is the American love of excess – an extension of the corporate-driven, consumer culture.

Weddings have become a modern “ritual of ferocious, gluttonous, consuming, a debauch of intensified buying, never again to be repeated in the life of an American couple,” says Marcia Seligson, author of “The Eternal Bliss Machine: America’s Way of Wedding.”

“When it’s over, five hours later, there’s the debris, the soggy egg salad, the drooping peonies, the cigarettes shredding in the champagne glasses, and the bills. Somehow, it’s all worth it.”

If competing with the Joneses floats your boat, history shows there ain’t no bigger or richer family to compete with than the Windsors of Britain.

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