Saturday, May 19, 2018

You Can't Stop the Beat

 Photobomb of the Year
Something very important happened today. 

Cynics always roll their eyes at a "royal wedding", particularly one involving male members of the British royal family.  There's something so retrograde, so sexist, so downright primitive, about the idea of two people going into a church and when they come out, one of them is a princess, whatever that means. 

And yet, this transformation of some ordinary girl into a princess; that most often most toxic of female iconography that's nearly impossible for any little girl to escape, has a stranglehold on even our culture.  I don't know why "princess" has such a hold on a country that's never had royalty.  We can't really blame the Brothers Grimm, for the original, pre-Disney versions of their fairy tales have some pretty macabre elements, like Cinderella's stepsisters cutting pieces off their feet to try to fit into the glass slipper. I suppose we can blame Walt Disney for it, and the siren song that the Disney theme parks use to lure in American families. 

No matter how cynical you are, there is something about these extravaganzas that draws us in and keeps us in no matter what happens in the aftermath.  We all know now what an utter clusterfuck the marriage of Charles and Diana was, even from its misbegotten beginning.  And yet, despite the knowledge of how utterly miserable both of them already were on the day when Diana seemed more like just a support for a massive, crumpled dress than a 20-year-old who already knew her husband loved not her but another, we still call that a "fairytale wedding." 

I'm not sure why British royal weddings hold us so much in thrall.  When we look at the British monarchy in historical context, or at least the historical context we know from televised miniseries, a royal wedding is hardly a harbinger of eternal bliss.  Just ask Anne Boleyn.  But let there be a royal wedding, especially this one. and we go bonkers.

Why this one?  Because if Diana was "the people's princess" (ick), then her sons have been "the people's sons," especially Harry.  Of "the heir and the spare", it was Harry, the embodiment of yet two more collective consciousness archetypes, the Lost Boy and Lovable Scamp, who has always had the hearts of royal-watchers.  It is his good fortune to have inherited his mother's telegenicity as well as her ability to connect with people, because in his youth, his self-destructiveness in the face of unresolved grief would have forever stained a less charming young man.  But Harry has always been able to pull off being that "lovable scamp," so it is hardly surprising that he would choose for a bride a mixed-race divorcee with a similar mind for public service.

But it's one thing to choose a spouse that the stuffiest traditionalists might regard as "scandalous."  It's quite another to include in your very Anglican royal wedding ceremony not only the ancient Celtic pagan ritual of handfasting, but also elements from American black churches.  From the perspective of this admittedly very white (if culturally Jewish) blogger, the heightened emotionality brought and wrought by the amazing sermon gifted to the couple, and indeed to all of us, by Rev. Michael Curry, is what elevated this ceremony to something approaching the Divine. 

And this is where this whitest of rituals, the Anglican royal wedding, embraced diversity and the heritage of its newest member.  From the minute he opened with a quote from the Song of Solomon (and not the part you might think), and then segued effortlessly into quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Curry did not just talk of the power of love, but imbued the cavernous room with its power:

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love.
Not just in its romantic forms but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it.
And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. And our lives were meant and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately the source of love is God himself, the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says, “where true love is found, God himself is there.”
It was moving, it was glorious, it was joyful, it was subtly subversive,  it made me weep with joy and brought me almost to the point of saying "OK, I'll convert!!"  It was also very much of the glimpses white people get to see of black churches, and by the time Rev. Curry remembered that "we got to get y'all married", it felt as if something amazing and strong and unifying and just perhaps lasting had shifted in The Force, that the earth's axis had just maybe tilted a bit back in a kinder, more loving, direction.  Yes, some in the audience seemed profoundly uncomfortable, but it's something the stuffed shirts in attendance needed.  And then all this was followed by Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir singing a gorgeous rendition of "Stand By Me" (a song written by a black guy and two Jewish guys) and as a recessional, Etta James'  "This Little Light of Mine".  And when it was over, one had the sense that not only had Donald J. Trump not been invited to the wedding, but that the ceremony had included after all, the nose-thumbing at him that was avoided when it was decided that the only way to avoid inviting him was to exclude ALL foreign dignitaries.

I was never one who got sucked into the Cult of Diana.  Yes, she was pretty and glamorous but by 1980, when her wedding took place, I was long past believing in fairytales.  She struck me back then as a girl who'd set her cap for a prince long ago and had too many spangles in her eyes to realize how cold a fish she'd attached herself to.  Yes, I admired her good works, but to me they were part of the noblesse oblige one would expect from someone to whom so much is given.  And yet, in seeing the man her son Harry has become, and how it is he, not his brother, who has inherited her ability to charm everyone he meets, and in seeing the gauntlet he and his bride threw down today in the company of their family, their friends, and the entire world, I could not help but think that somewhere in the great beyond, Diana is getting the last laugh after all.

  Mazel tov,  you two crazy kids.  Now go forth and do wonders.


  1. Please note that Rev. Curry, though sounding like a born again Baptist, is the head of the Episcopal (basically Anglican) Church in the US of A.

  2. I loved the pageantry, the hats, the whole glorious excess of it all. It was a nice break from our own sad reality on this side of the Atlantic.


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