Today is ‘a great day for our country’, according to the Prime Minister, who is sure that ‘the whole country will be wishing them [Prince William and his new fiancée Kate Middleton] every happiness’ (BBC News). Well, it doesn’t seem that way to me.
The immediate and total takeover of the 24-hour news media, and to a lesser extent the mostly ironic response of Twitter (which only usually becomes this dominated by trivialities during screenings of X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing) is one kind of problem. Another is that our heartless government can use the day to bury bad news (like the U-turn on funding Cameron’s official photographer). But the harm it will do women, homosexuals, and anyone else who tries to resist the social pressure to conform to heteronormative behaviour – whether in heterosexual relationship or homosexual ones that somehow mirror their form – is what I find most depressing.
Prepare for a year of speculation about the wedding dress; pictures of Middleton in states of undress (to ensure that she’s not putting on pounds); generally, a shameless reduction of the poor woman to the status of a mere body, as memories of Diana’s wedding-day catheter and eating disorder are plumbed for their significance to the latest addition to the Windsor family.
I have no reason to doubt that these two people are in love, and wish them joy. If, as so often with married couples, they decide to divorce, it is invidious to reflect that unlike the poor who Ken Clarke’s legal-aid cuts hit yesterday, they will be able to afford to do so, but that’s no reason to take an especially jaundiced view of their relationship qua relationship.
What worries me is the public blather about princesses, weddings, and the ability of a Disneyfied marriage to ‘capture the imagination’ of the nation and the world. The gradual dwindling in the significance of this most powerful institution of patriarchy – which offers an ultimately groundless and fantasmic dream of financial and emotional security, social status, and a confirmation of one’s adequate procession through the proper rites of passage – is put in danger by the cloying sentiment that will inevitably surround this news item for the foreseeable future.
For those of us who are persuaded by Lacan’s mantra that ‘there is no sexual relationship’, the ideal of the Disney wedding (how many billions would like to get married, like Middleton, in a mile-long dress in St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey?) raises eyebrows.
Increasing numbers of people recognize that socially sanctioned scripts such as the traditional heterosexual sexual relationship are an essentially psychotic response to the anxiety of being alive: that’s why so many more of us these days refuse to marry, despite social pressure, and want a fuller range of options (marriage, civil partnerships, nothing at all) for both homosexual and heterosexual partners. But all such basically liberal people are struck a blow the moment that royals start buying each other rings. Gay women and men, single heterosexuals, total abstainers, or anyone else for whom the very idea of marriage and normative sexual relationships are anathema are in for a frustrating year and a royal-wedding legacy that will, at least for a while, reinscribe the attitudes that have historically caused them such misery.
If there were no more monarchies, the pressure girls feel to become princesses (rather than lawyers, prime ministers, or important cultural figures) would have nothing in the real world to latch on to. There are therefore more reasons to being a republican than might be immediately obvious. But how simply awful to say such a thing today: I should be thumping my table with joy, like our jolly cabinet, at the news.