Saturday, 30 April 2011
Two billion people. By pretty much any standard, that is a lot of folk. Prurience or fleeting interest cannot be the reason that fully two billion viewers tune in to an event. Plainly, the Royal Family is held in very high esteem throughout the world.
As I watched the wedding unfold on television and looked at the Internet before and after the ceremony, I was struck by a realisation: cynicism is no more sophisticated than credulous acceptance. They are both default responses which have little merit. Give me intellectual enquiry and true, gut instinct over cynicism any day.
Intellectually, there is a straightforward case to be made for the Monarchy. It provides continuity (and successive Prime Ministers have relied on the Queen's institutional memory). It works for us to have our nation personified by someone who transcends party politics. It is stable. It bonds us with other countries in the Commonwealth and no longer creates a schism with other nations - consider how Americans delighted in what happened yesterday. Even the French did. It is highly cost-effective, and many royals devote themselves to various forms of hugely worthwhile public service.
But, surely, there is a place for a visceral response too, isn't there? To swell with pride that we do pomp and ceremony better than anyone, to be reminded that the Union Flag could never be the preserve of bigots, to gaze fondly at Prince William as he tries not to giggle, to say that yes, Catherine really is beautiful and to smile quietly at the thought that this rainy little island is admired so widely.
I write this in the knowledge that some of you will have a different gut reaction, perhaps of a nauseous nature. Another advantage that our constitutional monarchy affords us is that it is the backdrop to a political system in which dissent is not merely tolerated but welcomed. That Huw Edwards waxed lyrical in his commentary and there was an attempt (unsuccessful! They'd have definitely been shifted in China) to move on the selfish oafs who have colonised Parliament Square makes no odds. We have freedom of speech in this country.
So much of the infantile rejection of what we saw yesterday was so obviously, as it were, pre-scripted. As such it was no more original or valuable than the incessant flag-waving of the dippiest royalist - and a lot less charming. And, literally, unbelievable. Someone who says the same things over and over again is likely seeking the reassurance of others - and trying to convince themselves.
If you reflexively oppose everything that someone does, then you are defined by them. That's not listening to your own gut, it's being a distorted echo. If you are uniformly counter-cultural, then you are one of the crowd. Happily we saw yesterday that one crowd is infinitesimally larger than the other.
A well-rounded life certainly must make room for vigorous debate and deep rational thought. Marching to the beat of your own drum is important too. Equally, we must allow ourselves to experience communal joy and uncritical pleasure. A wedding between our future king and his adorable girl seemed as good an opportunity as any.