Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Oh, the Discourse!: The Royal Wedding and Yada Yada

I couldn't think of a better way to break my blog-ginity than with an essay-style rant dovetailing the coat-tails of the recent Royal Wedding. I think it'd be wise if we did our best to reflect on the discursive deployment mediated through the coverage.  

By discursive deployment I mean the fundamentally political ideas communicated through the cultural production of the wedding.  I strongly believe that the interplay between the ritualized construction and Western commoditization of the Royal Wedding conjointly operated to produce a Christian European white patriarchal heterocentric discursive deployment.  

 To begin, I will reflect on the elements which played out on the social stage of the Wedding.  Of the thousands of official guests an overwhelming majority were white.  The power of this stilted representation was precisely that it was not acknowledged, thus whiteness was discursively universalized in the context of the production.  

In addition, a clear gender divide was mediated through the social signifiers presented through fashion.  In general, the female identified guests draped themselves in extravagant clothing, and (based on the tenor of the “expert” analysts) their social value was contingent on the success of their feminine aesthetic embellishment (think big decorative hats!).  

In contrast, a notable percentage of the male identified guests wore military uniforms, and in their case the social value (once again allocated by a procession of analysts) was earned on the basis of their conduct in the public arena (think military accolades - a concrete embodiment of historically masculine value).  

To take a single example, the camera panned to David and Victoria Beckham and after a detailed evaluation of Victoria’s clothing the analyst drew attention to a single aspect of David’s clothing which indicated that he is a member of the British Order.  

The signifiers arranged and deployed, and the analysis which mediated consumption drove a divisive speak between the masculine and feminine, with the former gauged according to public conduct, and the latter judged relative to Eurocentric conceptions of feminine beauty.  

After a thorough gendered analysis of the guests the cameras spent several minutes filming the interior of the Westminster abbey, mediating the consumption of every detail of gilded splendor.  A procession of clergymen spoke at the event, and collectively they weaved connections between heterosexuality and spiritual fulfillment, Eurocentrism and global hope.  

The tenor of this oratory was that the union between a man and a woman is divinely ordained for the increase of mankind, and that in the face of contemporary global peril this naturally ordained union is a beacon of hope to all countries.   

The totality of social signifiers and discursive formations deployed on the social stage of the Royal Wedding collectively expressed a body of politics with embedded notions of white, Christian, Eurocentric, patriarchal, and heterosexual supremacy. 

The social stage of the Wedding was, at its core, a ritual.  A ritual carries no power within itself, rather the power stems from the resonance it strikes in a broader social context.  Thus, a more detailed reflection on the Western packaging of the wedding is necessary.  

The pervasive focal point of the Western coverage was the wife to be, Kate Middleton. This emphasis was made explicate before the ceremony even started – Kate’s car had modified windows which facilitated a degree of voyeurism unattainable with any other vehicle, a calculated move to accommodate media saturation.  

Prince William and all other members of the Royal family were arranged in the abbey far sooner than the bride, and when Kate made her entrance a CTV analyst was practically gushing, “Born a Kate, now a Katherine.  A four minute walk up the aisle and into a different life.”  Another analyst said “The cut of her dress makes her look tiny, and her waist is cinched.  She simply radiates confidence!”  

Later in the ceremony, when William made his vow the camera was trained solely on him, and when Kate made her vow she was given a few frames of airtime before the camera found William once again.  Through the lens of the Western media Kate operated as a fluid social unit negotiating integration into a static institution (physical the Westminster abbey, socially the British monarchy).   

The camera followed her as she was paraded down the crowded streets of London, and her procession walked down the aisle surrounded by a sea of motionless Monarch’s and dignitaries.  

The commentary of the CTV analyst struck a note within a very specific narrative; Kate is the fortunate “commoner” plucked from obscurity, and she alone has the opportunity to fall into the arms of a prince charming.  

Thus, it follows that the camerawork at the altar was guided by the feminine gaze – we saw William clearly, and, for the most part, only the back of Kate’s head was visible, which effectively made her a site of projection for every female (or male) identified person who has ever dreamed of being wisped away by a prince.  

But to delve deeper, I contend that in the context of this production the personal particularities of Prince William were insignificant, rather the Prince operated as an institutional fixture, more specifically a personified emblem of a specific power structure.  

The surface fantasy was falling into the arms of a prince, the underlying foundation was being brought into the fold of a power structure; both dimensions operated as deeply historic discursive productions.  

Therefore, the Western media coverage of Will and Kate’s wedding was a staged fantasy of sorts, whereby the (predominately) female identified viewer was both witness and participant to a feminine “commoner’s” socially recognized alignment with a power structure.  

The interplay between the social stage and the mediated Western consumption of the wedding reveals the aggregate discursive deployment of the wedding; the apex of feminine fulfillment is being plucked from obscurity and heralded into the confines of an established power structure. 

More specifically, along the lines of the Western media coverage, the lucky girl is chosen on the merit of her European feminine aesthetic (recall Kate and her “cinched” waste), and the established power structure has a very specific texture – white, Eurocentric, patriarchal and heteronormative.    

In closing, I would like to very briefly talk about a person who was the subject of one of the human interest stories shown during the CTV pre-wedding coverage.  The female identified person was around seventy, from Calgary, and a lifelong Royal enthusiast.  

When she talked about the Royal family her joy and excitement was palatable, and it made me realize that her relation to the concept of the British monarch is something I cannot relate to.  Being of a different time she has navigated a social space steeped in collective values which facilitated a totally different relationship with the Monarch.  

To generalize, the people of my generation will necessarily consume this event in a different way relative to this older person from Calgary.  I think we need accurately map the youth interpretation to the discursive deployment of this wedding,  and based on the findings perhaps we will have a snapshot of the dominant discourse on gender, race, and sexuality specific to (broadly speaking) the social epoch of the youth of the contemporary West.  

The product being offered to us is sexist, racist, and heterocentric but the site of production is our collective interpretation, and this is what must be mapped!

Over and out, 


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