Royal wedding inspires largely reverent art
Britain’s officially appointed doyens of High Art have so far been silent about next Friday’s royal wedding: the Queen’s Master of Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, hasn’t been asked to compose a single note for the ceremony, while poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy is waiting until the morning of the nuptials to unveil her verse.
And yet, there’s no lack of unofficial tributes to the royal couple in pop culture. It seems that Kate and Wills’ very blandness has not only made them endlessly marketable, with their upcoming union trumpeted on everything from keychains to cell phones to gingerbread men to cat food to corgi coats to condoms. It has apparently shielded them from dissent.
Even in our age of ever-diminishing privacy, the paparazzi have unearthed little dirt about Kate and Wills – perhaps out of respect, or perhaps because the couple is, indeed, antiseptic. Kate Middleton may be on the verge of being crowned the queen of the internet and social media (according to a study by the U.S.-based Global Language Monitor), but the royal couple’s overexposure hasn’t yet fostered resentment.
On the British cultural scene, usually reliable sources of spite are dispensing homage. Graffiti artist Rich Simmons has used Banksy-esque stencilling and appropriated Sex Pistols iconography for decidedly non-subversive means, openly supporting the royal wedding. Meanwhile, former Pistol John Lydon —who once sang, "God Save the Queen / The fascist regime" — has actually expressed support for Kate and Wills, comparing them to "a very nice suburban couple," and writing, "Please don’t rubbish this lot with jealousy" in an open letter in the Sun.
In comics, a genre usually associated with irreverence, William Shatner’s production studio has published the luridly coloured but worshipful graphic novel Fame: The Royals. Comic book writer Rich Johnston, described by Time magazine as a "political satirist," has penned the earnest Kate and William: A Very Public Love Story, about which he has told the Guardian, "I love doing things that sound ridiculously kitsch, then surprising the audience with something deeper."
In music, George Michael, who used to push the establishment’s buttons with songs like Father Figure and I Want Your Sex, is hoping his soporific version of Stevie Wonder’s You and I (We Can Conquer the World) — with the subtitle tactfully removed — will be the new Candle in the Wind (albeit on a happy occasion). Video director MJ Delaney, who had memorably lampooned the braggadocio of Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind in Newport State of Mind, has reimagined the royal courtship as a Bollywood routine that’s off-the-wall rather than biting.
Delaney’s attitude to the Royal Wedding seems representative of many British artists. "I'm not obsessed with it but I'm not against it either. I'm kind of indifferent," she told the Observer.
In fact, the closest thing to a popular parody of the Royal Wedding so far has been a viral ad for mobile phone company T-Mobile, featuring Royal Family lookalikes boogie-ing down the aisle to the 1992 hit House of Love by London boy band East 17. It’s amusingly ridiculous, but it comes across as more of a nod to the YouTube sensation JK Wedding Dance than any kind of political commentary.
It’s not as if Britain’s arts scene is crawling with monarchists, so why such a muted response? How come so few people are calling for anarchy in the UK? According to Dorian Lynskey, music writer for The Guardian and author of 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, the erosion of the monoculture has something to do with it: "You don’t feel oppressed by the powers-that-be in the same way; it’s easier to make your own cultural space, whereas in 1977, I’m sure the [Queen’s] Jubilee felt absolutely suffocating, and that you felt you had to rage against that."
Nowadays, it seems Britons are more likely to take action against Simon Cowell, the cantankerous judge on TV talent show X Factor (and formerly of American Idol ). A Facebook campaign knocked an X Factor winner off the Christmas #1 spot in 2009 in favour of Rage Against the Machine’s 1992 song Killing in the Name Of, but a similar campaign to push the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen to #1 during the royal wedding is languishing. At the time of this writing, fewer than 10,000 people had committed themselves to the cause.
In 2011, republican sentiment, like monarchist devotion, seems to be simply driving commerce: consider the mugs by cartoonist Steve Bell, depicting Prince William as an albino horse, or the luxury sick bags devised by designer Lydia Leith for use on the 29th (only £8 for two).
In a time of economic fragility in the UK, one probably shouldn’t grumble about the royal couple — after all, they’re stimulating business. Perhaps the most appropriate response to the wedding is simply to consume these icons of consumption themselves. Papa John’s pizza restaurants are offering an edible pie depicting Kate and Wills (with spam for faces, natch), and pub chain Crown Carveries has created a "Royal Forktrait" using the ingredients found in a roast dinner.
Given that Kate and William are now indelibly a part of their lives, Brits can now make them, literally, a part of themselves. Sometimes it’s best just to keep calm and chow down.