Friday, April 01, 2011

The Royals: An American Fascination


Back in England, Americans are often believed to hold the perception that all British people have some kind of acquaintance with Prince William. Indeed, I have, myself – on more than one occasion – been presented with this very question by inquisitive “Yanks” who may or may not have been stuck for anything better to ask.

But while some people are less astute than others, the U.S. – at least the Midwest – certainly possesses an often-unfathomable love affair with the Royal Family in general.

Prior to moving to Indiana in 2008, I was already acutely aware of the country’s widespread fascination with Princess Diana, whose death spawned thousands of American-distributed commemorative plates and other inordinately expensive collectibles. Indeed, many personal experiences and interactions have only served to confirm this.

During a routine hospital visit a couple of years ago, a nurse who was taking my blood – instantly recognizing my accent – moved to gage my opinion on the late Princess Diana and, further to this, the Royals as a whole. Diplomatically responding with “they certainly increase my country’s tourism,” I was soon regaled with stories about the nurse’s basement and the worryingly high number of Diana coffee mugs that lie therein. “She was so beautiful and it was so sad what happened to her,” she said, inserting the needle into my quivering left arm. “But I just love the Royal family.”

Indeed, her collection – while extreme – is not entirely unusual in these here parts. Indiana – to which I can attest - has more than its fair share of residents still fond of adorning their kitchens with those old Charles & Diana tea towels. Apparently someone forgot to tell them that it's not 1981 anymore.

Of course, it might seem somewhat naive to sum up the national feeling based on one or two examples taken from a relatively small state in the Midwest. After all, Indiana houses only a fraction of the country’s entire population. But the Hoosier state – in terms of its Royal obsession - would appear to act as a microcosm for the nation as a whole. The nationwide box office receipts for The King’s Speech, which I enjoyed in an unusually crowded theatre in Indianapolis, are immediately indicative of this, while a recent Diana exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (Michigan) drew thousands of visitors in its three month run.

Meanwhile, if one needed any more evidence of a Royal obsession, one need only scour the magazine shelves of Walmart, where one will find – on a daily basis – gossip magazines devoted entirely to a certain imminent wedding.

As England gets ready to “celebrate” William and Kate’s “big day,” time will only tell whether its neighbours across the pond will do the same. But then 2011 has, thus far, been a formidable year for the British in America; not only did The King’s Speech win numerous Academy Awards, but Piers Morgan – love him or hate him – has just replaced American interview legend Larry King on CNN, while the Harry Potter series – nearing its silver screen finale – has gained more hype than ever. 

Rewind thirty years and you'll find things were not so different. Chariots of Fire (another British movie) took the Academy Award for Best Picture, while For Your Eyes Only (another British film saga installment) scored high at the box office. And then there was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer - the most viewed wedding in history. Perhaps on this evidence, those Hoosiers are right to keep their tea towels out; perhaps it is 1981 - the year of my birth - all over again.

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