Exploring the American Obsession with British Royalty

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Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

With a British royal wedding coming up this weekend between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle, it seems as though the American public has set its eyes once again on the royal family. But American fascination with the British royal family has existed for as long as our nation has and seems here to stay.

In a 2015 meeting with Prince Charles, former President Obama acknowledged the strange phenomenon in a lighthearted manner. “The American people are quite fond of the royal family,” Obama said. “They like them much better than their own politicians.”

A part of this preference can be explained by a lack of familiarity. The vagueness of American general knowledge about the British royal family has a favorable effect, comparable to that of any individual’s careful posturing on social media. It is easier for the curated presentation of a polished royal family across the Atlantic Ocean to warm our nation’s hearts than it would be for the more transparent highs and lows of local political activity to achieve the same.

The American experience of the British royal family is like observing someone else’s children. They capture the most attention from us when they do something cute — in the royals’ case, hold an ornate wedding featuring extravagant hats or exercise intense care in dressing their toddlers. Upon hearing news of this, Americans proceed to “ooh” and “aah” about whose hat was the biggest and which brand of tiny boots His tiny Highness wore to the park.

Meanwhile, the British taxpayer’s experience with the royal family is more like having your own children. They are a somewhat less overwhelmed by these displays of cuteness due to an acute awareness of how expensive they are and what all that money could have been spent on instead.

Americans are entertained regardless. When we find something cute to obsess over, we devote vast time and social space to it. Mothers looking to emulate the choices in miniature fashion made for the children of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, can look to a site called What Kate’s Kids Wore. This site is complete with links to purchase these styles.

“A special ‘hello’ to those visiting from our now-closed What Prince George Wore site and/or What Kate Wore,” according to the website. Apparently, there has been a long-running national concern for what the royal couple wore.

Muhlenberg College Associate Professor Jeff Rudski described the entertainment value of keeping such a fascination.

“The Royal Family is one of the longest-running reality TV shows in history, and it’s part of our history, as we have followed some of the characters our whole lives,” Rudski said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “It’s ‘The Truman Show,’ with complicit characters.”

Of the six posts E! News made on its Instagram account celebrating Mother’s Day, the most popular — by a margin of nearly 100 thousand likes — was one of Queen Elizabeth II and her grandchildren. From heartfelt Mother’s Day messages to pregnancy announcements, the other posts featured an NFL player, American models, and successful actors. However, the milestones of these celebrities were not as celebrated as a commendation of Queen Elizabeth II for “still royally rocking it at 92 years old.”

“To us, she’s Queen Elizabeth II,” according to the social media post. “But to her royal babies, she’s simply Gan-Gan.”

This quote highlights another reason why Americans can’t seem to take their eyes off of the activities of the royal family: the surreal duality that each member represents. In a sense, they are living icons. Their likeness and their stories are guaranteed to be widely recognized for generations to come, with possessions as simple as their royal corgis commemorated in such high-status publications as TIME Magazine. But to each other, the British royals hold titles such as Grandma or Grandpa, sister or brother, best friend or soulmate.

That duality is captivating to an American audience because we have grown up consuming media which portrays royal people as almost otherworldly. Obviously, our fantastic images of royalty do not match reality. Yet it is still enthralling to watch some prince or princess, magical title and all, navigate through the natural problems of normal life — including universal high points such as marriage.

So if you tune in to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this weekend and feel guilty about being unable to look away, rest assured that this is an obsession that a wide portion of the American public today and generations before us share. It is undeniably a weird obsession, but you are not alone.