The idea of media events has long been something that I have been interested in and that my work has focused on. The seminal work in the field is, of course, Dayan and Katz’s 1992 book ‘Media Events’. One of the case studies in the book is the royal wedding of Charles and Diana which took place on July 29, 1981 to a television audience of 750 million people.
Twenty-nine years later the son of Charles and Diana, Prince William has today announced – via Clarence House – that the he will marry Kate Middleton in 2011 on a date that is to be confirmed which will no doubt unfold to a similar, if not more intense, fair tail narrative.
Like his father’s wedding, the wedding of William and Kate will also be a (fairy tail) ‘media event’ but will take place in a fundamentally different media environment. Consequently, it will be interesting to see how the event will be both managed and broadcast in an age when media is environmental. I would expect that the use of social media by fans will be similar to that of the death of Michael Jackson, where fans were able to use sites such as Facebook while watching the event to feel as if they are taking part in it (and in fact, take part in the event through interacting with other fans).
Given the environmental role of media, we can also expect the event to be hyper-mediated by millions of fans on the street, at the event – inside the media event and active in the media cloud – uploading their videos to YouTube, pictures on Twitter and Facebook. What is interesting is how does the immediately availability of multiple narratives change the media event story and the experience of the media event for those at the event and watching the event. Daniel Dayan has already commented about this and there are some other remarks in Couldry, Hepp and Kortz’s excellent edited collection on Media Events. Something the book is missing however is much discussion as to the role and impact of social media on media events. The royal wedding will offer a fascinating case study to study this.
Lastly, the royal wedding is also important as it occurs at a time when the royal family really needs a myth to latch on to, to reinforce their legitimacy. Monarchies, even if only symbolic, are useless. Yet, in the UK, they are undoubtedly an excellent source of tourism dollars. It is obviously in the monarchy’s own interests to generate a narrative which will justify tax dollars subsiding their privileged lifestyle and the larger system they stand for. Thus a romantic love marriage – which will no doubt be eaten up by the media – comes at an opportune time when there also exists the potential of the coronation of an unpopular king (Prince Charles) which would no doubt be bad press for the royals. So, today’s announcement marks not only the start of what will surely big one of the biggest media events the UK has seen in recent memory and a media event that will undoubtedly spillover into global proportions, but it also the start of what will likely be a new image campaign to rejuvenate, and thus attempt to reinforce the legitimacy, of having a monarchy in this day and age.