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Monday, May 2, 2011

On the "Wedding of the Century": History Made or Manufactured?

In hyping the royal wedding of William and Kate in the E.U. state of Britain, the media even in other E.U. states applied the title, “The Wedding of the Century” in spite of the fact that the century was only in the second year of the second decade. It is rather presumptuous for people alive at such a time to claim so much for their time, and therefore for themselves. Lest our self-constructed bubble unexpectedly bursts, we might let some air out of our self-constructed balloon in a controlled manner such that our bloated egos can survive without too much bruising.

                                            From Star magazine

It is interesting how those of us who were adults in the last decade of the 20th century did not look back to any such weddings around 1911 that might have been labeled then as "the wedding of the century."  I do not even know if there were any such royal weddings back then that might qualify. Having seen the film, “The King’s Speech” a decade into the twenty-first century, I came to know a bit about the British royals of the late 1930s, but even then I could only draw a blank from Queen Victoria to the abdication made out of love. Even in terms of American rather than European history, the twentieth century begins for me at the end of World War I and takes off with the roaring twenties—that opening act ending with the ensuing economic drama in 1929. 

From the standpoint of 2011, it seems a tad bit early for us to be labeling anything in our time as definitive for the upcoming century.  From the standpoint of people who will be adults in the 2090s, people like me are like the people who were born around the time of (or just after) the war between the USA and CSA (wrongly called a civil war as the CSA was a separate country rather than a faction contending to take over the USA) and died of old age during the 1930s or at the time of WWII. Such people were practically forgotten to the people who were adults in the (American) States during the 1990s. That is to say, we who vaunt our events “of the century” will barely register to those people who will be in a position to look back on the century.  I suspect that they will look back to the people who will have been in their prime during the 2050s thru the 2070s.  

Those people who celebrate the coming of the next century will look back to celebrities similar to how I looked as far back as to Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. Even the jazz singer whose mami pierced the silent screen in 1929 is barely on my radar screen—as if the coming of sound in moving pictures was merely the start of the century (as though the previous three decades were projected silently on a blank screen).  

 I do not know much at all about the days of Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt--that is, before World War I. Similarly, adults alive in 2095 may barely know who George W. Bush and Barak Obama were and yet our world (at least in the U.S.) is dominated by discussion about those presidents.  

In the first few years of the second decade of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Standard Oil Trust to be unconstitutional--being in restraint of trade. At the end of the 1990s, the Glass-Steagal act separating investment and commercial banking was repealed without any hint of the progressive movement that had given rise to the Sherman Anti-trust Act. Corporations had long since won the day.

In 1913, U.S. constitutional amendments were ratified changing how U.S. Senators were to be chosen (state governments no longer being directly in the U.S. Government) and expanding how the U.S. Government could tax its citizens (at the expense of state taxes). By the end of that century, American federalism was nearly invisible—Washington D.C. having become the focal object in terms of policy.

In 1914, World War I began in Europe. In 2011, the last remaining American veteran of that war died. Memories of that war had long since faded—the Austrian-Hungarian Empire having been replaced by the Nazis and Japanese in the world’s collective consciousness.  I suspect that in 2095, 9/11 as “permanently etched in our memory” will no longer be so, just as December 7th had faded from "living in infamy" by 1995. Pearl Harbor was certainly eclipsed by 9/11. In 2011, Pearl Harbor is all but forgotten as Americans feel profound sympathy for the Japanese suffering in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami and cheer the death of Osama as justice.

From the standpoint my desk in 2011, I look out onto a vast field of time that is as of yet unknown and utterly undeveloped. I cannot even imagine what will go down in the 2030s or 2040s. That people not yet born and thus yet to be married will look back on that now-empty field as crowded gives me great pause as to the significance of my time and what claims I can properly make concerning events today. In a way, I feel like I am living in a time before time—before memories yet to be remembered even in the same century.

Click to add a question or comment on the significance of the royal wedding or on this time more generally.

See related essay: "On the 'Wedding of the Century': Royalty as Natural or Exaggerated?"