The Massed Gadgets Of Albion/Saxe-Coburg

This really should be a super long essay, but for now these short notes will have to do.

Of course it’s obvious, but moments of British pagentry like the Royal Wedding display the intense choreography of state and crown. The wedding deployed gadgets as diverse as bombers, Alexander McQueen dresses, Gothic architecture, William Blake, and the urban planning of Whitehall. Narratives of power that stretch back over thousands of years are compressed into utterly compelling images and performances that describe British culture explicitly. That’s to say: Sentimentality, conservatism and arrays of military equipment.

For example, Williams saluting of memorials and statues on the drive to Buckingham Palace suddenly actived the relationships embedded into the urban fabric of London. In this symbolic ceremonial act the very fabric of the city vibrates with the violence of empire and imperialism (as PJ Harvey puts it ‘Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet’).

Or, as in the video above, where William and Kate’s consumating kiss is part of the same seamless choreography as Lancaster bombers flying in formation over London. Here romantic intimacy is set within a frame of power. Biological procreation is here inseparable from Britain’s war machine.

We should know from historical record that, in the case of royalty and marriage, love and violence are the very same act, and that power is enacted and created though both. Here we witness the union of wet biology and hard mechanics. At the moment of the flypast, lips and jets were revealed as part of the same object: the object of state.

The decoration of the interior of the Abbey with trees was – as Simon Schama suggested – a kind of rewinding of gothic verticality and vaulting to its original image. Even more, it perhaps takes us back further to pre-Christian Druidic culture where trees were animated with supernatural spirits. Its surreal quality – of interior made exterior – was simultansously reminicent of the atrium of a shopping mall and of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia.

All of this history is mobilised in a way which hides in plain sight a direct articulation of contemporary power. In fact, its the intersection of the two – where the distinction between heraldic symbolism and literal fact merge into a continuum.

It’s impossible to say where a gilded carriage ends and a Tornado GR4 jet begins. At once, the Tornado can be deployed over Libya launching guided missiles while it also sits within the same family of symbolic objects as, say, the Crown Jewels. Meanwhile, those objects seemingly made inert by their ornamental and symbolic status, their everyday use as heritage, are shown to be still active, still plugged into the sources of power that forged them.

More, even. That this historical reenactment isnt about history at all, it only looks that way. Heritage is enacted and performed as a function of startling modernity. The gothic of the Abbey, for example, is not (at this moment) a historical artifact but remade as a contemporary object.

The BBC’s cameras inside the Abbey moved with the strange fluidity of golf coverage, as though they too on their robotic wires were an extension of gothic spatiality. Outside, on the Abbey’s Great West Door, temporary scenographic additions concealed automatic TV cameras. A kind of cyborg addition to historic architecture which suggests a particular resolution of the British schizophrenic crisis of technology and tradition.

Images via

4 views shared on this article. Join in...

  1. Watching via satellite relay in Sydney, my general impression of the pomp and pageantry of the royal wedding (interrupted by occasional snoozing) was that it was basically attempt to establish the difference between tabloid celebrity (Posh and Becks) and regal title. Hence the demure kiss, the military procession, the exhaustive saluting, the interminable church service, the switch from automobiles to horse-drawn carriage.

    This profusion of archaic rituals contrasted emphatically with the Bruckheimer-like camerawork on display. Never before have princely nuptials been captured by swooping lenses from high in the vaults of a gothic cathedral. In fact I was one of many to point out how reminiscent the spectacle was to the medal-giving scene at the end of Star Wars IV.

    Like an expectant movie audience, we all waited, whether massed in the tens of thousands outside Buckingham palace, or watching the broadcast alongside 2 billion others, for the moment of climax, The Kiss. And as the bombers closed in, I did wonder, for an instant, whether we would be treated to Bruckheimer’s explosions in the background, towering walls of flame to illuminate the newlyweds’ faces.

  2. Helen says:

    Great analysis. The police presence also provided compellingly nostalgic images. When did you last see a police officer dresssed like this?

  3. Sarah Allan says:

    Ah, an excellent interpretation of yesterday’s events… looking forward to reading the super long essay!

  4. Alex says:

    Very fine writeup, I read every part of this and await a longer addendum.

    I too, sitting from my perch in Canada before a Youtube treatment noted the finesse of the BBC camerawork. And the preceding comment on how Lucas-esque the coverage felt is quite an observation: though much reduced in scale, the Empire and its most celebrated functions (marriage, coronation) still makes heads turn, almost instinctively as Anglophilic conditioning still holds sway.

    And how surprised were some of us to find such a large crowd actually attend? Every Brit I’d spoken to (all of one) opined a decidedly apathetic response to the proceedings. Perhaps a British affectation for these kinds of things: mannered, but ultimately “cannot be arsed”. And yet, there was a crowd. A throng, I daresay. Granted, many were tourists, but still tourists from ostensibly English-speaking nations. This is the legacy of empire: estranged children of Mother Britannia paying service to a bygone time with placid, but more often than not, borrowed affections.

    All in all, the wedding illustrates a somewhat British genius for configuring contemporaneity-as-function-of-statecraft, and how better to broadcast the message than reduce it to its most elemental – but not immediately obvious – form? A potential future king and his queen smiling benevolently before their subjects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>