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StarBuzz Online - Toronto

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A StarBuzz Exclusive: Royal Fame in Canada - In Conversation with Federal Heritage Minister Dean Del Mastro - Samita Nandy


Prince William and Catherine Middleton

Samita Nandy
Celebrity Cultural Critic for StarBuzz
In Canada, aristocratic glamour will be celebrated in the upcoming tour of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton.  The Royal Tour will take place from June 30 to July 8, 2011 and will include celebration of Canada Day in Ottawa as well as sites in Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and the National Capital Region.  The prestigious tour of Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton can be seen as a political and cultural site that articulates questions of authenticity in Royal fame.  One of the questions that is pertinent to the Canada state:  How will Canadian public discourses intersect with Royal practices in the tourism?  What are the particular ‘authenticities’ in Canadian heritage that may be reproduced or circulated in the practices of ‘the popular’ in British Royalty? 

For Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton, the tour is a symbolic and material marker of institutional norms in their wedding.  The tour plays a historical role in the cultural maintenance of what it means to be ‘Royal’ through successive generations and relations of the British Monarch.  At the same time, in the esteemed words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it is a “delight” for the Canadian nation.   
In examining the Canadian significance and pleasures of the Royal Tour, my candid conversation with Federal Heritage Minister Dean Del Mastro sheds some light on what may be perceived to be ‘authentic’ in Canada.  As the Parliamentary Secretary at the House of Commons, The Honourable Del Mastro performs a supportive role to the ministerial staff in planning and coordinating the tour with Buckingham Palace as well as Canadian cultural heritage.  In this position, the Honourable Del Mastro states the rationale for considering Canada in the couple’s first overseas tour.  For him, the Royal Tour is reflective of the “long” and “close” relationship that the Canadian government has shared with Britain.  The honour in hosting the tour of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton particularly reinforces loyal commitments to British Royalty.  What makes their popularity more meaningful for Canada, as the Honourable Del Mastro further asserts, is that there is “curiosity” and “excitement” among people who want to get to know them.   For this purpose, the young Royal couple will meet and greet, make themselves available, share long standing relations with Canadians, and respond to the growing media attention.  This Royal Tour will be different from that of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in 2010.  The difference is a temporal one.  Prince William and Miss Katerine Middleton, in the Honourable Del Mastro’s words, have qualities of a “rock star” and will attract “youthful attraction” in the contemporary generation of Canada.
Drawing on critical studies of Richard Dyer, Su Holmes, and John Ellis, it can be claimed that the Royal fame of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton relies on the paradox between their extraordinary and ordinary positions in modernity.  The discourses associated with their Royal fame intersect with Canadian metanarratives.  On one hand, Prince William and his marriage to Miss Catherine Middleton consolidate and strengthen succeeding generations of the Royal family.  In this respect, their extraordinariness in Royalty is two-fold. 

First, Prince William shares the ascribed or legendary fame related to the lineage of the Monarch.  Miss Catherine Middleton also shares Royal fame now.  She reflects historical positioning of the British Queen and court whereby Royal women were at the centre of celebrity culture.  As the Honourable Del Mastro adds, “When you are the princess and husband is second in line to the throne, there is a diplomatic responsibility and celebrity status attached to that.”  He adds that part of the celebrity is the “pouring affection” and “people want to know them.”  The Honourable Del Mastro indicates that Miss Catherine Middleton, like Princess Diana, is very comfortable with celebrity photography, aesthetic tastes in fashion, and interacting with the crowd.  This leads to the second kind of fame:  the Royal couple can be associated with the meritocratic or achieved fame of Princess Diana as a celebrity humanitarian activist.  As Rachel Giese (2007) once stated in CBC arts, Princess Diana invented modern-day celebrity activism and had been well received in Canada as well. 

On the other side, Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton share ordinariness that stands in contrast with their extraordinary status.   It is comparable to the ordinariness in Princess Diana and in marriage of her brother Earl Charles Spencer to Canadian philanthropist Karen Gordon.  For Prince William, his marriage to a commoner and invitation of a hundred ordinary British people including street kids reflects ordinariness in everyday struggles of class division (Taylor, 2010; Lawless, 2010).  These ordinary people will be likely drawn from charities and supported by the Royal couple (Taylor, 2010).  Unlike special invitation of Canadian celebrities like Rick Mercer and Lisa Ray in the luncheon of The Queen in 2010, the Honourable Del Mastro speculates equal participation of ordinary citizens along with public leaders in Canada.  
The paradox of extraordinariness and ordinariness may raise questions of ‘authenticity’ of the Royal couple.  Are they extraordinary like celebrities or ordinary like citizens in a nation?  What will be true in the context of Canada?  In general, cultural practices and representations of Royal meanings of fame embed ideologies of authenticity.  There is perhaps something ‘true’ about the style, excess, and opulence in contemporary Royal practices.  In these practices, the maintenance of and loyalty to Royal families is central to diplomatic affairs of Britain.   At the same time, legitimacy of commonwealth relations and association with ordinary citizens is significant to note.  These paradoxical ‘truths’ may interrogate authenticity of the elitism in Royalty.  The tension, however, constructs curiosity and desire to know them better.  As the grandson of Queen Elizabeth and son of Princess Diana, media discourses around Prince William may also facilitate negotiated meanings around the contested Royalty and death of Princess in British Press debates.  These negotiated meanings may then attract popular attention as well.  
In all cases, discourses around what is really ‘true’ in popularity may well intersect with metanarratives that suggest Canada as morally superior, peaceful, and humble than its Southern counterpart.  The Honourable Del Mastro concludes that “we are all just people with similar traits and characteristics.  Sometimes, we elevate people and how different they are but we have much in common with them.”  The British Royal fame of Prince William and Catherine Middleton may then not only reflect the extension of parliamentary democracy but, in light of Princess Diana, set new ways of interrogating and celebrating humanitarian visions in Canada.

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