A woman passes a shop window decorated with wedding memorabilia in Windsor, England. Britains Prince Harry will marry American actress Meghan Markle in Windsor on Saturday, causing a stir not only in England but in America, too. A professor at Ohio Northern University details why on earth Americans are so invested in the goings-on of the royal family. (Associated Press photo by Kristy Wigglesworth)


What are Americans doing, planning royal wedding watch parties that will start in the wee hours of Saturday morning?

After all, this country rejected the concept of a monarchy — “vehemently and violently,” as Jennifer Walton, associate professor of communication studies at Ohio Northern University, put it. She is also chairwoman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies.

So, first things first: How much do Americans actually care about the royal wedding?

When Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011, about 23 million Americans watched, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That’s no Super Bowl, which drew about 111 million American viewers in the same year, when the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

But it is about 80 percent of American Idol’s finale viewers that year, when about 29 million people tuned in to watch Scotty McCreery win the show’s 10th season.

So why do millions of Americans care about the British monarchy, at least for a day?

The drama

As a family, the royals “are just so dysfunctional,” Walton said.

She summarized the drama that has happened in Queen Elizabeth II’s lifetime:

In 1936, her uncle, King Edward VIII, “abdicated the throne to marry a twice-divorced American,” Wallis Simpson.

“One of the primary issues with royal marriage is, if you are the king or queen of England, you are the head of the Church of England,” Walton explained. So Simpson’s divorces were a problem.

Walton doubts that the couple had a great love story.

“He was just a selfish playboy that did not want the responsibility of being king,” particularly as World War II approached, she said.

Elizabeth’s own marriage is not drama-free.

“There’s a lot of drama surrounding her marriage to Prince Philip, because he was a Greek prince, but Greece was in shambles, so it meant nothing to be a Greek prince,” Walton said. “And nobody thought he was suitable.”

Plus, “everything he says is so inappropriate.”

When Philip announced his retirement from public life last year, the online British newspaper The Independent compiled a list: “95 gaffes in 95 years.”

“Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease,” he said in Australia in 1992 when he had the opportunity to touch a koala.

(Koalas do have a chlamydia problem. National Geographic reported last month that the sexually transmitted disease “has hit wild koalas hard, with some wild populations seeing a 100 percent infection rate.”)

Philip has also wrestled with “his need to have power” and “having to kind of bow to his wife,” Walton said.

Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret, also wanted to marry a divorced man, Peter Townsend. She was not given permission by the queen to do so.

“The children that aren’t the heir typically go wild. And Margaret was no exception. There’s a picture of her in a bathtub with Mick Jagger,” Walton said.

In royal fashion, the drama continued with Elizabeth’s son, Charles, also described by Walton as a playboy.

Camilla Parker Bowles was “the love of his life” — but she was also Catholic. And once she got married, if she ever married Charles, she’d be a divorced Catholic — “a double conundrum,” Walton said.

“And so they found Diana,” and she and Charles never had a happy marriage, Walton said. “Because he never stopped loving Camilla,” who attended their wedding and sat “scowling through the whole thing.”

Charles and Diana divorced, and then Diana was killed in a car crash, an event which probably caused Charles to think, “‘Well, crap. Looks like I’m not gonna be able to marry Camilla any time soon,'” Walton said.

They waited until 2005, eight years after the crash. By that point, Elizabeth’s “views had progressed and advanced” to a point where she would give permission for the marriage, but not condone it by attending the ceremony.

And then, a drama-free match: Charles’ son William and his wife Kate.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a more suitable match in royal history,” Walton said. “And they did it right. They got married late. They dated in college. They took a break to make sure that they were, you know, supposed to be together. They got back together.”

Harry, on the other hand, met Meghan Markle, “a divorced American,” Walton said. “So we’re drawing parallels” to Edward VIII.

But there’s an important difference: “There would have to be a major disaster in England” for Harry to become king.

He’s sixth in the line of succession, after Charles, William, and William and Kate’s three children.

“So I think that they are willing to bend on this,” Walton said.

The history

“What’s funny is I’m not even really all that interested in the royal wedding. I just love the historical context of all of it,” Walton said.

Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne 66 years ago and is the world’s longest-serving head of state. At 92, she has also lived longer and ruled longer than any previous British monarch.

When she became queen in 1952, Harry Truman was president of the United States and Winston Churchill was the U.K. prime minister.

The monarchy’s power has eroded in those 66 years.

“The level of power of the monarch has changed. … It seems like everything Elizabeth does is figurehead stuff,” Walton said.

Movies and TV

Recent entertainment has also contributed to “renewed interest in the royal family in America,” Walton said, starting with “The King’s Speech” in 2010.

That movie focuses on King George VI (Elizabeth II’s father), who works through a stammer.

The Netflix series “The Crown” and “Victoria” on PBS have also been popular, she said. Then there’s “Downton Abbey,” though it’s about aristocrats rather than royals.

Dynasties are intriguing

“We try to crown royalty here,” Walton said.

On one hand, Americans might say they dislike political dynasties.

On the other hand: the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons. Maybe the Trumps one day.

“There is a big difference in what we say, and what we actually do and want,” Walton said.

She’s American

There is actually an American involved: Meghan Markle was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Two of Walton’s favorite things are soap operas and game shows.

“Meghan Markle is just, like, the jackpot for me, because she had a five-episode arc on ‘General Hospital,'” Walton said. Plus, she was a briefcase model on “Deal or No Deal” more than 10 years ago.

“Game shows and soap operas tend to be frowned upon by a lot of kind of upper-crust-type people, and she’s entering the royal family after having been on a game show and a soap opera,” Walton said.

Rubright: 419-427-8417
Send an E-mail to Kathryne Rubright
Twitter: @kerubright