“Electronic Ceremonies: Television Performs a Royal Wedding”

By Elihu Katz and Daniel Dayan

“By orchestrating the passage from a qualitative, selective participation in the ceremony to a quantitative, global one, television has created a remarkable historical or cultural artefact: the notion that one can attend the “whole of an event”. The experience of anybody who tries to attend a public event or ceremony constantly proves that “attending” means attending part of the event. One cannot view a procession from all vantage points unless one moves along with the procession (and therefore one loses one’s place), or unless one is part of the procession (and therefore totally unable to focus on it as a spectacle). You see an event from a given place, from a given distance and this place and distance tell you (and tell the others) who you are. In the case of the royal wedding, either you are in the church (that is, a guest of the royal family), or you are outside the church, and the conquest of a place with good visibility has to be paid for, in terms of waking up before dawn or sleeping on the pavement. As in the theatre, your distance from stage, your placement in regard to the centre of the event, is a very clear reminder of your place in society. (To use Benjamin’s notion, your distance from the event constitutes its “aura”.)

What happens with the introduction of television is that, in accordance with narrative structures and the exigency of continuity they introduce, everybody attends the whole of the event. Everybody attends, at least, something which is called “the whole of the event”. What seems new to us is this very notion of a totality of the event, a notion which seems inherited from the domain of a spectacle.

An event such as the royal wedding indeed presents itself as a string of smaller ceremonial units, featuring the same actors (the royal family, the newlyweds) but different audiences, and the dramaturgy of each of these units is an answer to the nature of the audience. What happens with television is that the distinctive self-presentations of the royalty to the different constituents of the British public are no longer conceptualized on the mode of “either/or”, but become available on the mode of “and/and”. The different groups now form one audience. The different sub-events now form one narrative (and one of the tasks of the broadcasters is to organize the rhythmic continuity, the unity of the performance). By turning the event into one spectacle, TV acts as a class equalizer: only the attendant audiences maintain the privilege of seeing only part of the event, thus experiencing their deprivation as its aura. However, the equi-distance introduced between the various segments of the public is compensated by a television-performed reintroduction of distance.”

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