It wasn't much of a fairy-tale wedding in the first place

Russell Baker

December 16, 1992|By Russell Baker

THE papers and the television keep repeating "storybook marriage." Eleven years ago with the same witless monotony they kept repeating "fairy-tale wedding."

What's a fairy-tale wedding? A middle-aged bachelor and an up-to-the-minute version of one of Evelyn Waugh's bright young things taking the vows -- is that a fairy-tale wedding?

For a fairy-tale wedding you need a glass slipper or maybe a glass coffin and a resolute though colorless prince willing to travel around trying to fit women's feet into the slipper or ready to kiss life into palpably undead housekeepers for dwarfs.

That business with the glass slipper would probably get a prince in dutch nowadays when everybody knows about foot fetishists and sexual harassers. Also for fairy-tale weddings there ought to be wicked witches, evil stepmothers, fairy godmothers.

None of these would we tolerate for an instant nowadays. We are too enlightened. We know stepmothers are just as nice as everybody else, and you know how nice that is.

Fairy godmothers turning pumpkins into coaches, rats into footmen, squalor into beauty: we know about fairy godmothers nowadays. They are nothing but metaphors, and metaphors are poetry, and who wants to mope around with poetry now when every grocery counter in America offers Heartbreak, Miracle, Tragedy, Split, Diet, Cancer, Elvis and Shocking Truth?

As for witches, they now talk to reporters about the charity fund-raisers of their covens, proving that even witches nowadays are publicity-crazed.

Surely they will soon have a Witches Association of America in Washington, which is to say, a lobby out to persuade Congress that witches are just as nice as stepmothers, so deserve some subsidy money. It may already be shamefully insensitive to suggest witches have to be wicked to get into the sisterhood.

Sisterhood? What are we saying? Half the typical coven in these gender-speaking days probably has to be composed of men witches.

So much for the fairy-tale wedding of Di and Charles. The age, for all its wonders, is stuporously bland in romance and even hostile to the poetic imagination. That's why the papers and the television can get away with telling us that overpriced show BTC nuptials featuring two largely uninteresting persons is a fairy-tale wedding.

Yes, their destiny is to be astoundingly rich and perform work of preposterous dullness while being called "Your Majesty" and "Ma'am." The papers and the television think we are so completely addled by astounding richness, preposterous dullness and "Majesty" talk that we will accept the fatuous "fairy-tale wedding" cliche, thus letting the papers and the television get away with reporting the story with brains turned off.

After "fairy-tale wedding" came "storybook marriage."

What's a storybook marriage? Anna Karenina married to that dim bureaucrat Karenin and carrying on with Count Vronsky -- is that a storybook marriage? There certainly seems to have been a lot of carrying-on going on since the fairy-tale wedding.

"Anna Karenina" is a big book and a wonderful story and marriage is what sets it in motion and leads to its grim conclusion.

It is not, however, what the papers and the television have in mind when they talk about the royal British "storybook marriage." At least I don't think it is. It is very hard to tell what they have in mind, if anything.

As a onetime maestro of the rewrite desk, I suspect "storybook marriage" is one of those empty phrases that sound exciting and read like page-turner literature while concealing the fact that the writer hasn't the faintest idea what really happened.

"Blazing inferno" is a typical representative of this newspaper-prose family. It's faintly suggestive of Dante and it sounds as if the fire must have been -- must have been -- well, what? I, who felled many a building in "blazing inferno," had not read Dante, didn't care whether infernos blazed or sizzled, and knew only that the things had burned down.

By talking of last week's news as the end of a storybook marriage the media cling to the fairy-tale malarkey they created for the wedding. For British monarchy, however, this marriage tale may be as dark as the story of "Anna Karenina," which is not what most people mean when they say "storybook marriage."

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