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Why Americans are so obsessed with the royal wedding

Researchers weigh in on why we're fascinated with royal weddings — particularly this one.

by Vivian Manning-Schaffel /  / Updated 
Image: Britain's Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, London
Britain's Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace in London on Nov. 27, 2017.Toby Melville / Reuters
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America hasn't been part of Britain for hundreds of years, yet so many of us are beyond excited to watch the royal wedding this coming weekend. Just about every single media outlet (including this one!) has run endless stories in anticipation of the nuptials of Prince Harry and his future bride, American actress Meghan Markle.

Royal weddings are ratings platinum. According to an article on the topic in the UK edition of Harper’s Bazaar, TV viewership for the event is expected to exceed the 23 million Americans who tuned in for Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011. And according to an expert interviewed in The Guardian, media revenues related to the wedding will likely run as high as $100M.

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Arianne Chernock, an associate professor at the Department of History at Boston University, who has written extensively about gender roles in historical Britain, says America’s obsession with British royal weddings dates back to the 19th century. “Americans were clamoring for details about Victoria's wedding dress. Now, of course, that obsession is only amplified, due to the 24/7 news cycle and our fascination with celebrity culture,” she says.

Sure, everyone loves a wedding, but why are so many Americans poised to wake up at the crack of dawn (or even earlier out West) on a Saturday morning to witness the union of this very attractive couple, and all of its glorious fanfare?

We get to see British royalty reinvent itself

Markle, the former "Suits" actress, is American, divorced and bi-racial, shattering the prototype of royal brides that came before her. “The fact that Harry and Meghan have been permitted to marry — and that their union has been widely touted both in the UK and abroad — shows just how much the monarchy, and the nation, have evolved in theory, at least, if not always in practice,” says Chernock. “The monarchy has typically been extremely conservative on questions of marriage, divorce and the ‘suitability’ of certain relationships. We saw this in 1936, when Edward VIII gave up the crown in order to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. And we saw it again in the 1950s, when Princess Margaret forsook love in order to retain her title.”

We get to see a real live fairy-tale wedding

American culture is built on the idea of princess fairy tales being the ultimate achievement in love, says Veronica Hefner Ph.D. a communications researcher at UC Davis who has studied the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. “Little girls watch movies, buy related products, and grow up dreaming about finding their perfect prince,” says Hefner. “The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be more popular than any of the other previous royal weddings because Meghan is an American and she is literally living out the American princess fairy tale.”

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be more popular than any of the other previous royal weddings because Meghan is an American and she is literally living out the American princess fairy tale.

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be more popular than any of the other previous royal weddings because Meghan is an American and she is literally living out the American princess fairy tale.

We’re romantic idealists

Hefner says American royal wedding fans are typically a mixed bag of romantic idealists and voyeurs. “In my research, people who watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate in order to see a fairy-tale romance reported stronger idealistic beliefs than did those people who watched for basic entertainment, but not all.”

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We can’t resist the pomp and circumstance

Emily Fairchild, Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at New College of Florida, who has studied weddings through the gender lens, says Americans are fascinated by the tremendous resources the royal family dedicates to weddings. “Americans, and women in particular, are taught that their wedding is the most important day of their life and that it is an occasion worth spending a lot of money on,” she says. “The royals are able to do what we're taught to dream of, though it can rarely be achieved. The extravagant royal wedding reflects what we're socialized to desire and gives people a chance to vicariously experience the ‘ideal’ wedding.”

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We find love stories comforting

Hefner says, in turbulent times, people are comforted by love stories. “It’s why people watch wedding-related television programs and go see romantic comedies,” she says. “The romantic ideal is attractive, and any wedding is the culmination of a romantic courtship that symbols the long-term commitment of the love.”

People have a parasocial relationship with these people and feel like they know them as much as they know their actual friends.

People have a parasocial relationship with these people and feel like they know them as much as they know their actual friends.

We feel like we’ve been “invited” by friends

Because so many Americans feel they know Markle from her work as an actress, and all of the world has known Prince Harry since he was born, Hefner says watching the royal wedding is like watching two pals get hitched. “People have a parasocial relationship with these people and feel like they know them as much as they know their actual friends, and so they want to witness an important milestone in their lives,” she says.

We want to bear witness to a new inclusiveness

The fact that Markle is biracial is of tremendous significance to women of color, of all ages. A recent article in the New York Times profiles an 11-year old British fan of Markle’s who emigrated with her mother from Africa. To her, Markle represents acceptance for, as the article states, Britain’s population remains 87 percent white, with only 3 percent of the population Black, according to a 2011 census. “I know how it feels to leave countries, and leave all your friends behind,” the girl, named Tshego, says of Markle in the article. “I would give her my friendship. So that she’s not alone.”

The best reason of all to set an alarm.

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Editor’s Note: NBC News will broadcast special live editions of TODAY from the site of the royal wedding. A live stream will be available on TODAY.com. In addition, our Snapchat show Stay Tuned will release a special episode on Saturday dedicated to the royal wedding. However you choose to watch, tune in!

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