CM . . . . Volume XX Number 13 . . . . November 29, 2013
In conjunction with the news coverage that led up to the nuptials of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011, CBC explored the relationship between the monarchy and marketing. This film partitions that investigative research into five "chapters" studded with interviews and stippled with animations. Author, playwright, and actor Ann-Marie MacDonald hosts the Doc Zone feature, but Marcy Cuttler's witty writing, producing, and directing inform MacDonald's wry delivery.
The introductory chapter examines a variety of commemoratives, historical and contemporary, authorized and unsanctioned, marking significant royal occasions. Cups and saucers, replicas of the sapphire engagement ring, and other present-day paraphernalia seem tame compared to times past when handkerchiefs dipped in the blood of the guillotined King Charles I or buttons plucked from Queen Victoria's dress as she passed by were in vogue. The chapter also highlights a few quirky niche markets, two of which involve dishtowels and doppelgängers. The first attracts a shopkeeper couple with a vision for corgi-patterned towels while the second helps a school administrator-turned-Catherine Middleton impersonator to a "princess-like" lifestyle as a "Copy-Kate." All told, the introduction confirms a demand by the general public for things Royal.
The second chapter extends the consideration of supply and demand to upscale buyers and sellers. MacDonald interviews select individuals invested in "Royal Relics," namely royal memorabilia broker Alicia Carroll, from California, collectors Caroline Davenport in Nevada, Janet and Philip Williams of Sydney, Australia, and "consumer historian" Robert Opie in London, England. Among the more lucrative merchandise she's handled, Carroll counts a flower from Princess Diana's wedding bouquet that sold for $28,000, as well as the Princess's telephone and address book which went for an undisclosed sum. Davenport, a customer of Carroll's, owns an entire roomful of Diana collectibles. In comparison, the Williamses' tastes are more eclectic; they've amassed over ten thousand items in their house, including life-sized figures of the Royals. Meanwhile, at the London Museum of Brands and Packaging, Opie curates a collection of 5000 strong, including his favourite - a paper cup from the 1937 coronation of George VI. Whether or not viewers find such acquisitive behaviour extreme, they will at least agree with MacDonald's pronouncement that the interviewees represent "curious personalities in a world of curios."
"By Royal Appointment" shifts the documentary's focus from individuals to corporations. This chapter explores the process for obtaining warrants, official documents that entitle their bearers to use an insignia of royal approval on manufactured goods. These symbols of royal approval carry prestige which potentially attracts more business However, to obtain a warrant is an arduous process that requires a company to prove its commercial relationship with the monarchy. Furthermore, the Crown holds the right to revoke warrants, which it has done, the documentary points out, with respect to three corporations, including Canadian Club Whisky.
Chapter 4, "Cheap and Chintzy," provides a sharp contrast to the strict regulations associated with royal warrants in Chapter 3 and the discriminating collectors in Chapter 2. Its focus is the manufacture of souvenirs in Yiwu, China, for export to the West. The Chinese factory workers possess only a cursory understanding of the royal wedding for which they're mass-producing plates and knockoff sapphire rings galore. These items provide examples of unauthorized merchandise that capitalizes on its tenuous connection to the monarchy.
The final chapter, "The Imperial Brand", traces the resurgence in the monarchy's popularity back to the public's infatuation with Diana, Princess of Wales. The documentary asserts that, though she was royalty, people felt they could relate to her. It notes, too, that the Oscar-winning The King's Speech acted as a "Hollywood makeover" for the "regal image," bolstering the idea that Royals are like everyone else. The chapter concludes by anticipating the "new, modern, twenty-first century" monarchy that William and Kate represent, one in which kings-to-be marry commoners and use technology and social media to engage their subjects.
Marketing the Monarchy synthesizes a great deal of information into 46 minutes, and it does so with zest. The documentary proceeds at breakneck speed, determined to leave no choice sound bite behind. Contributing to its sense of urgency are the accelerated segments of video used as transitions within and between chapters. Thanks to the lively wordplay and cartoons, not only is the documentary informative, but it is also amusing. With respect to playful language, alliteration (e.g., "keepsake" versus "kitsch") and puns (e.g., "Benson & Hedges was stubbed out" to signify the revocation of a royal warrant) abound, with the occasional cheeky double-entendre thrown in for good measure. Cartoons include caricatures of Royal family members and an image of a crown atop an old-fashioned cash register, complete with a "ka-ching" sound effect. The overall style, pace, composition, and vocabulary of Marketing the Monarchy seem well-suited to catch the attention of young adults, although older viewers will also find it appealing.
Finally, in terms of the DVD's operation, the viewer may click on any of the main menu's chapter titles to initiate play. Neither of the two video players this reviewer used returned the viewer to the main menu after a selected chapter concluded, but instead continued to play through. Nevertheless, a Doc Zone banner and theme music separate the segments at the points where commercial breaks would have been inserted for the TV broadcast. There are breaks in the action, then, at which instructors could pause the video for discussion if they use it in their curriculum for Social Studies, Politics, Business and Marketing, or Media Studies, for example. The subtitles or captions, however, may not work with all video player programs; when they do appear, the type expands outward from the centre of the screen, making for a choppy reading experience. Planners of future Doc Zone features should carefully consider how to optimize subtitles and captions so as to reach and benefit the widest viewership possible.
With the past summer's arrival of Prince George, William and Kate's firstborn, there are bound to be many new opportunities for the monarchy and the moneymakers.
Julie Chychota is a former Winnipegger living in Ottawa, ON. Her mother-in-law once transformed a dining room chair into a majestic seat for Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening of the Selo Ukraina in Dauphin, Manitoba.
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