Last post on the royal wedding, I promise. But I gotta get this off my chest.
By now, if you’ve read or seen any media coverage of the royal wedding at all, you know that two billion people watched it. Two billion people — thirty percent of the world’s population — stayed up late (California), got up early (Brazil), skipped lunch (Turkmenistan), or rushed home from work (Palau) to watch those two crazy kids get hitched. The spectacle united the world like few other events in history ever have.
Except there’s no reason to believe it’s true, and plenty of reason to doubt it.
The “stat” has been floating around the internet for weeks, ever since it appeared in a press release from Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s culture secretary. He didn’t say how he arrived at it, and as far as I’ve been able to tell nobody’s asked him since, but in the absence of any other information it’s been treated as fact.
Which, again, it’s not.
Viewership data is starting to dribble out now, and though there’s not much available yet, what’s been released shows just how ludicrous the claim actually is. Here are some examples:
- In Australia, a country of twenty-one million, about seven million watched. That’s a third of the population.
- In Canada, with about thirty-three million, about five million watched. That’s fifteen percent.
- In France, a country of some sixty million people, only two million watched. That’s about three percent.
- In India, with a population of 1.55 billion, viewership is estimated at forty-two million. That’s about four percent.
Again, to get to two billion people watching worldwide, you need global viewership in the range of thirty percent. You need the entire world to match the stats of Australia. Australia, an English-speaking country with strong ties to Britain. Australia, a developed country where television ownership is almost universal. Australia, a country whose monarch is the Queen of England.
Once you get outside the English-speaking world, viewership drops like a stone. Even Canada, a country with exceedingly strong cultural ties to Britain, watched at about half the rate needed to match the two billion number — because the timing of the event was inconvenient. (In Asia, where more than half of the world’s population lives, the wedding took place on Friday afternoon, when most people were at work or school.)
Why does any of this matter? Because the fiction that the whole world was fascinated by this wedding is an insidious, ethnocentric one. It depoliticizes and demarginalizes an event that was at its core both deeply political and — to most of the planet — strikingly marginal. It lends this trivial moment a weight and a significance that it doesn’t possess. It confuses us. It miseducates us. It renders us ignorant about the world we live in.