By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010; E04
Chelsea Clinton cannot win. The media's breathless fascination with her wedding to investment banker Marc Mezvinsky has grown into a swirling storm of guesses and gossip. "Wedding of the century!"
The prying reportage is beginning to smell of dumpster diving. Have we no shame? No, apparently, we do not.
The only child of the former president and the current secretary of state has made it clear she is not interested in the spotlight. She has led a low-key life. Aside from occasional forays to restaurants, charity gatherings and, back in her youthful Oxford days, to European fashion shows and London parties, she has gone nowhere that begs for cameras. She is famous by birth, not by action.
When so many folks are posturing and cavorting in flagrant grabs for attention, it seems especially uncouth for people to scour for tidbits about the wedding of a woman who has been so exceedingly well-behaved that she's a tad boring. The affianced couple, after all, met at a Renaissance Weekend. Whoo-hoo!
As the presumed date approaches (July 31), talking heads explain away the intrusive attention by suggesting Miss Clinton is this country's version of royalty. What precisely is that supposed to mean? Clinton does not perform a ceremonial purpose, she has no symbolic role -- she has a day job. Her most public moments -- those during which she has actually uttered words -- came during her mother's presidential campaign. And frankly, she would have seemed like an ungrateful child if she had not pitched in on the hustings.
This notion that she is the scion of "political royalty," well, the people who use such terms are likely to be so obsessed with politics that they're already renting property in Iowa, New Hampshire . . . and South Carolina for good measure. Lord, save us from these former high school debate team captains.
Chelsea Clinton is part of a family for whom politics and public service -- at the highest levels -- are the favored occupations. That's significant. But don't go calling it royal unless it comes with a tiara.
Some observers have laid claim to Clinton because they believe she brought stability to her parents' fraught marriage. They look back at the video of her sandwiched between them, holding their hands, as they walked across the White House lawn during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She did the country a service by keeping the first couple from becoming embroiled in a nasty divorce -- or so goes the thinking. But the daughter has done everything possible to tamp down the pop analysis of that memorable moment. She has never taken the bait when asked about her father's infidelity, not even when questioned by her peers on the campaign trail. She has never confessed to Oprah, People magazine, Facebook or Twitter.
Yes, her parents have talked about how excited they are about her impending nuptials. They have spoken about how emotional the day will be. Surely we are not so crass as to take parental pride as an invitation to snoop? Oh wait -- we are.
The most baffling aspect of the wedding conversation has been over who will design her gown. This is curious because Clinton has never -- ever, ever, ever -- given any indication that she is especially adept at fashion. Her style has mostly gone unnoticed -- in a good way. It is contemporary but not distracting. She did not set Washington tongues wagging during her tenure here. Her gown will undoubtedly be lovely, as most wedding dresses are, but it will probably be unremarkable to all except her closest friends, family and betrothed. That's as it should be.
If there is anything particularly noteworthy about Clinton -- and this is a sad reflection on our pop-culture universe -- it's that as the child of two public and controversial parents, she seems well-adjusted, intelligent and pleasant. Yet, here we are doing everything possible to transform her wedding into a media circus that only Bethenny, Bristol or a host of bridezillas could appreciate.
This is how our culture rewards decorum.
One can't help but think of other presidential children whose weddings have seemed much less fraught. Amy Carter managed to have a quiet wedding just outside Plains, Ga. John Kennedy Jr. snuck off and married Carolyn Bessette, and the only evidence was that romantic photo of the couple emerging from the modest Georgia church. A few details tumbled out later, but the stealth operation was not dogged by this kind of exhausting speculation. And Jenna Bush diffused much of the suffocating interest in her wedding by previewing details in Vogue -- a decision that seemed appropriate since her father was still in the White House.
A good portion of the population feels as though they have watched Clinton grow up and deserve to be part of this life transition. And one cannot dismiss the purely prurient enticements: It's a fine opportunity to measure status, influence and fame, not just within one circle of movers and shakers but in a vast array of overlapping worlds of international politics, entertainment and business.
But mostly, we want to know about the wedding because we think it's only natural that we do know. It's supposed to be private? Does not compute. Women now announce their pregnancies on Facebook. Celebrate adoptions on the cover of People. Daughters inform their mama grizzlies that they're engaged via Us magazine. Somehow, we can't quite grasp the concept that just maybe Clinton really doesn't want any publicity. Who doesn't want publicity? We can't shake the assumption that she's just being coy and that she and her parents are playing a high-stakes game of celebrity cat and mouse in which they protest and deny, then sell the photo rights. For charity, of course.
It would be lovely if the wedding goes off without a single paparazzo in sight and without all the details being made public -- no reports of which guests got drunk, or number of beads on the wedding gown. It would be sweet and old-fashioned if Clinton could have her day all to herself and then, hopefully, live happily ever after.
It would be nice if the Clintons released a romantic post-nuptials photo of the beaming bride and groom. Not because we deserve it. But because it would be a public service to give everyone a good look at the smiling face of dignity in the glare of the spotlight.