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Royal baby mania is in overdrive

5:28 PM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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Britain's Prince William stands next to his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, as she leaves the King Edward VII hospital in central London in December. (Photo: Alastair Grant, AP)

 


 


LONDON (USA TODAY) - How nuts is the media frenzy over the pending birth of the royal baby? Ask Nancy Campopiano. She's waiting outside St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. In a tent.

The 20-year-old college student is an intern for Mother and Baby magazine, a leading parenting title in the U.K., which set up its "pop-up" office - the tent - across the street from the hospital wing where Prince William's and Duchess Kate's first baby is expected to be born any day now.

More: Everything you need to know about the royal baby

She has a spectacular view of the antique hospital door, unimpeded by the forest of stepladders, camera stands and other equipment that materialized there last week as the world media gathered to await the most important royal baby since ... well, since William himself was born 31 years ago.

"We want to be the first to break this news," Campopiano says. "This (the tent) is for our team to work out of. We're not 24 hours at the minute, we're just doing day shifts, but when we get a bit closer, who knows."

Meanwhile, she's being interviewed by some of the bored journalists around her. As is usual at a stakeout, there's no one else except each other to interview while they wait. But they are working: Campopiano and her fellow stakeouters are tweeting and Facebooking up a storm as the hours tick by.

Just another day of royal-baby mania, 21st-century style. It's taken over London, especially in the media as the birth due date draws near, and has made its way to the USA, too. Glance at any American newsstand this week and see a dozen Duchess Kates populating the celebrity magazine covers.

For some media analysts, it's all a sign of our species' obsession with fertility and fecundity. For others, it's way more simple.

"The fact of the matter is, this is news," says Lee Kamlet, dean of the communications school at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. And non-depressing, non-terrifying, non-confusing news at that. "It's like cotton candy, it's fun, it goes down easy. It's a reality TV show that we all get to watch."

Paul Bradshaw, journalism professor at Birmingham City University and City University in London, says the media frenzy around the royal baby "says more about how the news industry values consumers than anything else. This is a story that ticks all the boxes."

Such as: Attractive young people, especially the beautiful commoner-turned duchess. Her first baby. A future monarch, third-in-line to the throne, even if it's a girl. The first grandchild of the still-mourned Princess Diana. And most of all, a cute, cooing symbol of continuity for the world's most famous monarchy.

Visually, says Bradshaw, it's all good, a story made for TV, especially outside the U.K. "This is a spectacle paid for by someone else, so it's easier to enjoy."

Over the last few months in the U.K., the national media have sent out reams of copy, hours of video, blizzards of tweets and galleries of photos covering every aspect of Kate's pregnancy, nursery preparations and maternity outfits. Many publications (including USA TODAY) plan special editions once the baby is born.

Bookies have taken millions of wagers on everything about the baby, from names and gender to eye and hair color. Posses of genealogists have examined the baby's family tree going back centuries, while noting alleged distantly shared ancestry with celeb kids such as Blue Ivy Knowles and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt .

London shops are crammed with high- and low-end souvenirs. The Royal Mint made more than 2,000 "lucky" silver pennies (worth about $45 each) to give to every British baby born on the same day as the royal baby.

The then-prime minister of Australia was photographed knitting a toy kangaroo for the baby. Finland sent the royal couple a traditional Finnish "baby box" of gifts such as diapers, bibs and even condoms. They get "advice" from all quarters; one Telegraph columnist insisted Kate should breastfeed the baby in order to set a good example at a time when many young women see it as uncool.

Even new-mum Snooki wrote Kate an open letter advising that at first she'll leap out of bed in the middle of the night when her prince or princess cries. "But that lasts for about a few days, then it's like 'I love you but OMG stop crying I'm exhausted,' " Snooki confides.

Given all this, why should it be a surprise that the world media are just as interested? "In this environment, where every eyeball counts and the scramble to get them is so desperate, anything you do to attract clicks to your network or newspaper, it counts," says Kamlet.

Besides, it's the perfect story for a slow-news period (Egypt, NSA leaking and crash-landing planes notwithstanding). "People on vacation will stop and read it because it's a fun, summertime story, it doesn't take a lot of brain power or energy," Kamlet says.

Jack Shafer, a leading American media columnist who writes for Reuters, is convinced the interest in the royal baby is an artifact of ancient human psychology that has persisted down the millennia. We, especially the female of the species, have not rid ourselves of our primeval strategic obsession with mating and dating and fertility, he says, and thus the celebrity media's interest in filling pages with news about mating pairs and their spawn.

"It taps into a part of the human psyche that can't be repressed," he says. "Our species celebrates fecundity and fertility and with royals it goes into hyper-drive...It explains why the entire world went absolutely batty when (William's parents) Charles and Diana went through all this."

Indeed, says Bradshaw, the British press, never known for its gentleness, couldn't be happier about the royal baby and all it entails, even as it torments other establishment institutions in British society.

"The thing with the royal family is that it is a reliable source of news and the press don't want to bite the hand that feeds them, which is not always the case with other big organizations including the government and private companies," Bradshaw says. "And that keeps them in check, for better or worse."

Maria Puente and Kim Hjelmgaard , USA TODAY

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