Why is there not a single trans voice featured in Harry and Meghan’s first podcast? It’s a question that needs answering. The half-hour recording — the couple’s first since signing a $25 million deal with Spotify — sets out to explore the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on, as the Duchess herself puts it, ‘people from all walks of life’. Given this description, excluding the trans community from participating seems, at best, problematic — perhaps even sinister. Why leave trans people out in this most public of discourses?
This editorial decision — a slap in the face for an already marginalized community — seems all the more surprising because of who has made it. While the rest of us have spent 2020 hunkering down and cursing the gods, Harry and Meghan have made no bones about aggressively pursuing woke dollar. They have unblinkingly positioned themselves as the millennial king and queen of political correctness, frequently releasing videos in which they rail vaguely against ‘privilege’. Memorably, Harry used one of these videos to say the British Commonwealth, the institution for which his grandmother is the living embodiment, needs to ‘acknowledge the past’ even if it is ‘uncomfortable’.
Anyway, the podcast deal — announced very shortly after the $100 million Netflix deal — is the latest escalation in this campaign: a kind of high stakes meta psychodrama in which these two pushy ex royals ride the Windsor family brand as far as they can stateside, at the same time apparently subverting the journalistic media they claim to loathe by lucratively becoming part of it. The company they have formed for this purpose, Archewell, has described the podcasts it will henceforth expensively produce as being to ‘build a community through shared experiences, narratives and values’.
The first podcast, trans people ostracization aside, is everything you’d expect. It begins with the regal thanking of healthcare and frontline workers (as if the sacrifices these people have made have been made for the duke and duchess themselves). Meghan then rather grandly explains that she has spent the holiday season, not, as you might expect, counting her money, but contemplating all people who have experienced ‘uncertainty and unthinkable loss’ as a result of COVID-19.
After that, there is just time for Harry to urge listeners to ‘sit back and grab a cozy beverage’, before the platitudes begin rolling in, in earnest. Various guests — mostly liberal celebrity friends of the couple — start by unselfconsciously describing themselves (‘philanthropist’, ‘poet’, ‘an explorer of consciousness’ etc.) before, against a deeply irritating Disney-style soundtrack intended to guide the listener’s emotional response, delivering statements such as: ‘humanity is ready for a new story. Through new context, new meanings, new relationships, we are giving birth to a new humanity.’
At one point a woman who is described as a person who ‘brings healing to communities of color’ tells us ‘something I have learned about myself this year is how much of a spiritual practice simplicity and solitude can be.’ Another — described as a ‘democracy advocate’ — tells us: ‘most of all, I gave myself permission to be sad, so I could find joy on the other side.’
Throughout, it’s this type of fare, precisely the sort of thing one suspects that people who have to worry about such base concerns as working to put food on the table, tend not to say to one another. Surprisingly, no one quotes Maya Angelou until the 18th minute, but when it comes it’s a zinger: ‘my wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are and to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.’ (You go, Meghan.)
Amazingly, and revealingly, of all the contributors, it is Elton John who sounds most sane and connected to reality. He speaks frankly about the nightmare of alcoholics being unable to attend AA meetings during lockdown and the manner in which normal people have had to deal with losing loved ones and jobs. ‘It’s been the worst year I’ve ever known, and I’m 73,’ he says.
And then we’re back to meaningless platitudes. ‘Without the dark, the stars cannot shine,’ someone says. A self-described street poet tells us: ‘2020, that’s a very hard year for me to call my friend.’ And then Meghan begins to bring proceedings to a close by informing the listener: ‘no matter what life throws at you, trust us when we say: love wins’. Harry agrees. ‘Love always wins,’ he says, supportively. ‘So true,’ Meghan adds.
Perhaps there is a demographic that finds this kind of thing not only edifying, but enlightening. If there is, my suspicion is these people value style above substance: they prefer the manner in which things are said — in a smoky, croaky, faux intellectual voice, perhaps — than the content of what is being said. Certainly, Meghan is very pleased with her voice. She seems lately to have obviously styled her intonations on those of Barack Obama himself, the great liberal deity with the quadrophonic voice. If this podcast venture doesn’t work out, she’s certainly got a future in the ASMR game.
Ultimately, the podcast is a bit of a cheat — the contributions by Meghan and Harry are mercifully minimal. Instead, they use the old trick of all journalists paid by the word for interview pieces: they just provide short links to the words of others. But we will find out more about them as people, presumably, in subsequent episodes, when they will have to sing rather harder for their supper by filling the airtime themselves. Then we’ll really discover the scale of their ambition for world domination, and also, perhaps, the reason for their strange erasing of trans people from the COVID record.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.