Isn’t it nice to think about someone else’s problems for a change?
I think this must be the experience of the millions of Americans who tuned into Oprah’s exclusive interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, earlier tonight. Our politics are dysfunctional, sure, but have you heard about the British royal family, who in addition to a long history of presiding over murderous colonial regimes, are also not very nice?
Of course, there’s no reason that any American should care about the wife of a rich guy who’s sixth in line to an entirely symbolic office in a faraway country. Even if the British sovereign made meaningful policy decisions, Prince Harry is in no danger of becoming king. Some type of catastrophe would have to wipe out the handful of little kids ahead of him in the line, not to mention his brother and father, who may be congenitally unable to die, if Prince Philip is any indication of the family genes.
But it’s great television. The Windsors are the first and best reality TV family, with heroes, villains and victims to go around. And best of all, their dramas and in-fights are stakes-free. Meghan and Harry living in California, next door to Oprah, has no more to do with Americans than if they’d moved to New Zealand or stayed in Buckingham Palace. For once, the news doesn’t even pretend to pose an existential threat to our Way of Life. And the Oprah/Meghan special was two hours of juicy and totally irrelevant gossip. What bliss.
Meghan opened the interview with a gesture toward modesty: ‘I thought we were done now,’ she laughs after Oprah’s first question, making as if to leave. It’s almost as though she were reluctant to give an interview, instead of having in fact arranged it. She then teases a gender reveal for the baby she’s expecting: she doesn’t want to tell us without Harry, so we’ll just have to stay tuned until the next segment. (Fortunately, this gender reveal party created no casualties.)
With Oprah leading her on, Meghan’s story is by turns maddening and moving. There’s an especially tedious back and forth over whether Meghan made her sister-in-law Kate Middleton cry over the flower girl dresses in her wedding, or vice versa; if I wanted this order of drama I’d find it in my own family, thanks. Then there are genuinely distressing revelations about Meghan’s mental health and suicidal ideations during the first year of her marriage.
Somewhere in between the frivolous and the deathly serious is the role of what Meghan variously calls ‘the firm’, ‘the institution’ and ‘the family’. Though Meghan accuses her in-laws of shocking cruelty — refusing to allow her to seek mental-health treatment, and expressing concern over the color of her child’s skin — the allegations are generally vague, and the motivations entirely mysterious. Who said what, exactly, about the color of her son’s skin? Was she barred from seeking treatment, or did her status as a non-employee of ‘the firm’ affect which healthcare professionals she could see? And what would motivate the royal family to ostracize her in this way? Princess Diana had a clear narrative in her post-Charles public career: she was a threat to the royals, because the people loved her more. Meghan’s narrative is less cogent. In response to Oprah’s question about whether her in-laws’ alleged cruelty was motivated by racism, Meghan responds with legalese worthy of Suits: ‘I wasn’t able to follow up with why, but if that’s the assumption you’re making, I think it’s a safe one.’ In fairness, if I’d spent a few years living in a family with its own HR department, I might talk this way, too.
But now I’m thinking about it, rather than just enjoying it. These plot-holes and cliffhangers will keep us watching, now that the Sussexes are full-time content-creators instead of doing whatever it is royals do. I expected Meghan and Harry to plead disingenuously for their privacy during this media extravaganza, but they made no such pretense. Instead, Meghan railed against being ‘silent’ and ‘silenced’, and pledged to ‘use her voice’. I’m confident we Americans will be hearing a lot more of this voice, whether in their podcast, or their Netflix productions, or when Meghan is finally cast to play herself in the last season of The Crown — and we’ll love, or love to hate, every minute of it.