Creating generational divides and somehow exuding a gravitas that the stories we are so used to nowadays don’t, the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah Winfrey is currently reverberating across the media on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps it is because we were so worn down by the pandemic that this story is so big, or perhaps it is because of the serious revelations. But what does it all mean? Does it really pose a threat to the royal family? Should we be concerned? What are we even supposed to do about it?
In such a quickly developing and fluid story, the formation of opinions can be hard. The mixed reactions from the Royal family itself, the comment from Prince William compared to the palace statement are proving how divisive this issue could become and the removal of Piers Morgan from Good Morning Britain is only cementing this.
The reception the interview received by the media alone was enough to construct this as a worthy news story, but we are not questioning why this is. Meghan and Harry are not beyond criticism, but much of the criticism they have received has been thinly veiled racism and bigotry. Therefore, choosing to side with them has been easy for many liberals and progressives, especially those in younger generations.
This story must be put into perspective. Compared to the global pandemic how significant is the interview? Were we not already aware of the brutal treatment Meghan received? And the revelation of racism within the royal family comes as little surprise. The interview must have a greater purpose then.
At a time of global crisis, Meghan and Harry are choosing to speak out and they are being delicate about doing so. The Queen was praised instead of criticised, and hearing about her relationship with Harry and Meghan was rather endearing even though she is the head of ‘The Firm’. The interview was careful and considerate in the accusations it made and whilst I believe their claims this news still feels artificial. Its newsworthiness is being constructed by the media and the interview itself was designed to be headline-grabbing.
So, we must ask. What ends warrant Harry and Meghan to air this very dirty laundry in public? Why now? But, most importantly, what should our role be in this?
Firstly, we must address what was ‘revealed’ in the interview. It was dramatic, grabbed our attention, and pulled on our heartstrings. It was built up to be a big news story in the days preceding its release and it has largely gone beyond these expectations. For many of us it is even a welcome break from the pandemic.
In the interview, Meghan revealed to us, in candid and courageous fashion, the abuse she received from ‘The Firm’. She talked about feeling suicidal and how, despite trying, nobody would help her. It was also revealed that a senior member of the royal family commented on the colour of her baby’s skin in a racist and highly offensive way.
The interview gave us a small glimpse into the workings of ‘The Firm’ and was just enough to leave the media salivating. It is the perfect news story, especially at a time when Prince Andrew is still managing to avoid questioning by authorities despite the mounting concerns over his involvement in the trafficking of girls for sex.
Interposed with scenes of Meghan and Harry walking around with Oprah, showing us their dogs and their rescue-chickens, the interview is interesting to say the least. Whilst cringe at times there were some deeply personal moments which we must acknowledge. Learning about Meghan’s suicidal thoughts, the indifference of ‘The Firm’, and the racism she experienced was profound. Harry also came across well and learning about the difficulties of his relationship with his father was moving.
We all have opinions on the royal family. More so, as a group – the public – we are involved in this story by virtue of our position as consumers of media. Why did Meghan and Harry want us to be involved? By conducting the interview, they were inviting comment, questions, and outrage. They told us where this should be directed: ‘The Firm’. Why else do it with Oprah?
In our current media landscape, percolated by programmes like The Crown, more than ever figures like Meghan and Harry feel like players in a vast cast of celebrities, public figures, and politicians. In many ways the interview feels like a continuation of the drama and media circus we are all so used to. With the current Corona Crisis, it feels disingenuous.
Without naming names or condemning individuals this interview feels like clickbait; a lack of hard evidence or information has proved fertile ground for speculation. Such speculation could damage either side (perhaps intentionally) in the short term and it is fuelling a lot of reactionary and angry reporting. It has become a splintered media battle with clear generational divides. What good or ends could be won by it?
Is this just another royal scandal which is, again, seemingly bigger than the last? Of course, this one (unlike the others) feels perhaps like it could have more wide-reaching implications. But don’t they all?
Seemingly, it’s a very clear-cut issue with a side (Meghan and Harry’s if you didn’t know already) which is obviously the one to be on, but it is also an issue where many of our opinions are being formed for us. My social media feed was initially saturated with posts about Meghan and the abuse she received and whilst I fully agree with and largely support her and Harry’s decision, it is hard to find a more nuanced view on the matter. The narrative and discourse feel basic and lacking – with many pundits talking about it, our ideas on the issue are largely manufactured.
The two sides to this debate, the old institution of ‘The Firm’ and the Hollywood celebrity, are completely alienated from our own reality. Yet the interview made us feel close to Harry and Meghan. Of course, we can agree with one side over the other, but we shouldn’t view one side as good and the other as bad, the issue is abstract and both sides are elite groups.
Generation Z, hooked to and reliant upon social media yet largely unsympathetic to the Royal Family, are flocking to defend Harry and Meghan. This could be down to the nature of social media. If I see my friends posting these things on their Instagram stories, I probably should too? It could be because of the themes present in the interview (mental health and racism, in particular) and the prominence of such issues in our discourse making us natural allies to Harry and Meghan’s cause. Our passion and activism on these issues is what’s making the event such a huge news story and it may be preventing us from questioning the interview further.
Whilst I support Meghan and Harrys ‘abdication’, we must ask these questions and think about our reaction to the interview and our relationship to Meghan and Harry.
We cannot expect Meghan and Harry to have retired into obscurity, but we must question their current career choices and their claims to have done so out of necessity. The sheer power and wealth they will achieve through their Spotify and Netflix deals will cement their status as household names. And ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. This interview alone has thrust them into a sphere which is overtly political and the discourse around it has sparked newfound calls for republicanism.
So, the question still stands. Why? It was made clear in the interview that they were not being paid, but in publicity terms alone the interview was priceless. Do they want an apology or a resolution to the problems they have revealed? Or are they revealing this ‘information’ for republican purposes? I highly doubt the latter, but the former is a distinct possibility. They have weaponised us, the public, by angering us, which will in turn spark a response from the royal family. Indeed, it already has. It is already causing a media storm and the response from the palace was direct in asking for a private resolution to be made.
The British royal family, in seeking to remain popular, will make ‘changes’. Things will probably end with them paying some sort of lip service to resolve the issues raised in the interview. There might even be a reunion where the prodigal son returns. Perhaps a reconciliation with both sides getting plenty of happy photos with each other. We would all like to see that right? The royals themselves might start trying harder to show us that they aren’t racist.
Meghan represents many points of current popular discourse to do with identity politics. Many of us, especially on the left, want to like her. She is a beacon of girl-boss neoliberalism and the ‘new-power’ elite in western society. She’s now a household name and she married a prince. It’s an endearing story and they are trying hard to romanticise it.
Talking about their ‘secret’ marriage in the days before the televised wedding and even when they first announced their engagement, Meghan told us that all she initially cared about was whether he was nice. While this does sound slightly dubious, we must think about the creation of this aura around Meghan and Harry and how this could be used in the future. We must also weigh it up with the very real and positive impacts this interview could have. For many she is an amazing role model and now she is certainly speaking truth to a power which was built on the back of colonialism and racism.
What is clear from the interview and the immediate media fallout is that Harry and Meghan have won us over. Most of Gen Z is on side, an impressive feat considering that Harry himself, that loveable Eton rogue who literally dressed up as Hitler, is a Windsor. But that is what makes the dynamic of this story more interesting: the contrast between the popular and unpopular members of the royal family.
There is a member of the royal family for everybody. For the young and the soft of heart there are William and Harry who I want to believe are good guys and even positive male role models, especially with their recent conversations on mental health. For the old there is the Queen, who is as stoic, strong, and seemingly wise as any matriarch. We want to like the royals because they are pressed upon us. It can be hard to not succumb to this.
Another recent interview, between James Corden and Prince Harry, is also interesting. Despite the annoyance which is Corden’s ex-pat celebrity, this interview presents Harry in very honest and endearing terms. Harry talks about his life always being about public service, his desire to bring some compassion to the world and “to change it in any small way that we can”. Moving away from the royal family was described as a move away from a toxic situation and maybe we shouldn’t question any of that.
Of course, the importance and political significance of their roles forces us to question and pry into these matters, but it also raises many questions about the nature and purpose of the monarchy in the 21st century. Harry and Meghan’s desire to maintain this ‘public service’ must now be reconciled with their Netflix and Spotify deals which are worth over $100 million. The fact that Netflix is growing a slow monopoly over the royal family, with The Crown and now the Sussex’s is interesting. The Crown has certainly demonstrated its power to manipulate and shape public perceptions with its portrayal of Prince Charles in the latest season.
One of the most positive and refreshing parts of the interview was seeing Harry talk about his own education on matters of race and racism. Harry is probably the least racist member of the royal family and even he once dressed up as a Nazi. It reveals the reality that for many white people, unless we are suddenly confronted with these deep and entrenched problems, it can be very hard for us to notice them let alone act on them. Seeing him admit his own potential ignorance and racism was promising, allowing him to present himself as a great role model. It also gives us a taste of what the future Netflix and Spotify content of Harry and Meghan will be. Mental health, racism, and imposter syndrome will surely be key themes in their future careers, and these will be the building blocks of their personal brand.
It’s a popular idea that those in power are constrained by their status and responsibility – we see it in most episodes of The Crown. It comforts us, makes us see them as less of a threat, as cogs in a machine. But it isn’t the case. As we have seen with the recent revelation that Charles and the Queen have significant vetting power over parliamentary bills, the royals still possess immense power over our lives which is not just socio-cultural but deeply political. Harry and Meghan are still very much part of this and are only amplifying their status with their move to California.
But of course, this interview is only the start, and I cannot necessarily answer the questions I am raising here but I must ask them. Stay tuned for Netflix and Spotify content, and extreme levels of publicity. Away from the British tabloid press they will hopefully have secured some privacy, but they are now cementing themselves into the Hollywood elite. Harry is due to become the brother of a king; he more than anyone knows the reality of his situation with the media.
We cannot yet fathom what could come of this episode. Whether we should care or try and be involved are questions we cannot really answer. I feel very much like a spectator in this matter and I highly doubt it will change anything for me. This interview will shape the future of the royal family and may mark the beginnings of their adaptation and amalgamation into the world of Gen Z, but will it change our lives?
Why do we need these public figures – these celebrities – to do these things for us? Why do we follow their lives and consume what they produce? What does this say about our human nature and our claims to be independent individuals if indeed we do claim such a stature?
But perhaps most importantly, it has given The Crown some great material for future seasons.
Words by Niall Hawkins.
Illustrated by Ursi Tolliday.
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