That wasn’t just a high profile celebrity interview that everyone was talking about and then it went away. Oprah Winfrey’s conversation with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex last weekend will resonate and continue. It was history, a protracted assault on one institution, the British monarchy, that lasted more than 1,000 years.
Harry and Meghan are known to have made two major allegations that the House of Windsor is racist and weak. Previous incarnations of criticism have labeled it invincible – the sharp-elbow courtiers, the cold-hearted family, they can crush you like a bug. No, said Harry, it’s the beetles caught in fear of the tabloids that control whether they’ll keep the throne. “There is a level of control by fear that has been around for generations. I mean generations, ”he said. “My father and brother” – Prince Charles and Prince William – “They are trapped. You are not allowed to go. And I have great compassion for them.”
No immediate family heir to the British throne has ever so spoken. You are quite vulnerable when people suddenly see you as weak. What is left of your mystique is lessened when you are just seen as another group of frightened people.
Meghan accused her young son Archie – the “first member of the color in this family” – of being treated differently and denied the things owed him because he was biracial. There were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he is born.” She wouldn’t say who was involved. “I think that would be very harmful to you.” So she knew the power of prosecution that brought it. Harry, when asked about it, said, “I’ll never share this conversation, but at the time – it was awkward at the time. I was a little shocked. “His refusal to name the person he spoke to did not limit the guilt, but dispelled it.
The Queen’s response was a little masterpiece of gentleness that sucked the heat from that moment: allegations of racism are “worrying” and are “taken very seriously” but “memories may vary”.
This is a story that will continue to develop for some time. Some observations:
Public life has become extremely relentlessly performative. Have you noticed that you keep hearing this word? It means everyone is always performing – the politician, the news anchor, the angry activist. This gives an advantage to natural actors and penalizes those who are not actors by nature. Meghan was a professional actress.
Both Meghan and Harry speak a kind of language of guard communication that is smooth and calming, but also slippery and opaque. You can never fully get your hands on the thought if you grasp for meaning.
They talked a lot about their pain – it’s a subject that animates them – but they also seemed to use that pain as a weapon, so you wondered if pain is really the word for what they were experiencing as opposed to anger followed by a cool desire for revenge.
Some of what was said begged for faith. Meghan claimed that when she walked in, she had no idea what the royal family was, and didn’t google or research. “As an American, you know what you know about the royals, what you read in fairy tales.” Not really. When Princess Diana died in 1997, it was a worldwide epic drama. Diana was elevated to heroic status, the People’s Princess, treated roughly by kings who did not deserve her. Her funeral was watched by 2.5 billion people. Meghan Markle, at home in California, was 16 years old, presumably a media lover, and studied acting. Is it believable that she didn’t know this story, follow it and see who starred?
When I saw this, I got the feeling that she knew more history than she said, that maybe on some level she wanted to be Princess Diana, just that she didn’t want to die.
She sees herself as a moral trainer, an ethical leader. She and Harry were originally “aligned” through their “cause-oriented work”: “I’ve always been open, especially about women’s rights.” She wants to “live authentically”, “only come back to the essentials”. This apparently includes rescue chickens. She and Harry were driving them off a factory farm. “Well, you know, I just love saving,” she said. Perhaps this should underline the idea that she had rescued Harry from his family ossuary.
She can underline well. She looks at “The Little Mermaid” and finds a handy metaphor for her journey: “And I said, ‘Oh my god! She falls in love with the prince and therefore has to lose her voice. ‘. . . But in the end she gets her voice back. “
This is performative to the nth degree.
You have a foundation and a media content company called Archewell. When asked about the latter, she said, “Life is about storytelling. About the stories we tell ourselves, what we are told and what we get involved with. “Well, that’s part of what life is. “When we’re able to tell stories through a truthful lens that is hopefully uplifting, it’s great to know how many people we can end up with.” Can land with me? This is practiced show people talk. She wants to “give a voice” to those who are “underrepresented and not really heard”.
Why should an American care? I suppose we shouldn’t. Practically, we care about the royal family because we don’t have one, we don’t want one, and it’s great that you do. We get the perks – the pictures of dresses and locks, the horses and military clothing, the stories of back doors and love affairs – and you pay the bills.
But I think there is something deeper, more mystical in our interests, a feeling that the monarchy, as chaotic as the monarchy may be, embodies a nation we came from and broke with long ago. The lofty purpose of the monarchy is to give the ideas of stability and persistence their mysticism and authority.
Henry VIII, Mad King George, Victoria – those names still echoed. It is rare and wonderful to say of a little old woman who walks into a large reception area, “England has entered the room.” One day Elizabeth II will leave us and the world will sincerely mourn, not only because of what it represents but also because it was old-fashioned. She performed but was not performative. She was appropriate, heroically reserved, did not share her feelings, because after all it was not about her, but about a kingdom, united. You could count on her to love their country and community. She was born and raised to love her. And so she was a constant for the world. And in this world a constant is a valuable thing.
I keep thinking of the special situation that you and your family find yourself in. Diana did them great harm in her life and death, but her feelings for her were mixed. It wasn’t born into the family, it was a thing that happened to the family. But Harry – Harry would have loved her as a brother and son and grandson. You would miss him. And now he has done great harm to all that they are and represent.
The old queen must mourn. Not that she would say it or share the wound. There is something so admirable in that.
Main street: The British monarchy lasted a thousand years and survived Oliver Cromwell, Guy Fawkes, several Popes, the Nazis and Wallis Simpson. No awakened duchess will bring it down. Image: Chris Jackson / Getty Images
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