My wife and I resumed watching The Crown (we re-entered at season 3) at the most culturally relevant moment we could have hoped for, just as Harry and Meghan sat down with Oprah to spill all the tea on the royal life and its pitfalls.
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to use The Crown as a foundation for understanding the controversy surrounding Harry and Meghan. And having not yet seen season four, which includes Harry’s mother Diana, I may actually be behind in my assessment of how they both overlap. However, the connection I made as I watch them both play out, one in the ongoing present and the other in the written past, I don’t feel like I am making the same connections my American counterparts are. I find myself empathizing with the stodgy old Brits who are steeped in the pomp and circumstance of royalty and are loathe to get rid of their traditions- no matter the negative impacts those traditions may have on a younger generation who has not bought into them.
This type of argument needs heavy mitigation and caveating in 2021, as it should. I don’t want to appear unsympathetic to Harry and Meghan (I don’t know them from Adam) or those with mental health issues (I couldn’t be more sympathetic). In fact, my thoughts inspired by The Crown are rooted in my inability to know anything about these royals or their lives. My lack of understanding created my mindset. I want to look at the situation from 3,000 feet up, without the messy nuance of the individual, which is important, but cannot possibly be understood by me. Because, unlike some of my fellow Americans, I do not believe that I now know Harry and Meghan or their entire situation because of one interview. I know what happened to them was wrong. But I can’t go much further…
And I do not believe that Oprah’s interview was meant to help us understand the individual and to therefore make an objective judgment on the Royal situation in Britain. If that were the case, we would also need the opinions of Charles and the Queen and those who rest firmly on the traditions of the royal family. Instead, the Oprah interview was Americans finally getting what they have always want out of the Royal Family, and the Royal Family finally losing control of that which they tried to prevent (at this point I will also say for “good or for bad,” because I am also not sure if it is a necessary evil or not).
What Americans want out of the Royal Family has always been obvious. They want reality TV. There is no group on the planet who seems riper for reality TV drama than the Royal Family. This struck me during the episode Bubbikins in season three of The Crown, where the Royal Family actually allows televisions into their daily lives to make themselves more accessible to the British people. The people loved it. But the result was contrary to the goals of the Crown in general, which is to inspire, rise above, and represent the British institution in an unbiased and measured way, to serve as a surrogate. Thus, they never allowed documentation of their lives again, and never allowed for that which was documented to be aired again.
Now, in our Instagram influencer, reality TV obsessed American entertainment driven world, we all but salivate at the opportunities for entertainment and conflict inherent in the Royal Family. We hunted Princess Diana to her death when she allowed us just a peak behind those palace walls. We flock to our televisions at ungodly hours for Royal Weddings and Birth announcements, and we will for coronations as well. These serve as the sum total of our access to Royal lives outside of their royal duties (which we do not pay attention to because they are not sufficiently ‘realistic’). We, and I am speaking mostly from the American perspective, don’t care about what their jobs are, we care about them as people, as we do with all reality shows from Keeping Up With The Kardashians to Survivor, as well as sports, which is a personality driven entertainment program (just reflect on the NBA’s path to success and the news cycles on sports talk shows if you don’t agree with me on this point). We care about the human element more than official duties. And, quite frankly, Americans find it silly that the Royal Family would not provide it. There must be something nefarious going on behind the scenes, if they are unwilling to let us in on there every moment. Why else would they lock us out?
The reason is because the desire for the ‘human’ is antithetical to the purpose of the royal family. In episode six of season three of The Crown, “Tywysog Cymru” Charles laments the suppression of his voice at the hands of the Queen and the royal family in general. He feels he can make a difference in people’s lives as a unique person with unique things to say to the world. The Queen assures him otherwise…
“Not having a voice is something all of us have to live with. We have all made sacrifices and suppressed who we are. Some portion of our natural selves is always lost… I was a similar age to youwhen your great-grandmother, Queen Mary, told me that to do nothing, to say nothing, is the hardest job of all.It requires every ounce of energy that we have. To be impartial is not natural, it’s not human. People will always want us to smile or agree, or frown or speak, and the minute that we do, we will have declared a position, a point of view, and that is the one thing as the royal family we are not entitled to do. Which is why we have to hide those feelings, keep them to ourselves. Because the less we do, the less we say or speak or agree… The better… Let me let you into a secret. No one wants to hear [your voice]… No one.”
I am not a genius for making the connection between this and Harry and Meghan. And I am not even sure I am right. But I do know, in the face of this view on what the royal’s job is, what their duty is, that the gloating of American’s ‘felling’ the Royal Family after all these years, through Oprah, seems obscene. I also know that Harry and Meghan doing a tell-all about their experiences as royals (no matter how badly they were treated) seems like it is exactly what the Royals exist not to do and is, in some ways, self-serving (they had already escaped that life). The unwavering support for this decision by the hands of Americans, considering their desire to turn the Royals into reality TV, seems blind to the other side of this argument.
Were Meghan and Harry mistreated? Absolutely. And the racism, and the lack of empathy are inexcusable. Should those elements of the royal tradition be eradicated for good? Yes, unequivocally yes. But something feels off about how the American public opinion has factored into this conversation, and the glee with which we ‘toppled the regime.’ It doesn’t feel like our goal was to correct the horrible elements of Royal Family. It felt like our goal was entertainment, and we justified it by claiming accountability.
But who knows? As I stated at the top, I don’t know these people, maybe this was the best avenue to create lasting change. Maybe the American desire to use entertainment as accountability was the best means to a positive end. But I don’t know, and neither do you. We have seen this go sideways one too many times, uprooting traditions in the name of American progress, to blindly feel great about it in this instance. Plus, that works for Americans and our eschewing of the old and stodgy in the pursuit of the American Dream, but I respect the tradition and prestige of Britain and the Crown, and I don’t think we should force them to cast off that which is old because we love to watch televised car crashes.
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