H and M: Am I the only one who gets it?
As the UK media universally pans the 'narcissistic love-in' documentary in which Harry and Meghan tell their truth, Amanda Cassidy finds herself nodding along. With a caveat.
In the first three episodes of the much-anticipated Netflix documentary, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex say their aim is to tell their version of the past five years.
Dismissed by some as a ‘pity party’, Harry tells the camera that both he and Meghan had “sacrificed everything” and that he was terrified that what happened his mother (the tabloids harassing her to her eventual death) would happen to his own family all over again.
The royal family had themselves been braced for renewed criticism since the couple delivered scathing attacks on some members, including his father King Charles and elder brother Prince William, most notably in an interview last year with TV show host Oprah Winfrey.
Their allegations of racism in the royal household were particularly stinging with more expected in the second instalment of the series due out next Thursday.
Still a man’s world
The truth be told, I was so ready to eyeroll at the irony of the rich and famous couple complaining about the trappings of being rich and famous, especially in the current climate. I was quick to bill Meghan as an opportunist and Harry as someone who’d bit the hand that had fed him.
I read all the coverage – about the me, me, me element, the opening their doors despite begging for privacy, the superior love story that transcended all others. I was ready with my sick bag. Instead I found myself drawn into the couple’s telling of their story and they made some points that really chimed with me, specifically the idea that women in the media draw a different type of attention than the royal males in the so-called “Institution”.
Harry explains that many royals, especially men, were tempted to marry people who “fit the mould”, and he criticised how they had responded to what he called Meghan’s racist media treatment and the palace’s insistence on silence.
“As far as a lot of the family were concerned, everything she was being put through, they had been put through as well, so it was almost like a rite of passage,” he said over footage of photographers surrounding his mother, Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of his uncle Prince Andrew, and Kate, William’s wife.
There is duty. There is ceremony. And then there is dirty tricks.
“Some of the members of the family were like my wife had to go through that so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently. Why should you get special treatment, why should she be protected. I said the difference here is the race element.”
Does anyone else feel uncomfortable with having to ‘put up’ with harassment for the sake of an outdated set of protocols? Haven’t we learnt how poisonous silence can be in the face of such treatment – especially of women?
Everyone says Meghan knew what she was getting into when she married into this situation, but I disagree. I don’t think anyone can understand the lengths quite the British tabloid media will go to to draw out a story. In the documentary, it’s revealed that a former colleague of Meghan’s was offered 70k to say he’d slept with her. There is duty, and then there is dirty tricks. Live stream cameras were put on neighbours houses to catch the couple at Meghan’s home in Canada, for example, and that just seems to be the tip of the iceberg.
Meghan puts it best herself when she describes trying to get the royal wave just right. She says her American wave is big but that in the UK, it’s supposed to be more contained. Everything is smaller, she explains with a shrug.
The 43-year-old who was raised in LA, does come off as dramatic, attention seeking and demanding. But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about calling things as she sees it. She’s also confident and evidently courageous to take on such an embedded part of British history. In this case, both her and Harry continue to blame racism as the tipping point, but as I see it, the echo-chamber of putting up with any kind of trolling and bullying via the media – especially when it’s dangerous and disrespectful can no longer be ignored.
The second poignant point that emerged from the documentary and which nobody is covering, is the issue of children and the consent to raise them under this type of warped spotlight or not. Interestingly, Harry and William are the first adults within the senior royal family who have been entirely raised through the lens of the current media. The narrative of who they are or what they stand for has been filtered through the engine of tabloid culture, viral rumours, trolls and spokespeople with their own agenda.
There have been plenty of royal children raised in public life – but none in the social media age.
The effect that upbringing has had on Harry is one of the saddest part of the entire series. There have been plenty of royal children raised in public life – but none in the social media age. The psychological effect of having those cruel and often untrue headlines played back at you everywhere you turn, like a grotesque hall of mirrors, has very obviously scarred the man.
Harry has lived in an echo chamber where the silent contract was just to suck it up and call it duty. Meghan was just the chef who took the pot off the boil and showed the frog that it was slowly cooking.
It raises very interesting parallels with influencers or celebrities who make the decision to put their children up front and centre in a (still) very strange new media era. The issue of consent to having been exposed to a life like that as they grow older will undoubtedly raise its ugly head.
Pomp and ceremony can be respected without pandering to men on ladders and with long lenses trying to get a shot up a woman’s skirt. At some stage someone has to draw the line.
Admittedly the Sussex’s series is also indulgent and romanticised. They gush about one another in ways that makes it easy to tear them apart or call them narcissistic. And perhaps they are. But you can’t take away their determination to change their own narrative. Yes, they wanted privacy and then threw open their doors. But it seems to me that they did it because they wanted to control the information people had about them rather than nod serenely and say no comment when lies cover front page news.
Many of the vile comments exist across the Internet most of us may not be familiar with. We may not have come across them, but that doesn’t mean they are not there.
If anything, this documentary paints the royal family as being in dire need to modernise in a way that tackles some the more unsavoury parts of the duty royal children are expected to grow up with. Pomp and ceremony can be respected without pandering to men on ladders and long lenses, trying to get a shot up a woman’s skirt, or calling someone ‘ghetto’ because of the colour of their skin. At some stage someone has to draw the line. Harry and Meghan just seem to be the ones who have decided to do that.