This Sunday, an interview between Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and Oprah Winfrey will air on CBS. This will be the first interview that the pair have done since stepping back as senior members of the British royal family. While we don’t know any of the specific contents of the interview, the hype is almighty, with promises of a no-holds-barred conversation regarding the reportedly unfair treatment of the couple at the hands of both the press and the monarchy itself. As Meghan herself said in a clip released by the network, ‘I don’t know how [the palace] could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.’
There is a reason that the British Royal Family is frequently referred to as The Firm. The centuries-old institution that continues to dominate the planet, albeit in a more media-oriented way than during the days of its full-on colonialist past, is an iron-clad corporate entity. There is money to be made, reputations to be upheld, and narratives to be spun at every opportunity. In 2021, a time where Britain is in the throes of a Conservative government’s decade-long forced austerity drive, the Windsors have to fight harder to justify their increasingly extraneous existence. How do you continue to position yourselves as relevant in the 21st century when the younger generations desire democracy, class equality, and a greater reckoning for our nation’s racist past?
Mostly, the Windsors have decided to rely on a two-fold plan: pander harder to those right-wing media forces that push back hard against any sort of social progress as ‘woke cancel culture run amok’ and play up the institutional glamor for the world of celebrity. Focus on the ‘tradition’ while drawing further attention to the inimitable glitz and fantasy of generational privilege. It’s, in my opinion, the reason why you see so many Americans giddily fanning over the royals. Monarchy is archaic but the machinations of keeping it in the public eye are fully the stuff of the modern-day. We’ve seen this in action for decades, from the treatment of Princess Diana to the rehabilitation of Camilla Parker-Bowles to the quiet side-lining of accused sex offender Prince Andrew.
How do you effectively spin the narrative when everyone knows what tools you’re using? Well, as we’re currently seeing, it’s not working out when it comes to ‘The Meghan Problem.’
We’ve talked before about the blatantly unfair treatment of Meghan Markle by the British press. The biracial American was immediately labeled ‘exotic’ and ‘(almost) straight outta Compton’ by the newspapers. An entire cottage industry sprung up around Markle the moment her name became attached to Prince Harry. Take a browse on any British news website and you will find literally dozens of clickbait stories latching onto her name for profit. A lot of this is the result of garden variety racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, but the roots of the issue are also on ground that is far closer to home.
This past week, we’ve seen the Palace in panic mode over what an untethered Meghan and Harry will say to one of the most famous and powerful women in entertainment. The Times cited Palace sources for a story on how Meghan is the ‘real’ bully in the Firm, selling the image once more of the angry Black woman making white people cry with her fury.
Her choice of earrings for a formal dinner in 2018 was linked to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because the jewelry was a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is said by US intelligence agencies to have approved the killing. Buckingham Palace then released a statement announcing that they would investigate claims of bullying. The usual suspects of the British press went into anger mode to attack Meghan, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. The Streisand Effect went into full force, as people were reminded that all royal wedding gifts are property of the Crown and that Meghan would have had to been given permission to borrow any jewelry from the Queen and her dresser, Angela Kelly. Besides, if the Palace wanted to suddenly climb the moral high ground regarding the provenance of royal jewels, then they’d better take a look closer to home. The Queen’s jewelry should have crime scene tape around it for how much of it was either stolen or gifted by tyrants.
Also, a reminder that this ceaseless barrage of attacks is happening against a woman who is pregnant following a miscarriage.
The PR spin of the past week has been astoundingly amateurish for a Firm that has always prided itself on its swift and effective action. It’s clearly reactive and panicky in a way that exposes the underlying problem. The emperor has no clothes. We saw this in action when ‘Palace sources’ spent hundreds of column inches milking a vague story that Meghan had made Kate Middleton cry during a pre-wedding dress fitting. The tabloids went wild imagining the horrid things that Meghan must have done to make the new Queen of Hearts sob. Cut to a few months later and Tatler revealed that the offending incident was a hilariously pathetic moment involving tights. Still, that didn’t matter because the narrative of Meanie Meghan had already taken root. That tactic doesn’t work as effectively when your victim is no longer being forced to lay low to protect The Firm.
The insidiousness of these tactics only further exposes the shoddy theatricalities of royalty, this supposedly enshrined tradition that we all treasure so much. When you see well-briefed newspapers and Piers f**king Morgan asking whether Harry and Meghan should be stripped of their citizenship for their ‘actions’, you suddenly remember how horridly anti-democratic the entire concept of a monarchy is. When you see The Firm throwing everything at the wall to pre-emptively silence the one woman of color who dared to marry into their ranks, the elephant in the room that is Prince Andrew, and the protection his mother offers him gets all the larger. If Meghan and Harry end up being incredibly polite and restrained during their big Oprah interview, all of these premature attacks will simply draw further attention to what they’re really hiding. This makes a support of the monarchy utterly impossible to detangle from racism, from misogyny, from an overwhelming hatred of ‘the other’, of those who don’t know their place.’ Then again, that’s always been the point of royalty. There’s no way to modernize the idea that some people are better than others because of their bloodline.
The Oprah interview may open some doors that the Windsors don’t want to deal with, but they’re airing out plenty of their own issues right now in an attempt to point fingers elsewhere. There are plenty of British media figures who will take the briefings and look the other way over things like Prince Andrew, the Queen’s friendship with the Saudi royals, and her undemocratic power over legislation thanks to the Queen’s consent rule. American media, of course, has no such qualms. The Firm poisoned the ocean to catch a few fish and the mess they’ve left behind only further weakens them.
Header Image Source: YouTube // CBS