Harry and Meghan: A Weary Cynic Tries to Understand the Fairytale
I didn’t watch the Royal Wedding last weekend, or rather, I didn’t stop and sit down to specifically watch the Royal Wedding. For most of Saturday, the merriments were unavoidable, and it seemed inevitable that I’d catch glimpses of the event throughout my day. The restaurant I dined in with my parents had the wedding screening on every TV; my Twitter feed was flooded with excitement and bite-sized clips of the ceremony; shop windows were full of celebratory paraphernalia; my mum kept talking about how much she didn’t care about the day but in such a way that showed she really was invested in some level.
Throughout it all, I spent a little too much time wondering whether or not to tweet. I’d expressed my relative ambivalence towards the occasion, and the royals as a whole, several times before. It wasn’t news to my followers that I had little investment in the wedding, so why bother saying anything? Nobody wants to be that half-empty glass at the party bringing the mood down. We’ve all had those social encounters with people who never shut up about how much they don’t care about something, and it’s never fun or productive. It’s glaringly counter-productive to express your apathy for something by adding to the conversation. As someone who writes about pop culture and celebrities for a living (and who has written about the royals before), I couldn’t find the words or the tone to express all my disjointed and tangled feelings on this thing that made so many people happy. I feared being that person spoiling the fun, of being that woman who just didn’t get it.
The truth was that I didn’t get it. Well, I got the fantasy. It’s hard not to understand the sheer thrill of the princess dream, even if you’re opposed to everything it stands for. The princess narrative has evolved a lot since the days of Snow White being saved by a kiss from a man with no name. We have Diana of Themyscira and Leia of Alderaan who went from princess to general. Even Disney upped their game with regal women who save the day without the help of a dolt-like prince. In the real world, accomplished women have married into European royalty with great success. The fantasy has gotten less white and less straight, as witnessed through wonderful romance novels like Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory. Nowadays, the princess fantasy isn’t all about jewels and gowns and a life of leisure.
Meghan Markle, now to be known as the Duchess of Sussex, was the epitome of that evolution for many women: A biracial divorced American actress who championed feminism and slagged off Donald Trump on TV. An older woman with her own money, her own career and endless possibilities ahead of her bagged a literal prince, and in the process, she had to lose more than she had to gain. No more acting work, no more freedom to voice political opinions or wear low-cut necklines or express a public emotion aside from unfettered joy. Yet she didn’t seem to lose any of herself in the change-over. She looked ready for it, confident and moving forward and happy that what she was giving up wasn’t worth that much in the long run.
With Kate Middleton, things were different. The public had known her for a decade prior to the engagement, but nobody ever really knew her. We had never heard her speak until the engagement announcement. She didn’t do interviews, her family kept their mouths shut (unlike Meghan’s awful, awful half-siblings), and she led a publicly safe life. She too had to prepare for the inevitable, but her process took years and locked her down in a way it never did with Meghan, a woman who had a rich and diverse life pre-Harry. Kate couldn’t invest in a career while dating a prince, nor could she cut loose on the weekends or get close to potential friends who could sell her out. The media always talked about Kate being ‘nice’ and ‘pleasant’, mostly because there was little else to talk about with her that wasn’t related to her fashion or beauty. Nowadays, aside from her children, they still don’t talk all that much about her personality beyond its accepted niceness. The princess fantasy comes with a mundane reality: You seldom get to be yourself after the crown comes on.
I had trouble letting this knowledge go as my friends giddily watched Harry marry Meghan. Monarchy is inherently anti-democratic, and the British royals have a history of meddling in political affairs beyond their grasp. The Windsors exemplify our eternal fetish for class, even as the divide between the haves and the have-nots becomes impossible to bridge. Unleashing my pent-up irritation over this archaic institution and its worship was as close as I’ll ever come to sympathizing with Morrissey, and I hate that guy. I couldn’t help but look beyond the pretty dress and the glistening tiara and think of how this family has historically feasted upon the spirits of the women who are subdued by it.
People like royal weddings, but they don’t care all that much about royal duties. There are only so many articles you can write about Kate Middleton going to another ribbon-cutting, talking inanely to yet more people, picking up another posy of flowers from an eager child allotted for the job, and giving another pleasantly bland speech written for her by an underpaid press secretary. You have to smile just enough for it all or you’ll be called miserable; you have to sit in great discomfort with your legs slanted to the side and your back straight all day to prevent some vulture photographer from taking a shot of your underwear; you have to be supportive of your cause but not too fiery in your rhetoric because that’s politics and you don’t go there; don’t eat in public for fear of those embarrassing pictures, and be careful what you drink because it will almost always signal a pregnancy rumour. Perhaps that’s why everyone just ends up talking about hair and dresses all day. It’s much easier and less emotionally crushing.
There have been think-pieces for eons detailing how Meghan will change the royal family and make it relevant for the 21st century. Most of them are just repeating similar sentiments from Kate’s wedding, but there is tangible change in the air. Meghan is a woman of colour who didn’t need a title to establish her humanitarian credit. She didn’t need Harry to get her into the UN for a speech on women’s rights. She hasn’t had harried secretaries or advisers telling her that fighting period poverty in India may be considered an ‘inappropriate’ charitable endeavour. If there were any members of The Firm hoping that Meghan would keep her blackness under wraps (looking at you, Princess Michael of Kent), then her wedding was a joyful declaration of herself, her family and her identity.
Will people be as excited for that as they were the big day itself? I doubt it, simply because a wedding is easier to rally around than a regular schedule of duties. An event rooted in archaic tradition and elitism brought people joy and disrupted the status quo just enough to keep things interesting. In dark times, I guess it was all we could ask for. I’m glad people had their happy day, as much as it wasn’t for me, and as much as I don’t believe the monarchy is truly for anyone. The wedding is over and now the work begins.
(Header photograph from Getty Images)
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