Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Harry and Meghan docu-series not an earth-shattering event

Well, I managed to plough through all six hours of Netflix's Harry and Meghan. It wasn't the best six hours I have spent recently, but it also, I have to admit, wasn't the worst. 

Yes, it was self-serving and one-sided. That was a good part of the point of it: an attempt to show "their side of the story", to turn the narrative from the clearly one-sided and subjective negative version put out by the British tabloids over a period of years, to justify their actions, and rehabilitate their tarnished image.

In fact, probably the most effective achievement of the mini-series was to underscore just how over-the-top and out-of-control the popular press is in Britain, particularly the Daily Mail, and how in need of radical overhaul is the system under which it operates with such impunity.

The Duke and Duchess do come over as nice enough people in the series, committed to making the world a better place. However, they are clearly not quite as free from tradition, privilege and a habituation to their impossibly affluent lifestyle as they try to portray. They desperately want to appear "normal" in the eyes of the world, but they should know that is never going to happen. 

Yes, the Sussexes have been treated shabbily by the British press, and by the Royal Family and their hangers-on, but when you see their lifestyle and the resources they have at their command, it's kind of hard to feel too sympathetic, rightly or wrongly. I mean, they spent six hours - way too long for the essential content, I should say - with carte blanche and complete control over the image they are portraying. I don't mean to dismiss their mental health struggles (particularly Meghan's) out of hand, just to try and put them in some perspective. 

The racism angle was really presented front and centre (Meghan is biracial, although you maybe wouldn't know that to look at her), and yes, some of the UK press treatment was clearly racist in intention and in effect. I'm just not sure that it was quite as fundamental as the documentary suggests. (If you try hard enough, you can find a race angle to angle to almost everything, but it may not be where the main attention should be focussed in this case.)

It also seems to me that a lot of the content they show in the series was, to some extent, staged. At the same time as complaining that they need to get out of the media spotlight and back to a simple unassuming life, they clearly also arranged for a video cameraperson to trail around them, inside their own private home, over a period of months or even years, recording some quite intimate and sensitive moments and situations, documenting their real-time reaction to developments in real life, filming live phone calls, personal discussions, etc. They seem to have had this documentary in mind for some years, suggesting that, in some respects at least, they are actually willing participants in the media circus that surrounds them. The very act of producing a high-profile documentary like this necessarily thrusts them right into the glare of the public eye, as they must surely have anticipated.

Anyway, I'm not sure the docu-series has changed my opinions about the Royals, nor will it have changed many other people's. If you liked them before, you will like them still. If you hated them before, you will find plenty of evidence to back up your opinions. If you were pretty much indifferent before, like me, you will find little to change your mind. I would happily see the monarchy disbanded, although I don't care about it enough to raise my voice about it. But that unaccountable popular press? That has to change, for sure.


Hard on the heels of the Netflix series came the HRH's ghostwritten book, Spare, and a bunch of high-profile promotional television interviews. The guy is trying really hard to make the world love him (and feel sorry for him, which is not a good look at the best of times).

Unfortunately for "H", as I believe we are supposed to refer to him, it seems to have backfired somewhat. A YouGov poll, conducted after the book was released, shows an all-time low 24% popularity, with 68% of British adults holding a negative view of the spare heir, despite brisk sales of the book in British bookstores.

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