Friday, May 12, 2023

How Awful?

I might have described the Duchess of Sussex as ‘awful’ the other day on el feis, but this does not mean that I regard her as solely responsible for the simmering feud which currently divides the Royal Family. Blame for that can be far more widely shared.

That Meghan was a self-constructed work of status in progress, or put it rather more cattily, a social climbing wannabe Hollywood somebody, must have been strikingly obvious to all concerned from fairly early on.

That was her thing and she was clearly dead set on doing her thing, unless carefully directed to do otherwise, and so in a sense, she is one of the least responsible for what transpired, even though first she trod all over her own family before focusing on her husband’s.

Does anyone really think her personal agenda included a lifetime of dedicated service to Britain? Even Harry must have understood early on that she was highly unlikely to put the interests of the institution above her own and that he might have to be wary about trusting her with some of its secrets. What he described as her ‘successful career’ was at that stage just a well-defined tendency. 
Much has been made of her non-appearance at the Abbey and how much of a dead loss that made her husband look, with the most widely-shared analysis of the decision suggesting she wanted to avoid all the boos. There may be truth in that, but I have a hunch she also wanted to avoid being caught on camera mouthing the oath of allegiance to her father-in-law.

It is nevertheless not a given that her aspirations were entirely incompatible with a gently modernising Monarchy and its relationship with the British people. However, there is very little sign that any of the influential people around her had anything like a plan in place for addressing a problem which was bound to progress.

The individuals that social climbers rub up the wrong way tend not to be those at the pinnacle, but dug in a bit further down at a level the arriviste must traverse.

So insert Meghan Markle, trepadora de lujo into an institution like the Monarchy and you can easily anticipate how the long-term inmates amongst the Royal staffers and courtiers might react. This would then release the gas of previously trapped snobbery, which Meghan would then be bound to characterise as the whiff of another kind of even less rational prejudice. All so predictable.

Harry has been unable or unwilling to understand the full dynamic here. In the version of events that makes the most sense to him, the UK media moved on effortlessly from hounding his mother to death to shamelessly bigoted attacks on his wife.

When he tells this story he sounds utterly sincere and believable, because he really does believe it. There is genuine pain there, and so one is obliged to empathise. (And along with Harry's hurt, it's not hard to tune into Meghan's all too real insecurities.)

Compare Andr-eeeeeew, who simply can’t avoid sounding like someone who knows he’s telling porkies.

But My Truth is not necessarily the Truth, at least not all of it, and the Sussexes' counter-attacks on the media represent not just a threat to the  Monarchy, but also some of the press freedoms that we all need to be careful with, even when abhorring some of the opinions we encounter. And we have an ancient right to practice irreverence that we can never allow to be swept aside by bullies and dogmatists.

Yet journalists have undoubtedly been mixed up with the impellent forces here. This was always going to become a sort of death spiral: Harry and Meghan would start to act more like self-aggrandizing celebrities rather than Royals and sections of the media would duly push back to the limits of the legal. Someone had to break out of the chain; a behavioural or attitudinal shift was required. Appearing to censure or punish the Sussexes seems only to wind up the mechanism.

Like any member of the hereditary elite Harry was, at least in theory, better placed to simply turn away from the media coverage. But Meghan's whole sense of who she is has always depended on the perception of others. These anxieties took a more toxic shape within their relationship because of Harry's residual feelings about the treatment of his mother.

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