Perspective | Meghan and Harry have made a fairytale escape. They still look trapped.
It was shocking to me, in 2020, what strong feelings perfectly reasonable people have about the elopement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, “H” and “M” as they call each other, as a new Netflix documentary reveals. The couple announced they were stepping down from their official role with the royal family, and soon lines were drawn. The question was “How could Megan do that to them?” vs “how can they do that she has? “
What’s even more shocking is that nearly three years have passed since that bombshell announcement, and sane people haven’t completely calmed down. Scroll through the hashtag #HarryandMeghan on social media and you’ll know Meghan is either an attention-grabbing witch or Jesus of Nazareth in the hearts and minds of the public. Both the hashtag and the renewed controversy come from the aforementioned Netflix show, where the couple set out to finally tell their side of the story. The first three episodes became available last week, and three more dropped on Thursday.
Why this new batch of Haz ‘n’ Meg content? Didn’t they tell their side of the story through an interview with Oprah in 2021, in which she allegedly stoked racism and bigotry within the royal family? Didn’t they tell it through a Big Cut profile, Meghan’s podcast, Archetypes, or Harry’s upcoming memoir, heralded as a work of “raw, unflinching honesty”?
No, there is always more to say. There is always more to make the audience understand. Harry says there will never be a “real accountability or real apology” from his family for the treatment he and Meghan received while living in the UK. Meghan was excluded from the royal “round table” that was discussing the couple’s move to the United States – a tense meeting during which Prince William, according to Harry, yelled at his brother.
The series opened with archive footage of Meghan from years ago, before she met Harry, and interviewed her, during which she was asked questions such as what her favorite mood-boosting song is. The interviewer asked: Who would you prefer, Prince William or Prince Harry? The petite and innocent Megan sneered at the pretentious question – and that should have proved it, right? Megan never planned any of this! Megan should have Googled the words for the British national anthem!
Hess: Meghan Markle just flipped a fantasy princess on her big crowned head (as of 2020)
In addition to telling their personal story, the series attempts to tell the complex story of Britain — its colonial past, its murky media — making it clear that an intelligent, modern feminist like Megan didn’t stand a chance in a family where other women seemed to. I’m glad you’re smiling and wearing shiny pantyhose. Royal media were vipers. The royal family was either ignorant or conniving. Harry saw his mother succumb to this gutter, and he wanted to make sure that story was different for his wife and children.
To the viewer, it seems the question this documentary should answer is whether Harry and Meghan are (a) sympathetic and close, or b) empowered and kind of fake. They were living a life of astronomical privilege, after all—wealth, residencies, travel, opportunities, history, what many royal subjects would kill for—and they threw it in like the night shift at Arby’s.
They had to shake it off, they explain to Oprah and the others. They had to leave everything behind, to live a more “authentic” life. But as you watch them roam the West Coast’s new digs, which are green and huge and beautiful and expensive, where happy chickens roam in the air so sunny and kissed by the sea you could smell them on the TV, you can’t help but think: I also like to sacrifice everything.
Harry is a professional soldier. Megan was an essential actress. Based solely on their earning power, the more “authentic” lifestyle would be more modest, but instead this looked like they traded a pair of golden handcuffs for a diamond bedroom set.
At its core, the Meghan and Harry debate isn’t about whether they deserve wealth. It is about whether they deserve happiness. This question is basic and familiar: If the choice came between pleasing your in-laws and focusing your ambitions and desires, what would you choose? If the system breaks, do you try to fix it from the inside, or escape and then grenade the castle walls?
The heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants a Montecito. Is following the heart a wonderful act or selfish?
This is a story, basically, about the meaning of marriage in a family. There’s a sister-in-law who got there first and she’s not a snuggler and she’s brought her own sparkly pantyhose. There’s your sister’s husband who your husband used to be close with, but with whom things are now awkward – And everyone acts as if it’s your fault. Things are also awkward with your father-in-law, who married his mistress, and we haven’t even started with your new uncle, the guy who was friends with Jeffrey Epstein. The person you love the most is your mother-in-law, who you never met because of her She died 25 years ago.
do you suck it Christmas after Christmas, christening after christening — with occasional racist conversations (How fair is your child’s complexion?) And tight dinner parties? By diligently vetting those watching to assess whether you’re having a good enough time at those dinner parties? (Every time Meghan didn’t quite fit in, the paparazzi would put on a slideshow about it.) Grit your teeth and then come home and breathe deeply into an empty Lululemon bag?
Or do you turn to your new spouse and say, “I’m out. You’re coming over?”
Harry and Meghan did the latter, and it angers the people who would do the former — who You have They did the former, for years, and who are at this very moment getting ready to go for the holidays on Uncle Mert’s pull-out sofa. It’s especially infuriating for people who do the former while wishing they could do the latter — but can’t even convince their wives to delete 17 hours of “Naked and Afraid” from the restricted space on their DVR, let alone give away the royal birth.
As angry and frustrated as Haz and Meg, “Harry & Meghan” is a meticulous documentary. There are a few hints of family drama, but for the most part, instead of shaking off the dirt, they tap it lightly with a shovel. Rarely are members of the royal family named villains. Instead, the villains are the family’s “establishment” or “offices” — royal communications departments who, the couple say, have planted negative elements about the Sussexes in the tabloids to draw attention away from other senior royals.
Harry and Meghan settled something for me: I’m now convinced that stepping away from the royal family is the right thing to do, mostly because the couple thought it was the only thing to do. Relationships – between Megan and the press, between spouses and family – become disastrous for Megan’s mental health. At some point, I contemplated suicide. No crown or title deserves this.
Here’s what I’m still baffled about, six episodes later: This is supposed to be the story of how Harry and Meghan won their freedom. But did they?
They no longer smile bravely at the cameras of the Royal Press Corps. But they’re still here on TV singing for dinner. No longer funded by British taxpayers, they must find some way to pay for the infrastructure their lives now require – security details, helpers, and caretakers who look after their children while the couple builds a new kind of empire.
And the most popular song they have to sing is the song of their royal mistreatment: the tabloids, the lawsuits, the betrayals, the tears, the dashed hopes of breaking the princes. Harry and Meghan’s entire livelihood now depends on revisiting the institution that initially traumatized them.
This is not the end of a fairy tale. This is not until the end, and that’s the problem. The problem with Harry and Meghan’s story is that the beginning never ends.
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