Monday, March 16, 2020

Meghan and Harry, their Dianafication

Few things in this world interest me less than the ongoing saga swirling around the Sussexes, that is, around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

And yet, I find Caitlin Flanagan to be one of the best essayists around. So, when she posted a longish Atlantic article about the Sussexes, I yielded to temptation and read it. To my, and hopefully, your benefit.

Flanagan’s theme involves moral courage, its presence and absence. As you undoubtedly know, Queen Elizabeth has exhibited unshakable moral courage. She has done so from the time she was an adolescent, during World War II.

Flanagan grasps the wartime ethos and Elizabeth’s role in sustaining it. One might mention, as Flanagan does later in her article, that Elizabeth found herself in her new role because her uncle, King Edward VIII abdicated his throne in 1936, for the love of a Baltimore divorcee. At a time when the world was in crisis and where Great Britain needed steadfast moral leadership, the king chose love over duty. Even before Diana sullied the royal brand, the Duke of Windsor traded royal duty for celebrity.

Such was not the case with the wartime princess Elizabeth:

Elizabeth’s responsibility during the war years was the same as that of her parents and also of every Englishman, woman, and child: to be unbroken. Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory read one of the famous posters created by the Ministry of Information. Germany had tried to demoralize the English people, but their morale would not be broken. In the fetid Underground stations, they put children to bed in hammocks suspended between the tracks, they passed around cups of tea, and they sang music-hall songs and songs from the Great War: “What’s the point of worrying? It never was worthwhile.” In Buckingham Palace—which was shelled on 16 occasions—the King waited impatiently for the air warden to sound the all clear so that he could go out to the streets to inspect the damage and to console and inspire the people of London.

It was not sangfroid, exactly, because there was no bravado to it. It was simply the real thing: courage. 

When Meghan Markle arrived on the scene, she, a product of the Hollywood celebrity culture and also the therapy culture, was not up to the Elizabethan example:

“I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip,” Meghan Markle said in the fall. “I tried, I really tried. But I think what that does internally is probably really damaging.”

“I’ve said for a long time to ‘H’—that’s what I call him—it’s not enough to just survive something, right? Like, that’s not the point of life.”

This was not courage, cheerfulness, resolution. This was the therapeutic mindset, feelings, California.

Here is Elizabeth Windsor, age 14, telling the children of the empire: “In the end all will be well.”

Here is Meghan Markle, age 38, explaining her worldview: “Like, that’s not the point of life.”

Of course, Meghan Markle is really following in the footsteps of Princess Diana, the much mourned victim of her own lust for celebrity. One thing is sure, Diana was not a profile in courage. She was an emotional basket case:

It was because of her beauty, her glass coach, and her endless wardrobe, of course—but it wasn’t only because of those things. It was because she stood so powerfully on the side of emotions, and because she inhabited the world of sentiment that is—or once was—the true home of a teenage girl. And it was because she refused to allow that world to be crushed. Not by her cruel and unloving husband, not by the rigidity of the royal family, not by becoming a woman, and not even by the tabloids, which she loathed and which ultimately killed her. She was a classic figure from fairy tales and folklore: the persecuted heroine, and she raged against her tormentors not with aggression, but with feelings. You knew when she was happy, and you knew when she was suffering. And this deep emotional availability combined with her kindness for anyone meek allowed her to forge an unbreakable bond with the British people.

True enough, Diana was not living in the real world. She was not living in a world defined by honor and duty. She was living in a fictional narrative, as a postmodern Persephone, showering the world with her feelings. She, born an aristocrat, was the most prominent repudiation of the British stiff upper lip:

[The public] recognized her not just as Britain’s biggest celebrity but, improbably, as one of them. She was someone who suffered, someone who was trapped.

She did not believe in the stiff upper lip. She kneeled down so that she could talk with people in wheelchairs eye to eye. She hugged children and pulled them onto her lap.

When many people considered AIDS highly contagious, she visited patients ravaged by it, grabbing their hands and bantering with them. She treated them as human beings, not as carriers of a shameful disease.

So, Diana washed her dirty linen in public. She told of her bulimia, her anguish and her cutting. Everyone thought it was immensely courageous for her to indulge in such self-exposure. No one much cared that these revelations contributed to epidemics of eating disorders and self-cutting. Every girl wants to be a princess. Many of them chose to emulate Diana's unfortunate example.

Diana contaminated British culture with her maudlin sentimentality, to the point that, when Diana died fleeing the paparazzi she had cultivated, the public rose up to demand that the Queen show the world what she really, really felt. They wanted emotional incontinence:

But it was more than that; the crowd wanted something particular from her, something she was not raised to provide: a display of unbridled emotion.

“It’s a typical reaction of the royal family,” someone griped. “Stick to protocol; don’t worry about human emotion.”

“They must know how we’re feeling,” said another woman, “and we’d like to know how they’re feeling.”

“Why don’t they care about how we feel?” a woman outside of Buckingham Palace asked, in an aggrieved tone of voice. “Why don’t they care about us?”

No more tea towels. We are in the world of crying towels:

The English people, Theodore Dalrymple wrote, had undergone “Dianafication.” The once brave and resilient “had become emotionally incontinent and inclined to blubber in public when not being menacingly discourteous.” Now “our heroes and heroines … are all as banal as the rest of us.”

Anyway, Diana’s boys had obvious difficulties mourning their mother. Apparently, Harry in particular had the most trouble. Perhaps, though Flanagan does not mention it, he was distressed by the persistent rumors that he was not Prince Charles’s biological son, and thus that he was less royal than his brother.

As it happened, Diana had tried therapy. She had undergone Jungian analysis with Alan McGlashan, to no avail. She underwent cognitive treatment and abandoned it when it appeared to be helpful. And she ended up doing feminist therapy with one Suzie Orbach. Then, she died.

Prince Harry underwent his own therapy. Apparently, it contributed to his wanting to marry Meghan Markle:

Meghan and Harry met when he was in the midst of a reevaluation of his life and a growing understanding of how much of it had been shaped by the profound trauma of his childhood, and by the depression that had haunted him ever since.

Like many adults who suffered a childhood bereavement, Harry survived it by shutting it away, refusing to think about it. He has said that in all his life, he has cried only twice about losing his mother. Whenever he thought about her, he would push the thought away—it would only make him sadder and it could never bring her back. He served in the army—including a deployment to Afghanistan, where he flew Apache helicopters—with the kind of courage on which military forces depend: a form of extreme, young male courage that borders on recklessness. It was, he once said, the best “escape” he ever had from royal life. He was headed for a breakdown, and it came, right on schedule, when he left active duty.

Harry kept himself from punching someone by taking up boxing in a gym. His brother was so concerned that he urged him to seek professional help and, at last, he did—during which he realized how deeply depressed he had been for so much of his life. On the other side of “Keep calm and carry on” was a secret that used to be known only within English families, something that was rarely discussed in public: the unexpressed sorrow that reshapes a life.

Apparently, Harry liked therapy. Perhaps he liked it too much.

Therapy was a revelation to him; he began to heal. He became an advocate for ending the stigma around seeking help for mental-health problems. He began to speak openly about the problems he had suffered, and he started a charity with his brother and sister-in-law, Heads Together, devoted to that cause.

From therapy to Meghan… was not a great leap. Besides, when your mother was a wanna-be celebrity, what better way to keep her legend alive than to marry a real celebrity. Besides Meghan was multiethnic. What better way to contribute to diversity:

Meghan’s openness to the emotional life, so much like Diana’s, was surely attractive to Harry. It also meant that she was equally ill-suited to the relentless attacks of Britain’s tabloid press, which, in addition to its usual, forensic-level campaign to discover every secret thing about a subject’s private life, had a new saw: racism. One of the intentions of those papers—which are historically conservative, entirely mainstream, and widely read—became reminding the public that a woman of mixed race had gained entry to the royal family. The papers considered the effect of her “exotic DNA” on the Windsor bloodline; they informed readers that she is a descendant of “cotton slaves,” that she is almost “straight outta Compton” because her mother now lives in Crenshaw, which is no closer to Compton than it is to Beverly Hills. Her mother—the one family member to whom she seems close—has been described as a “dreadlocked African American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Just as Diana had been expelled from royalty, Harry and Meghan have decided to embrace celebrity, to spit on royalty and to cash in on their fame. The British call it Megxit. Flanagan finds it extremely distasteful:

Megxit is the most complicated, self-involved, grandiose, half-assed, high-minded, shortsighted, greedy-graspy, swing-for-the-fences, letter of partial, fingers-crossed resignation in history. When Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, he announced it to the government on December 9, and was on his way to Austria three days later. But Edward didn’t want to do voice-overs for Disney.

But everything else about the plan was focused on making them more famous than ever—so they hardly planned to lower their public profile. Moreover, they clearly saw their royal status as a value proposition that they could exploit to become independently wealthy. They had filed papers to trademark the term Sussex Royal on more than 100 consumer goods, including pajamas, hoodies, and pencils. Just how long can you be understood as royal when you’re hawking pencils?

And also:

And Meghan’s Hollywood dreams loom large over the project. They are rumored to have looked at Malibu rentals for a summer of A-listing it at the beach; they monetized Harry’s depression (a surprise speech about it to some bewildered JP Morgan heavy hitters at a Miami conference; a docuseries on mental health that he is executive producing with Oprah Winfrey); there was talk of a Netflix deal. This is what it means, apparently, to carve out “progressive roles” within the monarchy.

The price was high:

Meghan and Harry lost out on almost everything they had presumed was theirs. They were forbidden from performing any royal duties; they were not to represent the Commonwealth in any way; they were not to use the term royal on anything they were selling or branding; their Buckingham Palace office would be closed; and they were not to use their highest titles, Royal Highness.

Flanagan concludes:

Harry and Meghan, it seems, have overplayed their hand severely. The Queen doesn’t need them, not at the price they were asking. Even in a Dianafied world, she still believes in certain ideals, foremost among them dignity and duty. And even now, when almost all is lost, she is still able to inspire it.


UbuMaccabee said...

I see Nemesis flying over both of them, sword in hand. I recommend staying away from them--and the fate that awaits them. The Gods are asleep no more.

Linda Fox said...

And, as a side benefit, the Queen cuts off a likely errant branch of NOT-Windsors, who will be merely average and no longer royal (for that matter, I agree that Harry is likely the illegitimate son of a stablehand). From the old lady's standpoint, Win-Win

David Foster said...

In one of Heinlein's stories, the Martians--heirs to a great civilization--mostly sit around doing nothing. An earth human asks them why...and gets this reply:

"My fathers have labored, and I am weary"

Maybe there is something to that, for earth humans as well as Martians.

UbuMaccabee said...

David, that's about the time the space Vikings show up on longships.

Sam L. said...

Harry and Meghan done shot theyselves in both feet...up to about their knees. (Pause for reloading...)