David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Meghan and Harry's Big Cultural Moment

Brandon Sun, March 22, 2021 – David McConkey


Of course I watched the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan and Harry and reflected on it as a cultural moment. There was the guilty pleasure of cringing while listening to Meghan as she detailed the episode of the bridesmaids’ dresses. Which duchess made the other cry? There were big issues that arose, including racism, mental health and the role of the monarchy in society. And some other big questions were left hovering in the background, waiting to be explored.

THE INTERVIEW

Oprah is a masterful interviewer. She acknowledged her conflicts of interest up front: she is a friend and neighbour of Meghan and Harry and she is engaged in joint ventures with them. The setting was a lovely patio on an estate in their gated neighbourhood. The encounter was produced for the entertainment – not the news – division of CBS. So, we were not watching a journalistic interview. We were being beguiled as we were given a glimpse into the lives of wealthy royal celebrities.  

COST OF CELEBRITY

Meghan and Harry referred to a huge problem for anyone in the public eye today: the vitriol and threats to their lives and security. This is especially a concern for women. Public individuals are usually discreet in discussing this matter so as not to subject themselves to even more distress and danger. But the viewer could sense the anxiety in Meghan’s words when she spoke of her family’s need for protection.

Meghan was no doubt subjected to much harassment in Britain. She was the outsider: a brash, biracial American divorcée. But Harry’s mother Diana had also suffered. And Diana was the pure insider: a coy, virginal, English aristocrat. Worth noting is Harry’s point that the addition of social media today has made things much worse.

RACISM

One damning accusation from the couple: racism in the Royal Family. Harry said that an unnamed relative had made comments about their children’s skin colour.

But shouldn’t Harry have privately confronted this gauche family member, pointing out their prejudice and inviting them to see the humanity in Harry’s family? Instead Harry chose to make a public, anonymous accusation that impugns an entire institution and is impossible to refute or put into a broader context. Such are the snippets of thoughtlessness that are often spun today into narratives of “systemic racism” that don’t lead to constructive solutions.

And aren't we missing the bigger picture here? The Royal Family is based on lineage and bloodlines. Isn’t that in effect racism? Isn’t racism where a person is regarded – not by who they are as an individual now – but by who their ancestors were?

CONSTITUTION

The Meghan and Harry saga has reignited the discussion of the role of the monarchy in the world, including Canada. Harry described his father Charles and his brother William as “trapped” in their lives as royals. But we who live in monarchies are also trapped: we have to accept as our monarch whomever has inherited the role. For us Canadian citizens, this interview underscores that Canada should eventually become a republic.

WELL-BEING

Both Meghan and Harry recounted the misery of their lives inside the Royal Family. That Meghan was suicidal and not able to get the help she requested was shocking. Some observers, however, have pointed out that her story does not quite ring true. Why was Harry not able to assist her in getting the help she needed? After all, he and his brother and his father have themselves been in therapy. And Harry has championed the issue of mental health and getting help. Whatever the case, hopefully their experience will propel both of them to continue speaking out about this critical concern.

Perhaps the couple has found peace in “Megxit” and in their new lives in California. But there is a larger lesson here: even with immense wealth and privilege, happiness can be elusive. This reminds of the benefits of nurturing a sense of gratitude in whatever our circumstances.

During this time, I value the example set by the Queen. I appreciate her emphasizing the positive ways that people work together, celebrating the progress that has been made and then gently nudging us to consider how we might do even better in the future.

I think back one year ago to the words the Queen spoke about the pandemic. She praised what would do us well at any time: “the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling.”

CULTURAL MOMENT

Wherever we are going as a society, the Meghan and Harry interview is a cultural moment along the way. It may highlight a path to new possibilities. Or it may be just another bump in the road.

* * * *
See also: 

Reflections on the Diamond Jubilee

Which One is the Head of State Again?

Appreciate Everyday Goodness All Around Us

Book Explores Gratitude for the World in a Cup of Coffee

 

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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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