Whether out of Anglophilia, nostalgia, masochism, traditionalism or just a particular strain of fealty to the rich and famous, America’s quixotic devotion to the British monarchy remains strong.
What, then, explains America’s particular crush on the semi-royal Sussexes? Harry and Meghan haven’t been especially kind to the monarchy since fleeing Frogmore, their renovated royal “cottage,” in 2020. Nor did they ever fully deliver on the prospect of an American infiltration of the crown.
But their most recent multiplatform, multimillion-dollar media blitz — which began with Meghan’s Spotify podcast, expanded into a six-part Netflix documentary tribute to their love for each other and for themselves, and this coming week brings Harry’s memoir, “Spare” — offers several possible reasons why the Duke and Duchess have been spared the ire they stirred up overseas.
It’s because they chose America. Apparently, it’s better to be a celebrity in the United States than fifth in line for the throne in the United Kingdom. Though Harry and Meghan are now without royal stipend, they’ve got a sizable inheritance in a country where the rich grow richer and where royalty, without the baggage of being a tax burden, are treated with less skepticism. Having initially decamped to Vancouver Island in a bid for privacy, they soon fled to Los Angeles in a bid for — what’s the opposite of privacy? As Harry says in the documentary, he’d “outgrown” his environment and “this was the most obvious place to come.”
The fact that the Sussexes ditched a country they characterize as anti-immigrant, overrun with racists and burdened by the legacy of colonialism makes Americans feel better about their own country, which also (whoops) might be described as anti-immigrant, overrun with racists and burdened by the legacy of colonialism. But Harry and Meghan see America as a haven.
“They made it such an issue when I went to the U.K.,” Meghan says of her mixed-race heritage in the documentary. “Before that, most people didn’t treat me like a Black woman.” Perhaps Americans appreciate the notion that nationalism and xenophobia are somehow “over there” and not here. It’s nice to be let off the hook for a change.
It’s because they’re fighting for change. Call them martyrs, call them revolutionaries, call them anti-establishment or simply changemakers. Now thoroughly enlightened re: the old order’s ills, Harry and Meghan are taking a stand against colonialism, racism and oppression of all stripes, jetting around the world, occasionally in a friend’s private plane, in their campaign against injustice. As the website for their organization Archewell (“Leading the way with compassion”) proclaims: “Each of us can change our communities. All of us can change the world.”
Many people in Britain, across the Commonwealth and in America did, in fact, see the interracial couple’s union as a sign of positive change — but perhaps no one more so than the couple themselves. In a run-up interview to promote her podcast last year, Meghan recalled a South African man who compared the joy at her royal wedding to the celebrations when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. But, according to the Sussexes’ narrative, they became too popular, threatening the monarchy. As Harry put it, they were “stealing the limelight” or “doing the job better than someone who was born to do this.”
The series goes a step further in its anti-institutional fervor, tying the couple’s personal travails to a reckoning with British colonialism, the mistreatment of Princess Diana and the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the documentary’s sympathetic talking heads refers to the pair as “symbols of social justice” and says the hate directed toward them was “a way to signal to the rest of us to stand down.” According to this version of events, the palace has pushed back against the couple because, as Harry explains, “if you speak truth to power, that’s how they respond.”
It’s because they speak our language. This isn’t about the accent but about the mode. Harry and Meghan value sharing over the stiff upper lip. Rather than staying mum, they insist on speaking up and speaking out — and speaking their own truth, as opposed to the more rigorous feat of speaking the truth. When they do speak, it’s in the manicured, massaged and meditative parlance of self-care and cause-driven commerce. Words like “conscious,” “consent” and “purpose” roll off their tongues in soothing uptalk. They’ve created a “safe harbor” for themselves. This is a “new path we were trying to forge.” Their work is about “creative activations” and “building community.”
Everything is done with intention. “We’ve been really conscious of protecting our kids as best as we can and also understanding the role that they play in this really historical family,” Meghan explains in the documentary. Because the palace wouldn’t protect them, they must protect themselves. Once they were victims; now they are survivors.
It’s because they’re American-style celebrities. Harry and Meghan have outdone Princess Diana’s collaborations with the press by taking full control. They are our first reality-TV royals. And in America, while it’s wrong for someone else to invade your privacy, it’s perfectly fine — even applauded — to exploit your own.
The Sussexes are accessible. They’re fun! Meghan is just a “working mom.” Harry is a romping millennial dad. These celebrities — they’re just like us! — can tell us all about themselves via their own artisanal media empire.
You can find them on Instagram, where they initially found each other and where they chose to announce their independence (as they would say, “stepping back rather than stepping down”). They take selfies, they film themselves incessantly and at least one of them has firm views about portrait versus landscape iPhone footage. The documentary spends a solid episode offering a blow-by-blow — or, rather, a text-by-text — narrative of their entire courtship. They give us so much private information, saturating us with the minutiae of each glowing embrace, that they essentially deprive us of wanting or needing to get anything more anywhere else.
Like many a TikToker or Substacker, Harry and Meghan relish taking charge of the narrative. They made their documentary, they say, because, as they put it, they’ve never been “asked” for their story and weren’t “allowed” to tell it. That’s if you don’t count fawning coverage from Oprah, People or The Cut.
But even the friendliest venues stopped short of the couple’s preferred spin on “The Little Mermaid.” In Harry’s twitterpated eyes: Meghan “sacrificed everything that she ever knew, the freedom that she had, to join me in my world. And then, pretty soon after that, I ended up sacrificing everything I know to join her in her world.” Prince Harry undeniably sacrificed his family and his birthright. Most people, royal fans or not, would have liked to see this all play out differently.
Despite the dents and holes in their well-honed and highly lucrative story, the Sussexes have delivered an especially American take on what the American Meghan calls a “modern fairy tale.” America loves a melodrama, an against-all-odds story, an us versus them. America loves an almost happily ever-after and any gossip that keeps on giving. As is now abundantly clear, Harry and Meghan are giving their all to give America all of that.
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