Every nation gets the royal family it deserves. Americans once had Hollywood royalty, but Hollywood has decayed into virtue-signaling and television streaming. Meghan and Harry are pretenders to the throne of American royalty for the 21st century. A second-rate actress and a spare-part prince are parodying a European past for a fanbase that cannot remember it. They are speaking their truth even though parts of it are demonstrably false. Americans must have done something terrible to deserve these two.
The Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan is not so much a documentary as it is a six-hour Instagram post. It purports to be the true story of "Megxit," their highly premature retirement as working royals, and to give thrilling insights into their new life in a humble mansion in Montecito. But, like everything else the couple says, it doesn’t quite add up. "We know the full truth," Harry says. So why is it so hard to believe?
They say they want privacy, but they have taken $100 million from Netflix, sold private footage, and allowed cameras into their home at all hours. Harry says the pact between monarchy and media is a "dirty game," but he is an active player. He complains that his family are now "cold" to him, but he has betrayed them all. He portrays the late Queen Elizabeth II as the passive toy of unnamed courtiers. He claims that the Queen, his father Charles III, and his brother Prince William ganged up on him, that they were "bullying us out of the family." His willingness to publicize private conversations and impute the lowest of motives shows that they would be mad to share more than a sandwich with him.
Harry keeps saying that the media killed his mother, Princess Diana. He says the media have damaged his and Meghan’s mental health and complains about the "emotional toll." He says he wants to protect Meghan from Diana’s fate and that his job "is to keep my family safe." Yet here he is again, seeking public attention and feeding himself, his wife, and his two young children into the woodchipper of celebrity gossip. It makes no sense.
Above all, they tell us that this, as Harry says, is "a great love story." But most of what they tell us, and almost all of what we see here, has nothing to do with love or its greatness, and everything to do with the inverse, the petty passion of hatred. They have now got exactly what they always claimed to want, but they seem so sick with resentment that they cannot enjoy their good fortune.
Meghan and Harry have jumped the narrow tracks of royal duty and the loyal expectations of the British people. They are now free to use their 9 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms however they like, and free to monetize themselves as they choose. They are even free to pursue the privacy they claim their young family needs above all else. This would probably be a blessing to them, and certainly one to us. Instead, they seem compelled to reheat the increasingly thin and cold gruel of their grievances.
Meghan dismisses the television interview in which they announced their engagement as "an orchestrated reality show," but this series is nothing but that. Parts of it go beyond truthiness and have the distinct whiff of fiction. The trailer shows mobs of paparazzi. It turns out that the paparazzi were not after Meghan and Harry. In one clip, they’re after Katie Price, an English glamor model. In another, they’re after Donald Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen. In a third, they’re at a Harry Potter premiere.
The trailer also has a Lee Harvey Oswald-style view over a photographer shooting Meghan and Harry from high up in a building as they’re in earnest conclave with Desmond Tutu. "You know," Harry says in the voiceover, "there’s leaking, but there’s also planting of stories." The implication, repeated throughout the series, is that the royal family and their handlers knowingly placed Meghan and Harry in physical danger by withdrawing their security and then feeding them to the media.
Robert Jobson, a British royal correspondent, was with Meghan and Harry in South Africa. He confirms that the sniper’s view was taken by "an accredited pool" at Archbishop Tutu’s residence in Cape Town: "Only 3 people were in the accredited position. H & M agreed the position. I was there." Johnson added, "This was an official visit where they had taxpayer funded protection and all the trappings. This is just nonsense. The palace was not part of some ‘set up.’ No conspiracy here, just lies, and misuse of photos taken from pools."
The war of the Windsors is a battle of narratives. Much of the second half of this series, "Volume 2," as they call it, is taken up with the story of how Meghan and Harry successfully sued the Daily Mail after it published a letter Meghan had written to her estranged father. In the United States, the case would not have gotten near court. But Britain’s antique libel and privacy laws favor the plaintiff, not the papers. There’s no First Amendment, either.
Meghan and Harry engage in guided meditation via an online coach. Harry does not take long to clear his mind. There is so little in it. Meghan almost cries, as she frequently does in this series, though she never gets a runny nose. "You’re feeding the beast. It is an illusion," the coach advises. This is not the only good advice they are determined to ignore.
"My dad said to me, ‘Darling boy, you can’t take on the media. The media will always be the media.’ And I said, ‘I fundamentally disagree,’" Harry says. The Mail lost one battle, but the British papers will win the war. Meghan and Harry cannot have it both ways. They claim to act in the public interest, and they sell their souls and their children to Netflix, but they also claim the right to complete privacy. Their defense is a pre-emptive assault on the freedom of the press.
"Misinformation is a global humanitarian crisis," says Harry. When he moved to the United States, he called the First Amendment "bonkers," only to admit he didn’t know how it worked. He then joined the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Harry & Meghan is a prime example of disinformation. They don’t just want to "speak their truth." They want to suppress all criticism.
The dirtiest weapon in Harry & Meghan is the accusation of racism. Two black British journalists, Afua Hirsch and David Olusoga, attribute Meghan and Harry’s retreat from Britain to ingrained racism in the royal family and the media. Footage of a pro-Brexit march is slipped in, as if to confirm that the 52 percent of Britons who voted for Brexit are all racists. Hirsch calls the Commonwealth, which Meghan and Harry were earmarked to serve, "Empire 2.0."
The British public responded to Meghan and Harry’s engagement with delight. Their wedding day was one of national celebration. As Diana’s troubled son, Harry was dear to the people’s hearts. Again, it makes no sense. And if the Commonwealth is really "Empire 2.0," why are Meghan and Harry, those strident woke antiracists, still so sad about not serving as the Great White King’s ambassadors to it?
Safiya Noble, the author of Algorithms of Oppression, tells us that Meghan was the victim of a "highly coordinated" campaign of online "hate propaganda." Screenshots of hostile tweets float around Noble’s head. Some are racist, some are mean, and some, like calling Meghan "The Duchess of Narsussex [Narcissist]" are funny. Though no one forces Meghan and Harry to use Twitter, Noble, a professor of internet ethics at UCLA, calls this "symbolic annihilation," an attempt to destroy these two "symbols of social justice."
When American media play along to Meghan and Harry’s imposture as America’s only titled nobility, it is not just because the Sussexes’ sense of entitlement is as inflated as their own. It is because royalty is entertainment. Meghan and Harry may wear less revealing outfits than the Kardashians, but the thong remains the same. They are promoting a brand with fake reveals and faux outrage, and their stock of royal gossip is running out. Accept no imitations.
Dominic Green is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Foreign Policy Research Institute. His latest book is The Religious Revolution: The Birth of Modern Spirituality, 1848-1898.