What I Learned From Harry & Meghan

I freely admit it. I watched the Harry and Meghan show on Netflix. The whole thing. All six episodes. Six bloody hours of the damn thing.

A fair question is why?

Well, for one thing, we like to kick back with some screen time between Christmas and New Years and we had already watched White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut and Christmas Vacation. Those make up the holy trinity of holiday movies and, though I had Meet John Doe and Going My Way recorded, eh, I was good. I suppose I could have watched some of the 42 bowl games (that’s not an exaggeration, by the way, there really are 42 bowl games), but I don’t know, I just couldn’t get excited about NC State taking on Maryland in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Also, I refuse to watch bowl games named after condiments, just on principle.

We did watch Glass Onion, the sequal to Knives Out. That was a lot of fun and I thought it was even better — and easier to follow — than the original. It also does a nice job of skewering “disruptors”, a word that somehow escaped my list of words that should never be uttered again.

Anyway, my point is that we had run out of stuff to watch and there it was staring us in the face. And I have to admit that it was entertaining. Harry and Meghan are attractive and interesting people, like them or not. I have this theory that absolutely everybody has an interesting story. It’s just a question of how well their story is told and these people told a very good tale about themselves.

The whole thing was designed to do two things and it accomplished both very effectively. One objective was to make them a bunch of money and apparently Netflix paid them millions. Check. The other goal was to create a sympathetic image for them. Done. Or at least done to the extent that anybody can feel sympathy for fabulously wealthy, good-looking people with great teeth and no apparent serious health conditions.

The main point they seemed to want to get across was that they really tried to make it all work, but that the British tabloid press hounded them out of England, mostly by pushing racist tropes. They also make a convincing argument that the monarchy should have worked harder to protect and nurture Meghan because her bi-racial background made her perfect to appeal to a Commonwealth that is mostly made up of people who aren’t white — and who is whiter than the British monarchy?

But here’s what surprised me. As the show went on I found myself also seeing things from the “institution’s” point of view. (They refer to the bureaucracy surrounding the monarchy as “the institution.”) Central to the British character is a stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on, never complaining and never explaining. In short, stoicism.

Basically, the institution wanted them to hang in there, ignore the cheap shots from the tabloids and just do their jobs. And, for all of H & M’s attempts to bring me around to their point of view, in the end I have to side with the institution. Instead of running from their responsibilities, I would have had more respect for them had they stayed and taken the long view. They would have been likely to have these jobs for another 40 or 50 years. Things change. And, if you really want to improve things for the people of the Commonwealth, what better way to do that than from the inside?

And then there’s that lesson of stoicism. We live in a culture that over-shares, that is quick to complain about the slightest offense, that actually encourages people to seek out offense, that thinks they deserve to have everybody else pay off their student loans, just for one example. We could do with a lot more sucking it up and with a lot less complaining and a whole lot less explaining.

I always wanted to be this guy.

I always wanted to be a stuffy old British guy. A member of a club where they required you to wear a tweed jacket and a nubby tie and where you could sip your whiskey in an old leather chair near a roaring fire and amid a lot of dark wood paneling and where they’d keep newspapers hanging on those racks. They’d serve soup for lunch and beef for dinner. In between, you would be excused if you nodded off in your chair.

But in my stuffy club there would be a twist. We’d require Midwestern stoicism to go along with British stuffiness. So, if your soup wasn’t hot enough or your beef was overdone, you wouldn’t say much of anything. You’d just eat it and say it was “fine.”

Harry and Meghan could have used their celebrity to make that kind of stoicism fashionable again. Instead, they complained and explained themselves into making me sympathetic to the institution.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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