Meghan Markle and her ranked but unimportant husband came to New Zealand this week, and a huge amount of people lost their collective and metaphorical shit. Self-appointed royal commentator Sam Brooks explains the obsession.
Who doesn’t remember where they were when Meghan Markle and her plus-one landed in Wellington airport one windy afternoon? I do, mostly because it was six days ago.
I was playing Red Dead Redemption 2, and I paused because I received a notification saying that the NZ Herald had gone live. Usually when this happens, it’s for Mike Hosking having a movement or whatever falls under the loose definition of breaking news this week, so I ignore it. For once, I was elated to receive the notifications, because I quite like watching Meghan Markle live her life.
Nothing happened, really. The Duchess was wearing a Burberry-esque Karen Walker trenchcoat, she descended her aircraft to mingle with the prime minister and muggles, be welcomed, and then the video ended.
Other than a remarkable feat of athleticism, captured by me in the below video, why did I care?
Here is the video of Meghan Markle's supreme feat of athleticism and grace in the face of adversity. pic.twitter.com/Li03Rw530N
— Sam Brooks (@sbrookbrooks) October 28, 2018
Let’s go back to our collective cultural childhood for a few moments.
Since the age where we begin to be able to digest narrative and simple beginning-middle-end structures, we’re fed tales of the royals. There’s a good reason for that – these are effortlessly high stakes stories. We know the royals in these countries are important, and that the fate of the nation or the country rests upon them and their actions. As a child, we can feel the ‘oh shit’ of a princess being held captive by a dragon is more important than your everyday commoner being held captive – she’s an important person.
This is also why people eat up political drama – in fiction and in real life. When your everyday person drives to Wellington in one day and talks for an hour in front of a bunch of strangers, that’s an anecdote. When an elected official with a few of the keys to power does it, that’s drama.
One of these narratives that we’re fed is the story of a commoner – someone like you – being magically allowed into the hallowed royal echelon. There’s the Hans Christian Anderson version of this story, the one where the mermaid gives up her voice in order to marry the prince, and there’s the Disney version, the one where the mermaid overcomes a camp drag queen villain’s completely legit contract in order to marry the prince. The former is a warning, the latter is aspirational. It gives children hope that they too can be the commoner princess.
By the time we grow up and become adults, we know that’s a lie. Those stories don’t ever happen, we give up our voices for far less than a prince, and the chances of us marrying into any royal family are fairly low. (Apropos of nothing, about once a year I do an hour long deep dive on princes I could feasibly marry, given my age and location, and take my place as the first ranked Gay Princess. My prospects are about as likely as Helen Clark becoming prime minister again.)
But children buy into the narrative of the commoner princess again and again. We tell them anything is possible, and therefore the commoner princess is possible. It’s what makes the story of Meghan Markle so appealing: She’s the fairytale made real.
(I know she’s a Duchess, not a Princess, but if you’re the kind of person to split those hairs, good lord find something better to do with your tremendous intellect.)
It’s not the first time we’ve seen this fairytale land on our shores – there was Kate Middleton, there was also Diana Spencer herself. But Middleton always felt like an ordained princess, and there were years of tabloids pimping her as the successor to Diana’s people’s princess throne well before Wills put a ring on it, while Diana’s commoner-to-princess narrative was superseded by more tragic, and unprecedented, narratives.
The reason why Meghan Markle feels special is because she is so markedly (ha) different from the family she married into and what we’ve seen before. Wills and Kate look like they could be fifth cousins, Meghan Markle is a woman of colour with the world’s most subtle American accent which, nonetheless, renders her distinct from not only the royal family, but anybody we’ve ever seen marry into that family before.
It also helps that she’s an almost mythologically poised woman who sits at the very centre of those rare-crossed Venn diagrams of ‘elegance’ and ‘genuine breathing human’. As much as she might look othered from the royal family, she acts every bit like someone who was born with the crown upon her head. There’s no Sarah Ferguson vibes off this one, she feels like someone who should have always been a princess, the aspirational ideal of the commoner princess.
This isn’t a defence of people obsessing over Meghan Markle, and is pointedly not a defence of the woman above, who made a Suits reference so laboured that it’s ten centimetres dilated and put just enough effort into this sign to make it into a sign but nowhere near enough effort to justify showing it to another human being. This woman is my nemesis, and I will fight her forever, like Jacob and the Angel.
There’s every reason to be critical of Markle and Harry’s royal tour, and the coverage of it. Talk about the continuation of the royal colonist narrative. Talk about the questionable usage of taxpayer money. Maybe even talk about waiting an hour to see the Duchess’s hand. Also, talk about the fact that the royals have a unique and near-unprecedented access to the kinds of wallets that keep charities alive and the kind of media coverage that activists dream of.
This doesn’t change the fact that for so many of us, this particular narrative has been shoved into our brains since we were children, and the jolt of seeing a commoner-now-princess descend from an aircraft is still very real.
It’s enough of a jolt to make you pause Red Dead Redemption 2.
It’s enough of a jolt to make you click on the notification that the NZ Herald has ‘gone live’.
It’s enough of a jolt to make you forget that the narrative your adult life told you was wrong is actually tangible, real and wearing a Karen Walker coat that retails for $575.
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The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.