Of all the charges laid at the door of Harry and Meghan, we can reasonably discount the idea that being paid by Netflix is the sin to end all sins. I’m not sure how people think the British royal family have historically accrued their vast wealth, but a contract with a streaming giant is right down the list of money-spinning horrors.
Let’s face it, there are a lot worse ways to lay your hands on a reported £88m in today’s money. No one dissolved the monasteries, here. No one ran a foreign country as an extraction colony. Looting-wise, no one did much beyond taking a call from telly warlord Ted Sarandos and thinking: yes please. This is the market value of my truth.
Anyway, on with the show. Again. I can’t help feeling the Sussexes increasingly come across as a pair of ancient mariners with a TV contract, condemned to tell their tale to everyone they meet. After this latest exhaustive (and fairly exhausting) six-parter, many will now feel they have seen enough of the albatross in question, which has been hung around the neck either of the Sussexes or the news media, depending on to whom you speak. Both sides of this forever war seem locked in an endless cycle of tale-telling, which will ultimately have to be moved on from. Or not, if it keeps being lucrative for both sides (of which more shortly).
Despite the work that has gone into crafting the impression of a further banquet of revelations, the Sussexes really only have one story to tell. Admittedly, it’s a dramatic and sensational one that has sold countless books and papers and driven online traffic and TV ratings around the world. They told it to Oprah last year, and now they are telling it again to Netflix viewers.
In some ways, there’s nothing wrong with telling the same story over and over again. John Grisham does it, though he is at least able to change the names and locations. The most successful movie stars have always repeatedly played some lightly adjusted version of their persona, on the timeworn and financially proven principle of giving the public what it wants. That’s showbiz.
The question with Meghan and Harry is how long it can go on after this latest rather repetitive instalment – or, indeed, how long anyone focused on new horizons really wishes to be trapped in this same old cycle. The cycle is certainly of the vicious variety. The Sussexes publicly say something; the papers pounce on it and make merry hell with it for days or weeks; some drama-queen palace courtier makes a disparaging off-the-record comment; a new grievance is thereby minted on which the Sussexes will soon publicly say something. Repeat cycle.
But is this just going to be it, for ever? The returns look likely to be diminishing. It will – surely? – eventually become incredibly boring. Indeed, for many, it already has, with even some sympathisers now judging that things could be a lot worse. Then again, I’m not sure they have the cost of living crisis in Montecito.
Despite it being a cliche, I do think one of the soundest pieces of advice is that the best revenge is a good life. However, the more classic form of revenge, which the Sussexes are pursuing, is much more lucrative. For all their talk of escape, they are still locked in a destructively symbiotic relationship with their detractors. “You shut up!” “No, YOU shut up!”
Crucially, though, their detractors also have a choice, which is to leave the entire thing alone. We do, after all, know this story now, and pretending that unignorable news is being made is just something you tell yourself as a fig leaf to keep running it all, at remorseless length, because it sells papers and drives traffic and engagement. But hey – everyone’s on the take.
As for the consumers of the endless psychodrama, there is little so enduring as the public’s unwillingness to see its part in all of this. A few years ago, Prince William and his brother participated in a documentary about their mother, in which they recalled the scenes in the wake of Princess Diana’s death, when the children were famously forced out in public to view tributes and observe the crowds. “People wanted to grab us, touch us,” remembered William. “They were shouting, wailing, literally wailing at us, throwing flowers, and yelling, sobbing, breaking down – people fainted and collapsed. It was a very alien environment.”
Alien is a kind way of putting it. Those people behaved weirdly and appallingly, yet would never dream of recognising their behaviour as such. Many of them are the same people now howling about the Sussexes, the same people who absolutely hoovered up the intrusive coverage of Diana, the same people who then pretended to be disgusted by it all after she died. The same people who demanded the late Queen leave off comforting her young grandsons at Balmoral, despite the fact they’d lost their mother, and come back to London to … what? Comfort them? Grow up.
But then a lot of people love all this stuff, whether or not they care to admit it. They love the drama, love to take it personally, love to get angry about it, love to act as if they know the family, love to paw bereaved children, love to comment, love the whole endless shooting match. Don’t get me wrong – I too am a grateful beneficiary, given I’ve just got another column out of it. But it all cuts both ways. A disapproving and enraged market is still a market. Whatever you think of Meghan and Harry and their truth, it’s difficult not to judge that much of the British public has a long, long way to go before it faces up to its own.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
What Just Happened?! by Marina Hyde (Guardian Faber, £20). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.