Fake News? Baudrillard and the Royals

Meghan’s dramatic words have real-world effect; The Sussexes’ claims have undermined the monarchy and done lasting damage to the Commonwealth

The Daily Telegraph (London)

March 15, 2021 Monday
Edition 2, National Edition
Copyright 2021 Telegraph Media Group Limited All Rights Reserved

Section: NEWS; Pg. 17
Length: 868 words
Byline: TIM STANLEY

Body

Two headlines appeared on the BBC News website on the same day. At the top: “Harry and Meghan rattle monarchy’s gilded cage”. At the bottom: “The kidnapped woman who defied Boko Haram”. Well, that puts the Sussexes’ problems in perspective, doesn’t it? Yet across Africa, one reads, the Duchess’s story has revived memories of colonial racism, tarnishing the UK’s reputation, and has even lent weight to the campaign in some countries to drop the Queen as head of state.

The only nation that seems to think a lot of nonsense was spoken is Britain. In the wake of an interview that Joe Biden’s administration called courageous, British popular opinion of Harry and Meghan fell to an all-time low, and the American format had a lot to do with it. Oprah Winfrey is not our idea of an interviewer. She flattered, fawned and displayed utter credulity. Imagine if it had been her, not Emily Maitlis, who interviewed Prince

Andrew over the Jeffrey Epstein allegations. “You were in a Pizza Express that day? Oh my God, you MUST be innocent! Tell me, in all honesty, though … did you have the dough balls?”

This wasn’t an interview, it was a commercial for a brand called Sussex, a pair of eco-friendly aristo-dolls that, if you pull the string, tell their truth – which isn’t the truth, because no one can entirely know that, but truth as they perceive it. “Life is about storytelling,” explained Meghan, “about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we’re told, what we buy into.” Meghan is a postmodernist. Just as Jean Baudrillard said the Gulf War never happened, but was choreographed by the US media, so the royal narrative she was forced to live was fake, her public happiness was fake and, following that logic, this interview might have involved an element of performance, too.

People have challenged her claims, alleging contradictions and improbabilities, but one of the malign effects of wokeness is that you have got to be very careful about pointing this out. Why? Because wokery insists on treating a subjective view as objective truth, or even as superior, because it’s based upon “lived experience”. To contradict that personal perspective is perceived as cruel, elitist and, in Meghan’s case, potentially racist, so it’s best to wait a few weeks to a year before applying a fact check. In the meantime, affect sympathy. People would rather you lied to their face than tell them what they don’t want to hear.

The result is profoundly dishonest, for I have never known an event over which there is such a gulf between the official reception, as endorsed by the media and politics, and the reaction of average citizens, who are wisely keeping it to themselves. Into that vacuum of silence steps not the voice of reason but bullies and showmen – like Piers Morgan, who said some brash stuff about Meghan’s honesty and, after an unseemly row on Good Morning Britain, felt obliged to resign from his job. “If you’d like to show your support for me,” he wrote afterwards, “please order a copy of my book.” Dear Lord, was this row fake, too? I can no longer be sure, though I despised Good Morning Britain before and still do: it embodies the cynical confusion of emotion and fact, a show made for clicks where even the weatherman has an opinion.

So what is real in 2021? The Commonwealth, which does a lot of good in a divided world. The monarchy, which has been at its best during the pandemic, doing the boring stuff of cutting ribbons and thanking workers that, one suspects, Meghan never grew into (can you imagine her opening a supermarket in Beccles?). It contains flawed people, but that only adds to its realness, and they can adapt faster than you might think.

Prince William got the ball rolling by telling reporters, who he is trained to ignore, that his family is not racist. His wife paid her respects to the murder victim Sarah Everard, demonstrating that she is neither cold nor silenced. I’d wager Kate does her duty, day after day, no complaint, not because she is “trapped”, as Harry uncharitably put it, but because she loves her family and believes in public service.

Meghan and Harry have indeed prompted the Royal family to change: not in order to endorse their criticisms, however, but to answer them.

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