Editor’s note: Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, documentary film producer and author, including two books on gender and family and the forthcoming “Mean”, a book on misbehaving women, to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2024. His latest film, “King Coal” will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinion on CNN.
When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in early 2020 that they were stepping back from their roles as “senior” royals, effectively stepping down from the royal family, they described a culture of family tension, scrutiny without relaxation and a certain misogyny. They no longer wanted to be hounded by the media, obsessed, watched. Harry didn’t want to be constantly reminded of his mother’s tragic death every time he and Meghan were photographed. Meghan didn’t want to be a tabloid for what she wore, how she did her hair, where she was from or how much she liked or disliked the spotlight. They wanted to achieve financial independence, live like ordinary people, raise their children in private.
And yet here they are, taking part in — co-producing, in effect — “Harry & Meghan,” a new six-part docuseries whose first three episodes dropped this week, detailing their lives with a never-before-seen look at the the couple’s ‘personal archives’, comments from close friends and family members speaking for the first time and extensive direct access to Harry and Meghan themselves in filmed interviews over the past few years. The series opens with individual video diaries recorded by Harry and Meghan since 2020 – the first hint that they may never have really intended to keep their private lives private after all.
Indeed, what we learn from “Harry & Meghan” is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are less interested in staying out of the spotlight and more in keeping full control of how that spotlight puts them. make appear. But hey, that’s not how fame works.
Which is just one reason ‘Harry & Meghan’ is a royal disappointment. The couple left the family because they did not want to attract attention. But, very clearly, what they didn’t want was negative attention, or any criticism whatsoever – a very primitive (and, ironically, very regal) attitude. In life – in real life – there is no good without bad. The production is therefore an effort not to reveal in an honest and authentic way, to reveal “the full truth” that “no one knows” – as Harry says in the first minutes of the film – but to generate sympathy for them- same. Indeed, when asked why she wanted to do this documentary, Meghan replied: “When you feel like people haven’t figured out who you are for so long, it’s really nice to just be able to to have the opportunity to let people have a bit more insight into what happened and also who we are.
But who’s to say that people haven’t had a glimpse of who they are? What makes their version – a heavily produced, edited and vetted version – more honest than any version of their lifetime that has come before? It’s striking how the filtered version of events works in the series as their version of real life. Meghan recalls how when she first hooked up with Harry she wanted to revisit her Instagram feed to get to know him, and social media posts are a big part of the archive that guides their story together.
The fatal flaw of Harry and Meghan – both the couple and the film – is thinking they can control how others see them. None of us can. And that the couple keep trying, despite also asking to be left alone, reflects a naive outlook and dishonest attitude that viewers will pick up on, especially against the fact that the documentary strives to portray them as “more anchored” than the rest of the royal family. In reality, they are perhaps the most disconnected of all.
Equally disappointing is the content of the series, which is largely the same as we’ve seen or heard before. There are new aspects – friends who’ve never commented, photos we’ve never seen – but otherwise there’s little payoff and little to change people’s opinions of them. It’s self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and, frankly, a bit boring. They don’t seem any nicer and, in fact, maybe a whole lot less so. Notably, this may be the first time that much of the dislike has been directed at Harry, instead of just Meghan.
While once he may have been viewed by the public as an unfortunate victim of a cunning attention seeker, or suffering from a form of “repetition compulsion” in which he repeats in his life as a adult a scenario familiar to him from growing up with Princess Diana’s son, viewers will surely now have less sympathy. With ‘Harry & Meghan’, it’s clear he deliberately chooses to see what he wants to see.
In fact, if “Harry & Meghan” is a ploy to get people really uninterested in their whereabouts, well, that’s the only area where they may have succeeded. “I just really want to get on the other side of it all,” Meghan tells the camera in the opening minutes of the first episode. With “Harry & Meghan”, she could finally make her wish come true.