Royal family is finally providing bang for the buck

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — We pardon the interruption of your regularly scheduled programming of global conflict, economic woes and morbid daily pandemic tallies to bring you the sordid tale of a married couple complaining to a billionaire about their family, from which they have recently emancipated themselves and now accuse of racist undertones, backstabbing, badmouthing and almost driving one of them to suicide.

Does that sound like a matter on which the White House and the prime minister of the United Kingdom should be commenting? Because they were asked to. Does it sound like something that 17 million Americans and millions more abroad would take time out of their own busy lives to witness? Because that indeed happened. All due to the fact that the family in question isn’t some unknown entity on a reality TV show but rather the British monarchy. And the couple in question is Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Their confidante? American talk-show mogul Oprah Winfrey. Crass and unbecoming of royals? Perhaps. But then what isn’t these days?

I’m from Canada, part of the British Commonwealth. It’s estimated that the royal family costs each of us in the Commonwealth $1.58 in U.S. dollars per year. The question for those paying taxes to the monarchy has always been whether we’re getting our money’s worth. Now that certain family members are putting on a show that costs far less than a monthly Netflix subscription, perhaps the answer is finally yes.

The big question seems to be whether Meghan and Harry will somehow reform the monarchy. Into what, exactly? From a rather boring reality show into a hit reality show? Mission accomplished. The Oprah interview is now widely considered to be the biggest royal interview since Princess Diana of Wales aired dirty laundry about her marriage to Prince Charles in a BBC interview a quarter-century ago, which is perhaps the last time anyone paid serious attention to the royals aside from the occasional wedding.

No doubt the monarchy takes itself seriously and has many people within “the firm” working hard on its branding. But the reality is that we’re a long way from the initial function and purpose of the British royals. Elizabeth I, for example, has a biography that reads like that of a military commander. But her reign was back in the 16th century, when the world was much different and monarchy was synonymous with government. While the queen is still technically the head of state of Britain and Canada, the prime ministers of those nations carry out the daily functions of running the country, while the monarchy has become a vestige.

In much the same way that the human appendix is considered an evolutionary remnant that played a digestive role back when humans were more herbivorous, the royal family no longer has a practical function. It exists to serve as a living reminder of the British Empire. It has a public relations function similar to that of foreign diplomats. But it has lost the power to shape actual policy, since such a role for a monarch would be incompatible with the modern democracy that Britain has become.

There’s nothing wrong with the monarchy serving as a living window into Britain’s past — a reminder of the nation’s roots. But the problem with being statues in a living museum is that it’s hard to know what to do with yourself when you wake up in the morning. Mostly, the royals try to spend their time serving charitable causes and bringing attention to various social issues. But now they’re competing for relevance in a noisy sea of “influencers” with jacked-up bums and chests, plastic after-market modifications, and a willingness to say anything to capture an audience whose attention spans increasingly approach those of fruit flies due to the rewiring of their brains by the instant-gratification programming of social media.

Now that Meghan and Harry have moved to Hollywood and picked a public fight with their family from across the Atlantic, they have already changed the royal family in a sense. With just one interview, they’ve made the royal family drama the hottest reality show in the world. People can’t seem to get enough, judging by the ratings. It may be incompatible with how the institution views itself, but it’s entirely aligned with what people seem to want in the current times. By playing things too straight, the monarchy would be making the same kind of miscalculation that Tom Cruise made by fancying himself a dramatic actor rather than a seriously talented comedic one.

In much the same way that the military-industrial complex is the ultimate winner when it sells weapons to both sides in a war, the British monarchy as an institution is the ultimate winner in this family skirmish. It’s back on the radar as an entity that’s relatable to a world captivated by publicly aired personal drama and nonstop oversharing.

The royals are finally showing the plebeians how it’s really done. Own it. Embrace it. Unless, of course, you have something more compelling to offer the thirsty masses paying for the privilege.