Meghan and the monster-machine
by Sam Kriss
Everyone knows that the British press is cruel and ugly and vicious beyond belief, but I’m still not sure you really understand just how miserable it is. Look: I know these people; I know them in my bowels. I have been to their interminable shop-talking pub nights. I have done cocaine at their parties. I have felt the stale aura, the hack hideousness that clings to these people, suds of grimy desperation, slug-trails glistening from Soho to Stratford and back again, binding the whole capital in their disease… The old Fleet Street veterans, obviously: hideous. Hair the colour of tweed, raked in thin strands over a snot-scratchy scalp. Teeth like a 70s interior, stained to a nice groovy tan. Smell of stale lager, grubby little eyes, a sneer: let’s say the immigrants… let’s say the immigrants ate a swan… But the young – the young are worse. They are smart, these young journalists, the ones pounding out their eighteenth article of the day, trying to incinerate some TikTok kid or gameshow contestant or Duchess of Sussex, but still managing to post all the right hashtags, support all the right causes, read all the right novels by all the right diverse authors… It’s a closed guild, and nobody comes up through graft alone; they’ve all got their degrees. The nice broadsheet writers, they’re the real simpletons; all the illiterates are happily gushing away in the pages of the Guardian. A Daily Mail hack is something else. She has no illusions; she doesn’t get paid enough for those. She hates what she does and hates herself and hates everything else in the world.
You might think journalism is about uncovering the truth, revealing the things people have a right to know, but she knows better. Journalism means stripping everything you have away. As soon as the vast roving eye of the press lands on someone, the sheer hatred of its glare starts to singe their clothes, it starts dissolving the ground under their feet. Local teacher in FAKE BUM scandal. Outrage after sick ‘influencer’ urinates in GRAVEYARD… Comb through their social media, rummage around in their bins, get the dirt, the beautiful filth. Scatter it everywhere! Pull everything into the annihilating light! Never forget that these are the scum who hacked into the phone of a murdered thirteen-year-old girl – well, don’t the public have a right to know? See their dead eyes as they say it. This isn’t about knowledge; it’s open warfare against everything good and wonderful in the world.
Is the press racist? Yes, of course it’s racist, viciously racist, but if you think that’s the primordial sin here then you don’t understand a thing. They have no real commitment to their racism; there’s no commitment to anything at all. These people don’t hate you because they’re racist; they’re racist because they hate you. Racism is useful: it helps them isolate their targets, unleash reservoirs of animus – but if it suits their purposes to accuse you of white fragility or implicit bias, they’ll do that instead. These were the jaws that lay waiting for Meghan Markle when she moved to this country. An evil unknown in sunnier lands. The Hollywood press will destroy you, sure. But they’ll destroy you like an over-excited five-year-old child destroys his favourite new toy. Smashing it about in glee, loving it until the head comes off. The British press will destroy you deliberately, with malice. They’ll do it just to watch you die.
That was the welcome party. Time to meet the in-laws. God, who are these people? We’re a long way from Hollywood now, Meghan; just look at this Gothic horror show of a family. Emotionally repressed, sun-starved, leaking dust out their joints; they don’t meditate, they don’t do reiki, they don’t even go for a hike unless it’s to shoot something on the way – oh, but here’s Prince Andrew, lumbering gump with a child sex slave in tow; maybe things aren’t so different after all… Indeed they aren’t. Engels once wrote that in addition to the standard-issue bourgeoisie, the English have managed to create a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat as well. What he forgot to mention was our bourgeois royalty. Ignore all the parp and the pomp, and the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha are a very familiar type: a pack of social climbers. People who spent the last century chasing after glamorous Americans and provoking national crises in the process. Fame goblins, starfuckers with awful chintzy furniture. C-listers! Dull!
They call themselves the Royal Family, but the United Kingdom is not a monarchy. Ask anyone who has sovereignty over these islands, and even the most devoted sceptresucker will have to work very hard to not just blurt out: well, the people, of course… We’re all Montagnards now. Still, popular sovereignty never really existed; it was always a sham, it doesn’t exist in capitalism and it won’t exist in the Something Worse that’s coming soon. A euphemism, a way to cover up the giant king-shaped hole in the liberal constitution: just plaster something called the people over the gap, and hope nobody steps in. But somebody did. Who governs Britain? The seeping hatred governs Britain; the poison in the water table governs Britain; the nexus of digital, social, and tabloid media is god and king and law. The monster-machine: it decides our elections, it leads us into wars. Remember in 2005, when a trio of royal princes were papped skiing in the Swiss Alps? Charles grinning for the cameras, but muttering through his teeth: bloody people, I can’t bear that man, he’s so awful, he really is… Is that really the posture of a sovereign? Is that the voice of the vitae necisque potestas? In 2012, the press published a photo of Harry’s dick and balls, and what happened? Fifteen years before that, the press effectively murdered a princess of the realm on foreign soil, and what happened? Nothing, that’s what: they have a monopoly on the use of deadly force.
Once, the absolutist monarchies turned themselves into vast spectacles: zebras and brocade, trumpets blare; gaze upon my magnificence… A nice trick while it lasted, but between the spectator and the spectacle something cancerous started to grow. Now you can watch The Crown on Netflix and switch over to the BBC News and it’s all the same show. Instead of a monarchy, we have some royals, a gaggle of chinless freaks for us to coo over. People still seem to believe the last lie left about this family: that they’re deeply private, that they prefer to keep to themselves, stiff upper lip and all that. No: this is the least private family on the planet. Kings no longer have two bodies; every swelling of a ducal uterus, every princely emission in an underage girl, is now in the common sphere. Unlike other celebrities, unlike even politicians, they are in no sense private individuals. Objects of mass consumption before they’re even born: the royal fetus, the royal blastocyst… In a way, the Royal Family are the most republican institution this country has: a res publica, a public thing. Ground zero for our age of mass digital surveillance and control, in which nothing is secret and you have to carefully curate your image at all times, or else. Not rulers: exemplary subjects.
And what about these royals: are they also racist? Again, yes, of course they are. But this racism works in curious ways. A tale from the family scrapbooks: in 1881, King Kalākaua of Hawaii visited England during his world tour, and was invited to a party at the Spencers’. Also in attendance: the Prince of Wales, who would one day become Edward VII, and his brother-in-law Frederick, Crown Prince of Germany. Edward insisted that Kalākaua should take precedence over Frederick, since a king outranks a prince; the Germans objected. Edward replied: either the brute is a king, or he’s a common or garden nigger, and if the latter, what’s he doing here? So, yes, racist – but between race and status, status usually wins. It’s not for nothing that in the run-up to the Duke and Duchess’s wedding, there was no question that the glamorous black mother of the bride would be invited – but her dad? This fat, balding, miserable schlub, this baseball-cap-wearing white-bread lumpen American from Newport, Pennsylvania… Not exactly sexy, is he? Not very aspirational. Not the type we want to be seen with, in case it rubs off…
Last weekend, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, performed a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey for American TV, in which she claimed that she had been mistreated by the British press and mistreated by the Royal Family and that this mistreatment was racist. I don’t doubt any of it for a second. I don’t doubt that they made creepy speculations about her son’s skin tone, and I don’t doubt that they left her contemplating suicide. Her story sounds like Bluebeard in his bloody chamber – but fairy tales are true. Bad things happen to the women who marry into this family; somewhere in its twelve-hundred-year history it picked up a curse. All the gold tassels in the world couldn’t cover up the crumminess of this land: there’s barely a mile between Kensington Palace and Grenfell Tower, and the headquarters of the Daily Mail are on the way. But then in the same interview, the Duchess told her in-laws: we haven’t created this monster-machine around us in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder, you’ve allowed that to happen. And again, there is a monster-machine, and the royals are in it up to their donkey-teeth – but what, exactly, does the Duchess of Sussex think she’s talking to? Oprah Winfrey? An old LA friend? And the multiple camera teams, crouching over her shoulder – did they just happen to come along too? It’s behind you, the monster is behind you right now…
In her interview, the Duchess of Sussex talked about a trip she and Prince Harry had made to South Africa. Because, she said, the Commonwealth is a huge part of the monarchy, seventy percent of which is people of colour, right? I know how important representation is… how much it meant to them to be able to see someone who looks like them in this position. So should township kids look at her and think, maybe one day I too can marry into the line of Theodoric of Wettin… There’s something very Anglo-American, very parochial, about this sort of idea. Why should South Africans need a European monarchy to give them a sense of worth? As the Duchess might be aware, since 1994 South Africa has acquired quite a few black faces in high places; black politicians, black intellectuals, a black business elite… But the poor are still poor. Diversifying the ruling class hasn’t stopped South Africa becoming the single most unequal society on earth. The thing that’s lacking in Africa is not black representation; its population are not a minority. But still, the Duchess blunders in with her Anglo ideas and her rigid Anglo schema of the world – how different is she, really, from the first crop of British royals to set their feet on African soil?
This is what it comes down to: she is one of the Firm, through and through. Already, a narrative is taking shape, Meghan vs the Monarchy – but there is no monarchy, and there’s no sense in which she is on the opposing side. These people are all the same. For all the rumours of some terrible rift between the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, when Meghan was first pushed in front of that burning eye I remember being struck by just how identical the two of them seemed: the same Photoshopped smile, the same bone structure, the same face, as if the royals were cloning these women in a lab. (Maybe that explains it: undifferentiation, mimetic crisis…) The Duchess is not trying to take down the monarchy. The sovereign function of the monarch is now invested in the press, and her interview could only feed the monster-machine, empower it, set its gears and tentacles whirring faster. I want only good things for the Duchess of Sussex and every one of God’s creatures, which is why she and Harry should move to a shack in the woods and forage mushrooms. But she won’t: she has to keep on producing the mediated spectacle of royalty. She’s good at it! Have you not seen her personal arms? A shield Azure a feather bendwise Argent quilled Or between two bendlets Or all between two like feathers Argent quilled Or… per the palace, the quills represent communication and the power of words. There’s also to the sinister a songbird Argent wings spread, which also represents the power of communication. Like all those B-movie villains, giving themselves clever little names; enchanté, I am Seigneur Méchant de Mont-Staire… She’s announcing to the world in heraldic code: I am the machine, the monster is me…
What she really wanted to do, it seems, is patch the monster over to a different version of the machine. Oprah instead of Piers Morgan; something a bit sunnier, a monarchy that might inspire people, provide a model of courage, tell them that their feelings are valid… the same compulsory disclosure, the same commodification of experience, the same spectacle, but now it’s supposed to be a kind of therapy. Maybe she’ll start a podcast. The Americans ate this up: the same old stale British shit, stewed cabbage and doldrums, but now it tastes so fresh. See how they applauded His Royal Highness Prince Harry The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton, and Baron Kilkeel – not for choosing his wife over his scummy little clan, which is genuinely honourable, but for confronting his white privilege. The same man who once gunned down Afghan herdsmen from his Apache helicopter: now he wants to talk about colonial undertones. He’s learned their language, and it’s working. They’ve shown that the monarchy does its job even better when stops even pretending to hold anything in reserve. Speak your truth, Hal! Make him King! Maybe in five or ten years, when the couple inevitably divorce, he’ll trot out the other side of this new vocabulary: abuser tactics, gaslighting, toxic personality… she isolated me from my family, manipulated me into denouncing them… Response from the other side, weepier than ever… And you: who do you believe? Because now that we’re talking about justice, it matters deeply who you believe; you have a moral duty to care about it. All the intellectuals and republicans are free to rubberneck at the royals just like everyone else… And the monster-machine-monarch clanks onward, shining under Californian skies, bursting with light, that bright clean pure annihilating light…
Remember that these people want you dead and your children burdened with an original sin invented a few years ago and destined to be viewed by historians as bizarre, early 21st-century blip of crowd madness a kin to Hitlerism and Robespierrism. They glory in your suffering, revel in your pain, and celebrate every malady you befall.
They commit sacrilege by using language, words–Logos itself–as a mere tool for the acquisition of power. The end of speech for them is power, not truth. The Abrahamic or eastern Spiritualist alike is at a disadvantage with this spawn of hell, who knows only of Machiavellian maneuvering and nothing of Plato’s public good or Aristotle’s civic duty.
They aren’t critics. They are haters. They aren’t journalists. They are Stasi.
The clarion call of “Stop!” has been ignored a thousand times. May the carrion bird feast upon the flesh of the lügenpresse.
It’s that tedious but still unanswerable question: what function does the Royal Family serve in 2021?
Divine Right? The sand’s shifting away: 10% of the population goes to church, and many Christians now hold a “render unto Caesar…” belief that the ruling power should be secular. The Prince dates erotic film actresses.
The economic argument that the Crown attracts tourism (etc) is too sordid to mention. It reduces the Crown to a kind of national Pachinko arcade machine that squeals and emits flashing lights and gobbles up quarters. It also implies that the Crown should be abolished if it ever starts losing money.
The Chesterton’s fence argument (“the Monarchy has existed for a long time, and uprooting it might have ill-understood negative effects!”) might be true. But by this logic you can’t change or improve any institution.
The last argument is that the Royal Family allows Britain to have a human face, one that can represent the nation’s interests while (in theory) staying free of partisan politics. A Saussurian could abstract Britain to a bunch of signifiers – a flag, a crown, an anthem. The Monarchy allows a person to signify Brtain, too.
But this defense has a big weakness: why should the crown belong to the House of Windsor?
If the monarchy’s just a glorified PR job, it should go to whoever does that job best. It should go to someone like Freddy Mercury or David Attenborough or Emma Watson or Gordon Ramsay. It should go to a charismatic public figure that people actually like.
I wonder if The Firm ever feels uneasy when a young, hip outsider like Wallis Simpson or Meghan Markle starts cutting in their territory. It’s gotta feel like seeing someone else apply for your job.
The last argument is, that you could end up with a presidency of unknown but now or one day perhaps problematic powers. The devil you know is completely impotent and likely to remain that way.
Your compromise not only seems workable but even has a Chesterton’s fence quality itself, as we may have been worshiping celebs a long enough time.
The Royal Family, and the concept of the Crown as ruling power and emobdiment of the State itself, is an ongoing legal fiction that allows us to retain everyone inside a web of relationships that has proven durable as a means for distributing and wielding state power. That’s all it is. But it’s a good system and it works well! And it’s not too expensive, except I guess in opportunity cost; but I’m happy not to engage in Experiments In Legitimacy.
« I don’t doubt that they made creepy speculations about her son’s skin tone, and I don’t doubt that they left her contemplating suicide. «
I think you are wrong about this – in my experience every métis is highly aware of skin colour, their own and others, and very interested in the potential colour of their children – to pretend this was imposed is a lie and to pretend that she wanted to kill herself is risible
She got frustrated, a control freak like MM – one of the distinctive elements she was not able to foresee or to control was her baby’s skin colour
In Africa the light coloured slaving tribes along the coasts prize and despise their all too evident associations with the whites, in turn are vilified by the darker skinned : even if colour varies widely within families and clans, the other darker tribes always can tell, and tar one and all with the same brush
What MM has done, along with the rest of the Americans, white black or anycolour is to re export their limited feelings and understandings of everything, whether to do with race celebrity or what and sell such as a get ahead
Also – MM is widely praised for sticking to her story, she’s’black’, so’s sticking to her ‘clan’ or whatever the current word they use to designate solidarity over and beyond any useful commonality or means of common interest – but Harry is praised for, temporarily at least, dumping his ?
This is merely, on both counts, upper class/ruling class behaviour- and media perfect
In Africa, where presumably all this originated, for the MMs call themselves African American (to the ridicule of most Africans who can see only the American) MM would be taken for & treated as a white, which she is, no matter how fancied up, and as you point out in a discussion of South Africa
The only people in Africa I have heard defend her, are precisely those in similar situation, with the same complication that they depend on the old colonial powers to validate their inability to know who they are or what to do about it –
What happened to the “Cancion de Trump” essay?
it’s five posts down. https://samkriss.com/2020/11/09/cancion-de-trump/
What with the Duke of Edinburgh, who wasn’t even Scottish, being dead now, I’ve been fascinated by the show of bad faith on social media about his purportedly racist humour. As @daily_barbarian says, we’re all crisis actors now, inserting ourselves into the discourse of events seeking to change the narrative with our “phony stakeholder” personas. But as I’m not hurt by his joke about the Scots, not one of his best, i couldn’t pretend to be hurt on behalf of the Hungarians, or anyone else. Nothing has ever depended on freedom from a DOE joke, that I can see.
Selina Tusitala Marsh, indigenous Pasifik one-time poet laureate of NZ, tells this story of her meeting with the dear old DOE.
DOE – and what do you do?
STM – I write post-colonial poetry
DOE – what do you mean, post-?
to one end of the political spectrum, this has to be either an intentional insult, or an unintended reveal of his true feelings. To the other end, it’s just a “gaffe”, to be forgotten ASAP.
I want to give it another reading (which could be true) – this spur-of-the-moment wisecrack was a gift to STM; a story she can tell that validates her anti-colonial work, proves that it is still relevant and needed.
Because (in my reading) the grand old DOE, however insensitive and sometimes narcissistic his comments, knew what was going on around him. He repeatedly met the people dismantling the Empire – a series of political events well out of Royal control anyway – generally liked them, and wished them good luck, in his own trying-to-be funny way, hoping and trusting that they could make a decent go of things, if they would only stay human enough to laugh at Royalty.