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When Windsor met Hollywood

The Meghan-Harry engagement brings some post-Brexit cheer

brunch Updated: Dec 02, 2017 22:08 IST
Rehana Munir
Ever since Harry and Meghan’s romance has been uncovered, the dreaded British yellow press has launched a vile attack on her credentials, both professional and social
Ever since Harry and Meghan’s romance has been uncovered, the dreaded British yellow press has launched a vile attack on her credentials, both professional and social(Photo illustration: Parth Garg)

There’s finally a bit of good news from Britain. The young Prince Harry is set to marry the woman he loves. She is a biracial American actor who is older than him, and has been previously married. If Britain had to vote on this match, we’d probably have another Brexit on our hands. And that’s why this is so cheering. The monarchy, Britain’s most striking symbol, has surprised us with some striking symbolism. Oh frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!

It’s always odd to do a semiotic analysis of personal relationships. Ideally, they’re about pheromones and flirtation rather than ancestries and careers. More in the Tinder zone than LinkedIn. (Fun to imagine Prince Harry’s Tinder profile. Regular British bloke. Interested in beer, steaks, adventure. And oh – fifth in line to the throne. Or Meghan Markle’s, for that matter. Yoga and avocado lover. Loves acting in multi-million dollar TV dramas and endorsing international charities.) But in a nation increasingly intolerant of diversity, the match comes as a hot cup of cocoa in a winter of discontent.

The royals are a gigantic brand that consumers will buy no matter what – but how they are sold is always in discussion. Whether it was King Edward VIII choosing Wallis Simpson over the throne in 1936 (she was a divorcee) or Lady Diana’s dissatisfaction with life in the palace in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Camilla Parker Bowles’ induction into the family in the early 2000s or Kate and Williams’ feel-good personas in the recent past, royal stories inevitably turn into simplistic fairy-tale narratives. Edward was cast as a betrayer who fed his base passions. (The Crown does a good job of retelling this story for TV.) Diana – first as the princess next door and later as theroyal set free. Camilla as the frosty home-breaker. And Kate and William as the classicbiscuit-tin royals with an ever-increasing brood.

Beyond a boundary

Ever since Harry and Meghan’s romance has been uncovered, the dreaded British yellow press has launched a vile attack on her credentials, both professional and social. Harry and the palace took on the smear campaign, calling it out as racist and sexist. For a young man who lost his mother as a direct consequence of prying paparazzi, this must be especially difficult. And it’s great to see him rise to his partner’s defence publicly and unequivocally. She, on the other hand, has downplayed the buzz around their recently announced engagement saying she’s been working right through the time they’ve been dating. Well played, overall.

Closer home, we consume stories from Bollywood with the same bottomless appetite. Whether it is Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, or Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, superstars in love are perennial news. And also a touchstone for how the nation thinks. Deepika and Ranveer, since they’re equals in the same industry, don’t really divide opinion.But when it comes to Anushka, the gloves come off regularly. For example, Indian cricket fans – not known for the their delicacy of thought or expression – have invented a nasty nexus between her presence at stadiums and the team’s performance.

Even Mayanti Langer, the excellent cricket host, is trolled viciously for the performance of her cricketer husband Stuart Binny, when it isn’t for her wardrobe (which, though the criticism is poorly expressed, is quite the eyesore) or weight (which is none of anyone’s business). Hillary Clinton, in her Trump victory post-mortem ‘What Happened’ talks about a time in the ‘80s when Bill Clinton’s political career was being adversely affected by her decision to stick to her maiden name. Sexism and misogyny seem to run across cultures like a third man in perpetual chase to the boundary.

Basic instinct

Whether it is England or India, the base instincts that push for Brexit or film bans are on the rise. At such a time, when high-profile romantic relationships incite nasty public opposition usually in the misogynistic zone, a royal wedding that defies the notion of the white, virginal princess is happy news indeed. While it is true that xenophobia is a serious matter that cannot be addressed by symbols and tokens, and that Markle is hardly non-elite, this engagement goes some way in aligning the other-worldly royals with the mixed society that they (notionally) rule over.

In Season 4 of Downton Abbey, when Irish chauffeur turned English gentleman Tom Branson is befriending a local schoolteacher,she rags him about his aristocratic in-laws. Inured to such taunts through previous seasons, he’s finally formulated a reply. “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” As much as one is tempted to mock the monarchy for their unreal existence, there are times when their choices mark them out as individuals rather than types. We don’t know how the relationship between Meghan and Harry will turn out. But that it has begun is worthy of a royal bugle.

From HT Brunch, December, 3 , 2017

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