Do you know what it’s like to be estranged from someone you once loved dearly? Or publicly denounced by someone you once considered a trusted friend or beloved family member?
Not so fun. As too many of us know, this kind of relationship meltdown can be painful —especially when the hope of reconciliation persists. Nearly a quarter of us are estranged from at least one family member, according to a recent HarrisX poll conducted for the Deseret News. Maybe that’s one reason that some of us have been engrossed with what’s been happening with Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and the House of Windsor.
There are bad reasons, of course, to be consumed in happenings at Buckingham Palace —from a voyeuristic fascination with tabloid-style drama to unhealthy fixations on celebrity culture. And in so many ways, the experience of the royal family is exceptional and unrelatable for those of us just trying to make ends meet. After all, we’re talking about real-life princes and princesses here — a family whose collective net worth has been estimated at $28 billion.
In other ways, though, the duke and duchess of Sussex are living out universal struggles as they grapple with the residual effects of past trauma (especially the untimely death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana) and how to respond to tensions bubbling over in their most important family relationships.
The possibility of reconciliation always exists. But Harry and Meghan have very publicly made a different choice — one with momentous consequences for the future of their most precious relationships.
For those out of the loop, Prince Harry recently completed what The Washington Post called “a full broadside against Buckingham Palace” through interviews to promote his new book, which followed a Netflix series and an earlier interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The allegations raised range from the serious to the silly, such as Kate Middleton being reluctant to share lip gloss with Meghan and insinuations that Meghan gave better hugs. Previously, Harry and Meghan suggested that racism was influencing the royal family, which had been especially troubling to the queen. Among the more incendiary accusations recently is that members of the family have been “actively feeding negative stories to the press” and that they were effectively forced out of their roles as members of the royal family. (This, alongside some embarrassing details of a brotherly squabble from past years that left Harry on the floor after his elder brother William, the future king, “came at me.”)
More than sharing simple objective facts, Prince Harry has chosen what Patti Davis calls “words that cut deep, that leave a scar”— for instance, calling William an “arch nemesis.” As The Atlantic writer Helen Lewis describes it, Harry’s anger “ooze(s) out of every page” — with the publicity push reflecting the “true quality of a family quarrel, reheating decades-old grievances, and marked by an unquenchable thirst for the last word.”
In the wake of so much “toe-curling detail,” a British broadcaster and friend of the duke for 20 years, Tom Bradby, asked Harry “why he was revealing the most intense, most intimate moments of his life and laying so much of the blame at his family’s door” and why he was “burning his bridges and had deployed a flamethrower against the royal family.”
Harry’s pushback was rapid and curious: “None of anything that I’ve written is ever intended to hurt my family.” Rather, he insists his aim was simply to “give a full picture of the situation.”
However noble the couple’s true intent may be, the hurt for their loved ones in the bull’s-eye is real.
There’s a long and painful history of public denunciation of family being framed as an act of noble truth telling. At its far extreme, memoirs such as Ji-li Jiang’s “Red Scarf Girl” detail how denunciation of family members was a building block of the brutal cultural revolution in China. Closer to home, a cottage industry of podcasts and influencers essentially dedicated to denunciation has sprung up — including those on a mission to dress down a particular faith, an individual or a corporation, like Sea World.
Within the popular narrative of our day, these public denunciations are portrayed as courageous attempts to stand up to hegemonic injustice. Any resistance that arises to these brave truth-tellers is likewise framed in a predictable way. As Harry explains the pushback he’s received, “if you speak truth to power, that’s how they respond.”
In all this, Harry and Meghan are embodying a cultural trend to reject institutions and historic authority — with associated costs for our…