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Meghan Markle’s activism fail

From a ukulele-playing 12-year-old to a trio of Texan tenors to a Las Vegas-bound ventriloquist act, America’s Got Talent has helped myriad wannabes and TV hopefuls find fame. Consider also that the show has also managed to give professional mouth-to-mouth to Mel B, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne’s careers in the US. However last month…

From a ukulele-playing 12-year-old to a trio of Texan tenors to a Las Vegas-bound ventriloquist act, America’s Got Talent has helped myriad wannabes and TV hopefuls find fame.

Consider also that the show has also managed to give professional mouth-to-mouth to Mel B, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne’s careers in the US. However last month it was a very, very surprising face who appeared on the contest to seemingly bolster their image: Meghan Duchess of Sussex.

Wearing a chic camel blouse, she sent a message of support to contestant Archie Williams who was previously wrongly-incarcerated for more than 37 years, with her artfully arranged collection of candles in her off-white Santa Barbara living room on exquisite display.

In a year when the royal status quo has not so much been disregarded as left by the wayside, this was a first like no other, the inaugural outing of a one-time senior member of the house of Windsor on a US prime time TV talent show.

(Let’s just for a moment pause and imagine Her Majesty’s face when a pinstriped courtier popped his head around her door to inform her that her granddaughter-in-law had just appeared on the same show as Simon Cowell.)

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Meghan’s AGT star turn was just one of the numerous video appearances the former HRH and husband Prince Harry have made in the past six weeks, with their beige sofa becoming as ubiquitous a presence in the media as a Bachelor evictee with a new spray tan to spruik.

A few highlights: Meghan enjoyed a garden tete-a-tete with feminist icon Gloria Steinem; appeared twice as part of Fortune magazine’s invitation-only digital confabs (one $18,000-a-head and the other one a comparative bargain at $2,369 for a ticket); both the Sussexes were featured on the Time magazine’s 100 list and used a pre-recorded video to mark the honour as an opportunity to dive, headfirst into the US presidential election; and enjoyed a recent confab with Nobel prize Winner Malala Yousafzai.

The Sussexes have also, during other notable video appearances, said the Commonwealth needs to confront its “uncomfortable” history including the slave trade and discussed “structural racism” in Britain.

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In their guise as West Coast activists par excellence, their to-do list has also included tackling online hate, the addictiveness of social media, racial injustice and climate change.

Taken as a whole, it’s an impressive agenda driven by their core beliefs but there is a deep-rooted problem with their current strategy.

Time and again we’ve seen the Sussexes eloquently and passionately speak out about issues, drawing global attention to them, and drumming up media interest … only for them to log off and move onto the next of their causes du jour.

For all their clamouring to make the world a better place, they are starting to look more and more like all they are is sound and fury signifying another Zoom call.

Sure, maybe Harry and Meghan have been quietly plugging away in their (I’m guessing) his’n’hers studies, MacBooks purring as they come up with concrete solutions and strategies to help address the causes that matter to them. But if so, they are yet to show the world.

And that’s a risky strategy.

The duke and duchess’ new life – and new brand – is built on the image of them as dynamic change makers and leaders, two people standing at the head of a global groundswell of grassroots do-goodery.

However, nearly all of what we have seen them do is sit on their sofa and earnestly point out society’s problems, without offering up a single original or practical answer.

Their hearts might be in the right place but their brand is now starting to take on a distinctly pessimistic hue. Every time their faces pop up on a screen now it triggers the Pavlovian expectation that audiences are about to get another wide-eyed demi-sermon about the contemporary ills of the world.

Here’s the thing: This model of activism is only going to work for so long. True visionaries don’t just point out obstacles or issues on steady rotation, they also get stuck into solving them. If the Sussexes want to keep snagging coveted invites to prestige events a la Fortune and Time, they need to actually start notching up some concrete achievements to their famous names.

If they fail to do this, they are only adding fuel to the fire of critics who have cast them as amateur Obamas sprouting a mishmash of woke platitudes in between scribbling in their dream journals.

Contrast all of this with the approach of William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They too have been stepping up their official engagements of late and pushing their pet causes; for him, climate change and environmental conservation and for her, early childhood development.

Consider William’s celebrity-driven $100 million EarthShot prize and Kate’s Five Big Questions parents survey, both unveiled amid carefully orchestrated PR campaigns. These are both projects that have been meticulously thought through and executed before being rolled out with NASA-level precision.

Yes, neither of the Cambridges’ campaigns are going to set the world on fire or are particularly bold or thrilling but they will make a tangible difference, something that the Sussexes have yet to quite achieve.

Adding to this is the fact that William and Kate’s projects are both inherently optimistic, the underlying message being that change is impossible.

Essentially, William and Kate are beavering away on their legacy projects while Harry and Meghan seem to be spending their days readjusting their iPhone ring lights and fluffing their sofa cushions in readiness for their next cozy chat.

Complicating all of this further is the fact that the couple are one Dancing With The Stars guest slot away from being dangerously overexposed. The lure of royalty lies in that it is a precious and rare commodity. When the Queen’s grandson and granddaughter-in-law are picking up similar media opportunities to the denizens of the Real Housewife universe, their inherent brand value is in danger of being seriously cheapened.

Having hit the six-month mark in California, what is marked about Harry and Meghan’s approach is how ambitious it is, however the challenge they now face is translating all that talk into action.

Still, if there is one asset that is highly prized in their new home state it is up and at ‘em aspiration. Just ask Simon Cowell and that teenage ukulele player.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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