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Will ‘Harry & Meghan’ Get People to Admit That Parasocial Relationships Are Not Okay?

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex look on during the pre-game ceremonies before the MLB London Series game between Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at London Stadium on June 29, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Pool/Getty Images)

Over the past few years, we’ve all watched with horror (or, for some twisted souls, glee) as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have gradually had their lives ruined by the media. Paparazzi and British tabloids have hounded them, stalked them, fueled racism against Meghan, and even enlisted self-interested family members to rip their reputation to shreds. To what end? Well, racism and scandal sells more papers.

The new Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan makes it clear that they just want to be left alone. As a prince and an actress, they’re obviously public figures, but that doesn’t mean they owe the public intimate details about their personal lives. Obviously. Right? Why is this still apparently up for debate?

Tim Burt, strategic advisor to Harry and Meghan’s organization Archewell, offers an explanation in the documentary, saying that in the minds of the British media, “the taxpayer pays for the royal family, and in return for those payments … the royal family will be available to the media.”

If that’s the bargain, then it’s only right for Harry and Meghan to craft their own narrative. The artifice of the documentary is apparent throughout, especially in scenes that are meant to look spontaneous—for example, when Meghan wraps a towel around her head, sits down in front of FaceTime, and says, “I really don’t know what to say anymore.” You can see them working hard to create a counterpoint to the lurid fantasies of the tabloids.

And honestly, that’s not a knock against them—it sucks that they have to create that counterpoint. (Yes, Netflix paid them to make the documentary, but there are other ways to get paid.) The fact that they have to work with PR teams just to exist in the world points at the glaring, overwhelming problems with parasocial relationships (one-way relationships people develop with celebrities who don’t know them). The media’s obsession with tearing Meghan down—even aside from its blatant, infantile racism—reminds me of the anonymous Chris Evans fan who posted an open letter to him on Twitter to express their outrage that he’s in a relationship. Everyone knows how creepy and wrong it is to fixate on the private lives of people they’ve never met, and yet everyone who tears into a celebrity seems to think that their fixation is a reasonable exception.

Here’s my main takeaway from the Harry and Meghan documentary so far: They seem like nice, normal people, and I just want them to be able to lead a nice, normal life. That’s clearly the takeaway they’re hoping for in the documentary, and for me, it’s a success. It’s just bizarre that it takes so much work to achieve what should be the baseline for any human being’s existence.

(featured image: Dan Istitene – Pool/Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.