The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are ubiquitous. They have become the objects of our derision, admiration, and most of all scorn. Frequently branded as pathological liars who long for the limelight, the press and the public are purportedly sick of them. Popularity opinion polls on members of the Royal Family routinely list the couple as the least popular, with some even revealing that they are more unpopular than the alleged sex offender, Prince Andrew.

The Daily Mail blasted: ‘OH, SPARE US!’ on its front page on the release of Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare. This was then followed by pages devoted to its rigorous analysis. There is a consensus that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle need to go away. The people are apparently full from their buffet of gossip and falsehoods. But all is not as it seems.

Profit Potential of the Sussexes

Nevertheless, the people and the press need Harry and Meghan. The royal industrial complex, including royal journalists, biographers and content creators, profits from the persistent and sometimes, manufactured controversy surrounding Harry and Meghan. Research from Bot Sentinel disclosed how three women in particular (According 2 Taz, Murky Meg and Yankee Wally), whose content solely surrounds the Sussexes, have ‘a combined 70+ million views and an estimated $494,730 in total YouTube earnings.’ And this is only three creators. Content creators can earn a healthy living from criticising the couple. Revenge, describing the ‘war between the Windsors’ by former investigative journalist and critic of the Sussexes Tom Bowler, is a Sunday Times bestseller.

Despite Harry and Meghan stepping back as senior Royals, their names are routinely splashed across the papers, arguably more than other senior members of the Royal Family. According to google trends, the couple is more googled than the Prince and Princess of Wales, King Charles and Queen Camilla. A look at the media prior to the coronation, it was as if the Duke and Duchess were being crowned on May 6 given the volumes of speculation and gossip being printed over their attendance.

Even when the Prince and Princess of Wales are the central subjects, the Sussexes invariably make an unnecessary appearance. In February, Telegraph detailed Princess Catherine’s supposed ‘rebranding masterclass’ that could finally ‘see off Meghan.’ Despite the article’s subject matter being the Princess of Wales, the Duchess’ name found its way into the title and the contents.

Regardless of the public’s common outcry that they are smothered by the incessant news from the Sussexses, there still is a rabid appetite to devour every titbit of content about them. Doubtful? Here’s a glimpse: Prince Harry’s memoir sold over 1.4 million copies on the first day of its release and is the fastest-selling memoir; Archetypes charted No. 1 in six markets worldwide; Harry and Meghan broke Netflix records; and, last but likely not least, The Bench was a No.1 NYT bestseller.

Creating Villains and Heroes

Popular culture enjoys copying fictional narratives. The vicious witch acts as an evil counterforce to the celestial heroine, Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. Similarly, public figureheads are often transformed into fictional characters of varied moral standing by the press and public. The press places its stock in a virtuous character. By contrast, everything the virtuous is, the villain is not. The villain is a living embodiment of what the virtuous is not — narcissistic, parasitic, and repugnant. And so, following that great tradition of boldly assigning moral status to those with social status, we arguably need a villain. We need Harry and Meghan to square off with the hero; in this case, the British Royal Family. However much we root for the hero and heroine, tales of the wicked hold a perverse pleasure in the public’s imagination. The ongoing Royal Drama plays out like a real-life soap opera where we chide and lambast the villains of the saga, while paradoxically ingesting every episode they star in. We pick the team we want to support — British Royal Family — against the one we want to flagellate — Harry and Meghan.

And the fatal flaw that determines their villainy? Criticising the Institution and the British Media. When you criticise the life source of an institution (the press) and a cornerstone of the nation (the Royal Family), the press will not be kind in their subsequent coverage. For many Brits, to criticise the monarchy is to criticise the British public. It is to attack and question the integral identity of what it means to be British for so many of us. In short, it is perceived as an attack on national identity rather than a critique of a restrictive system determined by birth and a ruthless press that whips up a pile at the expense of the subject’s sanity.

Regardless of the press and public’s insistence that they are sick to death of the couple, the numbers from their productions do not lie. The press has a financial incentive to continue creating commentaries on the couple and the public has a social incentive; a recreational collective hatred of polemical public figures. In 2019, journalist Catherine Bennett aptly observed that ‘tormenting the Duchess of Sussex has become a national sport, limited only by the supply of new material.’ Royal commentators, Royal experts, Snark Instagram accounts and the public spin conspiracies and critical thought pieces about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. From having ‘vulgar’ nails to implying the Duchess’ depression is a work of fiction, to accusing the Duke of being tyrannical, the carrousel of condemnation never stops. And why should it?

To devour the contemporary tale of the British Royal Family without Harry and Meghan, would be to consume a fairy tale without its villainous terrors. Now that would be monotonous and dull. We need Harry and Meghan, as we all need villains to loathe.

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