By Harvey Joyce
“The whole institution depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut… if any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of the tribal chiefdom is damaged, and the tribe eventually disintegrates.”
These are the words of the famous broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough when discussing a BBC documentary about the life of the Royal Family in 1969. Recently, many are questioning whether this institution has become too ‘Americanised’ and if thus they are slowly losing the ‘mystique’ and cultural reverence they once had.
One of the most significant recent events for the royal family was the recent interview Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had with Oprah Winfrey. This interview stripped away the typical grandeur and formality of royal interactions and was instead personal and authentic, brought to sharp relief when the mental strain Meghan Markle faced was discussed.
The interview elicited feelings of sympathy, shock, and betrayal from a global audience. This put an uncomfortable spotlight on the royal family, one which they struggled to respond meaningfully to. After growing pressure, Buckingham Palace had to break its silence on the matter and address it. It is rare for a private matter like this to become public for the ‘Firm’ and inevitably damaged the image of the institution.
A few decades ago, the country arguably felt rather removed from the royal family. With few exceptions such as newspapers, a radio address, or national events like royal weddings, the public has rarely caught glimpses of the everyday lives behind Buckingham Palace. As a result, some began to feel detached from the institution. This has all begun to change thanks to the emergence of social media.
The royal family’s presence has also increased in other media formats. The mainstream success of the Netflix drama series ‘The Crown’ may also fuel viewers’ speculation into the personal lives of the royal family, with the recent dramas blurring truth and fiction. These events are debatably ‘Americanising’ the royal family for a drama-obsessed audience of Anglophiles.
Meghan and Harry are also building their own brand and charity platforms. Recently, they have made deals with big media companies such as Netflix and Spotify for a lot of projects reportedly worth millions. It is too easy to point out the irony of British royals signing multimillion-pound deals with giant American brands.
Many critics may argue this emphasis on branding and over-exposure trivialises the ‘Firm’. The myth of the royal family is one of their biggest strengths: will this recent ‘Americanisation’ weaken them?
It is difficult to speculate how the royal family’s image will change in the years to follow, especially after the pandemic. With younger celebrities and influencers competing with established politicians to influence opinion, it is increasingly difficult for an archaic institution such as the monarchy to find its role in modern society. It is clear this tribe cannot rely on their ‘mystique’ any longer.
Image: Mommy Fleur via Flickr