Why are Americans so obsessed with the British royal family?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, made headlines last week in their viral interview with Oprah Winfrey. Across the two-hour primetime special, the couple detailed the challenges they faced as a part of the British royal family and explained the reasons for their exit from the centuries-old institution, which ranged from discussions about “how dark” their son Archie’s skin might be to the continual neglect of Meghan’s mental health. Their interview exposed colonialist and racist sentiments that run deep in the United Kingdom and sparked questions about the inherent injustice that the monarchy represents. “Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok,” wrote Patrick Freyne in The Irish Times and agreed that the monarchy “looks archaic and racist.”
If the British monarchy is outdated and representative of its country’s racial inequality, why are we so obsessed with it? For example, 17 million people in the United States tuned into Harry and Meghan’s interview last Monday, and that demonstrated interest is just the tip of the iceberg. Television shows like “The Crown” have garnered immense viewership, which set records on Netflix with 3.36 billion viewed minutes; that’s 56 million hours, over 2.3 million days and over 6,000 years.
The media is a major perpetrator that piques our interest in people like the royal family. According to Time Magazine, “Constant media exposure also creates a feedback loop.” Because there is expressed interest in celebrities, the media churns out stories, pictures and other content about them. Because those celebrities are constantly covered by the media, people take interest in them, and so the cycle repeats. “We live in a media-saturated time,” Farley says. “In a sense, there’s no escape. Some people will become interested in the details.”
Farah Stockman from the New York Times suggests that American citizens find interest in the British monarchy as an escapist coping mechanism in response to the complications of our own government: “Amid the uncertainty and bad faith that has overtaken so much of American democracy, it feels good to escape into Avalor, a world [in the television series ‘Elena of Avalor’] where kings and queens rule benevolently over contented villagers, and nobody ever has to worry about voter suppression or the Electoral College. As terrible as the wicked witch is on the show, she’s not nearly as terrifying as the thought of millions of American voters who believe in QAnon or Pizzagate.”
We’re captivated by the British monarchy because it’s so remarkably different from our own. Whether we’re quelling our desires for wealth and significance or simply looking for somewhere to escape, it’s easy to turn to something semi-predictable that can distract us from our realities. “There’s nothing wrong with getting caught up in the details of a wedding you’ll never attend, or poring over pictures of the royal baby,” says Lynn McCutcheon, editor of the North American Journal of Psychology, “so long as you keep perspective.” The concept of a royal family is foreign and fascinating, but we must remember that it also represents a dangerous era of colonialism. American fans of British royalty should be careul to not fall prey to upholding harmful racist ideals.

Carole Chee ('24) is the editor for the Beyond section. A double major in English and Women's & Gender Studies, you can find her around campus in the Keppel House, behind the library's research help desk, or in the theatre props shop! She is passionate about uplifting each person's unique story and voice.

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