The Crown and what it taught me
They say, art parodies life. The royal feud involving Meghan Markle and the British Monarchy was labelled a ‘drama’ by experts and laymen alike. Perhaps this is the result of watching a steady dose of dramas, not just about British Royals, but about Royalty in general.
Because of such dramas, we become privy to a royal family’s dirty laundry as if granted window access to its palace or castle for free.
The Allure Of Dramas About Royals
In Pakistan, I could clearly recall the frenzy around the Magnificent Century – a Turkish historical series based on the life and times of Sultan Suleyman. The ‘family drama’ on display glued viewers across the eastern world to the series. It was captivating to see the Sultan crying out as his handicapped baby son, Cihangir, goes through a 15th century bone alignment surgery. Behind the facade of a mighty ruler, an ordinary father had emerged.
The British Monarchy And Us
In my mother’s youth, it was Diana vs the evil saas and now the history repeats itself, albeit with modern twists; in that there is now a racial element involved; that the ‘outsider’ girl is not fighting alone – her husband is with her and that the opposing side isn’t just one villain, but an institution, or the firm as Meghan calls it: something that has long lived past its significance.
We too, are careful not to leak our dining table conversations to the world; an outsider bahu, suspiciously remains a stranger; an illness has to be hidden at all costs – especially mental ones. Such families place honor and a taintless image above the wellbeing of humans constituting it. Family – the noun, supersedes family, the adjective.
So Where Does The Crown Fit Into All This?
I’ve long been wary of fictional displays of British Monarchy on screen. What insight have such shows ever given us?, I would argue. It was hard to explain – until recently – how swearing my allegiance to this Netflix show would humanize the very family we love ridiculing, for being too smug for its own good.
The Crown is the story of a family of up-tight monarchs and their cut-throat attempts to preserve an institution that is slowly losing relevance; for up until season 4, the royals are still very much in the political and social arena but we all know that by the last two seasons, that all will change. The very emblems of nepotism and regressive reverence of bloodlines seem out of place even in the 1970s.
I watched The Crown as a sour reminder of the ridiculousness of it all, only to relive it in the 24/7 live news in early 2021. On screen, The Crown made me empathize with the monarchy desperately fighting for its prestige against the tirades of time. It is always wickedly entertaining to see tragedy unfold on screen, at a distance but more so if it involves people trapped in palaces, who – we think without much self awareness – view themselves as soldiers sacrificing their humanity in the line of duty to something that is above all of them: duty to their legacy, duty towards the ‘institution’.
My little family skirmishes appeared nothing compared to these doomed saviors of traditionalism, born into servitude, in a sense, to the archaic idealism that – we assumed – had shrunk to nothing in the modern age. My own miseries felt trivial, less burdensome than of those bound to their crumbling shacks in the middle of a storm.
The Royals And My Family
Watching rich people suffer has its own perverse charm after all. But for me, personally, it reflected the hushed silences of my own household. The times when I wanted my father to say something and was instead greeted with resounding apathy, were masterfully juxtaposed on screen each time Oliva Coleman pursed her lips when a verbal response could have made things much easier.
But the recent headlines around the British Monarchy have made this modernist/traditionalist conflict (that reaches the pinnacle in Season 4) scarily real. What our young mothers saw happening to Diana on their black and white TV sets, we see playing out again on our phones. We have (and will in seasons 5 and 6 ) watched that era. The Crown, by some quirk of fate, came to the rescue of the ‘institution’ and all its – willing and unwilling – upholders when the Megan crises were due to unfold.
The Humanity Of The Monarchy
When one side of the media – on the soundtrack of Oprah Winfrey’s dramatic sighs – berated the archaisms of the institution, and the other side clung to hailing praises on the patriotism of the condemned soldiers of the same, The Crown made me see middle ground.
I saw the royal family members, both insiders and outsiders, coming to terms with the cost of their titles; whose job profile: to be apathetic, is constantly tested; I saw the Queen’s indifferent limbs struggling to hug achingly sensitive Diana; I saw the stoic expression, hardened by years, unyielding and notoriously disarming; I saw each member of this cult, with witheringly bitter faces, so ganged up in their own chains that sympathizing with those struggling to breathe within it, is impossible for them.
The Harry/ Megan fallout then follows the tragic arc of Diana’s doomed future within the monarchy. Her royal love story became a cautionary tale but it also lent her a luminosity post her death. A symbolic, posthumous glow reflecting the fragility and poignancy of rebelling against the institution. Unlike the language that the news media has deployed to discuss the latest royal scandal, in the Crown, an aggressive silence does the heavy lifting in the royal feuds. Unlike the dramatic flourishes of newsreels, the lives of royals are so emotionally stilted that they can’t afford the luxury of speech.
These lives just live, talk, sit, and un-feel.
The royal family members, both reel and real, then become just a bunch of victims, who resent each other as well as a differently raced outsider, for stealing their victimhood; Diana’s and Meghan’s empire dethrones them from self-pity and villainizes their sacrifice – the sacrifice of failing to be a human first, and a servant later.