Is it worse to profit by hating Meghan Markle and Harry Winsdor than it is for Markle and Windsor to profit by sharing their own seemingly bottomless reservoir of antipathies?
Despising the duke and duchess of Sussex has become a subgenre of mostly right-of-center news and media; the yin to the yang of endless, breathless, Oprah-riffic coverage of the second son and daughter-in-law of King Charles III. Together, it’s got all the markers of the trashy, personality-driven news coverage that consumes so much of our attention: scandal, allegations of racism, counterallegations of reverse racism, palace intrigues (literally, in this case), celebrity, and, of course, Donald Trump.
Whenever one tires of his or her hypocritical worship or denunciations of Elon Musk, the renegade royals are always there as culture war avatars to show one’s group membership and aim bad juju at the other side. And lots of clicks and gross ratings points gather around these totems, some to adore, some to discern sacred attributes, some to gawk, some to ogle, and many others to heap scorn.
For themselves, Windsor and Markle seem to be making a pretty swish life out of complaining about the swish-yet-restrictive lives they led before. But at least the gossip and ill will they are selling is their own. It seems worse—more lurid, more pitiful, more of an invitation to envy and contempt—to make a living out of publicly obsessing over the ill will and gossip of others. And as creepy and exploitative as it is to professionally fixate on individuals one professes to support or admire, what wretched souls would want to earn their bread by performatively despising strangers? Strangers who have no effect on life for anyone outside of their small orbits. There’s got to be a better, less harmful way to make a buck than vituperating people who are very, very easily ignored.
I hope I can mostly excuse myself for using the celebrity-obsessed and obsessed-over couple because The Dispatch doesn’t get paid by the click. I could have used any fame-ball media controversialists past or present to prove my point. Indeed, celebrity gossip and its envies and petty hatreds dressed up as news is nothing new—especially for that family. The dalliances and divorces of Harry’s’s parents, his aunt Margaret, and his great-great uncle Edward have been cash cows since the dawn of the age of mass media. Or we could talk about the same phenomena among us commoners, from William Randolph Hearst exploiting the scandals of Fatty Arbuckle to the media exploiting the alleged brainwashing of Hearst’s own granddaughter, Patty, by her kidnappers 50 years later, to the O.J. Simpson trial to, well, seemingly about every third news story these days.
I use Markle and Windsor only because their story is very much on display after the Netflix “docuseries” about their travails, which are treated as matters of universal import and history. I watched a bit and will happily save anyone the trouble: It is as boring, banal, and irrelevant as you suspect. These are people who use phrases like “that’s the piece that was so triggering” without irony. So what? There’s no end of vapid, celebrity-obsessed television and media, and this is hardly the worst of it. Harry & Meghan is See It Now compared to The View. So why would anyone take the time to attack it?
It reminds me of the old joke about the two guys at the construction site who sit down and open their lunchpails. The first guy exclaims, “Tuna fish, again!? I’m so tired of tuna fish!” His friend asks incredulously, “Why don’t you ask your wife to stop packing you tuna sandwiches for lunch?” Comes the indignant reply: “Hey, buddy, I pack my OWN lunch.”
Some things are just annoying. Like needing a password to unsubscribe from email marketing spam CBS Sports sends to me because I once joined a basketball bracket three jobs ago. Email marketing doesn’t care that I hate it, and I surely do. Jim Natnz, chuckling with gentle pleasure as he sends his goat/wreath/trophy/present emoji Christmas texts to Tom Brady and Tiger Woods, will never know of my long struggle to be free of his company’s schlock solicitations.
I have unhealthy resentments of direct marketing, the phrase “welcome in,” tennis shoes worn with suits, overcooked but still raw onion rings, the use of “impact” as a verb by people who don’t know “affect” from “effect,” Ohio drivers, people saying “can I get” instead of asking “may I please have,” text abbreviations (srsly), slow bad golfers, Maryland drivers, customer service surveys, canned laughter, bass-boomers, non-door holders, public speakerphone yakkers, eaters of fragrant takeout on airplanes and—John Stith Pemberton preserve us—“Is Pepsi okay?”
But, provided that I do not ever shove a Titleist up the left nostril of someone plumb-bobbing a 25-foot putt for double bogey or ram the next minivan with an Ohio State sticker I see cruising in the passing lane, my resentments will never *ahem* impact any of the perpetrators of these miseeds. Only I will suffer for my disordered priorities. As my old daddy used to tell us, resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies.
But what if I can find a way to turn my resentments into a job? I don’t mean Jerry Seinfeldian complaints about the quotidian annoyances we all share, but rather the very specific, very accusatory expressions of resentment that are so common to news coverage these days.
When the headline praises someone for “annihilating” a high-status member of the other tribe or claims that one of the good guys “destroys” one of the bad guys, the purported victims are not hurt at all. In fact, the attacks typically strengthen their standing in their own communities. But the hatred of strangers that drives the clicks or ratings does seep out into the cultural mainstream. The original comment or joke isn’t the problem nearly as much as the regurgitated, amplified exploitation of these resentments for a quick click.
It’s bad enough that the Markle-Windsors of the world want to make a living out of their resentments, and worse still that so many sprint to their aid to get cut in on a piece of the action. But hating the haters? Surely life is too short for that.