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  • Writer's pictureUrvashi Singh

WHY THE SOAP OPRAH? Indians on Oprah’s famed interview with Meghan Markle

Oprah Winfrey’s interviewing of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which was aired in the USA and UK on March 7 and 8 respectively has created speculative ripples across the world. The bold and candid exchange that was filmed in the distant, sunny lands of California unearthed a host of grim family disputes and prejudices that have rocked Britain’s royal foundations. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s contestation over racial discrimination and familial alienation triggered mixed reactions amongst their discerning audience, near and far. While some empathised with the couple’s challenging journey and praised their courage to be openly vulnerable, others slammed the interview as a publicity gimmick worthy of collective dismissal.

Almost a fortnight since the interview’s first broadcasts, condemners of racial discrimination remain firmly placed against indifferent realists who shrug stating, ‘what else did she expect as an outsider?’. Joining the latter, an entire bandwagon bemoans the evil influences cast by Markle on the otherwise innocent Prince Harry. In the meantime, I scoff and ponder over the relevance of this news sensation that sparked overnight while I was busy making an Eastward voyage to attend a dear friend’s wedding.

A topical advertisement created by de Cunha for Amul depicting Oprah Winfrey's interviewing of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (image copyright and source: Amul)

What had initially served as the primary fodder for tabloid news has now become the new buzzword for the better-reputed media houses, even in India’s politically saturated mediascape. But the peculiarity of India’s speculation over this interview is particularly hard to ignore, given the nation’s inaccessibility to the original two-hour-long footage via legal streaming sources. In other words, the larger national populace that is yet to learn its way around torrential streaming is left resorting to mere snippets of Oprah’s conversation with royal Britain’s dismembers over YouTube. India’s access to one of the modern world’s favourite soap operas that it has revised time and again thus stands limited to secondary sources of speculation such as tweets, tabloids and social media forwards that are detrimental to one’s mindset for obvious reasons.

I too count amongst the majority of non-American and British residents, who lack access to the interview’s original footage. But instead of joining the empty speculation and hearsay, I find better relevance in assessing India’s fixation towards transnational royal spectacles and hopefully, to help point towards its larger social consequence.

Our unity in diversity doesn’t spare an overwhelming pool of democratic citizens that outrightly denounce the validation of erstwhile royals, while sneakily curling up on their couches to indulge in an identical fascination for their present-day remnants. This duality of guilty pleasures and political righteousness excessively blotch modern-day discussions, sensibilities and outlooks of a large chunk of Indians who themselves seem unclear on what they are disagreeing upon.

Is it the present-day continuation of our democracy’s disenfranchised noble lineages, or one’s ability to divorce their fascination vis-a-vis their princely roots?

Does their cultural dividend cease to be of suitable convenience in our nation’s validation for democracy?

All in all, the underpinning public disapproval towards its own failure to let go of royal fascination percolates into a more vicious sense of prejudice against all those who inherited associations with India’s former-ruling classes by an accidental matter of birth.

The irony of a democracy contradicting itself in this elementary manner is obvious and yet, is found dismissed as an elitist argument. How does democracy prevail if a nation is to constantly flout the very elitism that bears its cultural dividends? What connects Oprah’s interview of the Sussexes to India’s gnawing disunity with its living cultural heritage is the common confusion that both nations hold in terms of their understanding of royalty.

Does royalty reside solely in its embodiment by what many perceive as undeserving, over-entitled and rich inheritors of bygone legacies?

Or does it dwell in the collective mindsets of people, and their repeated citation of that royalty?

A singular answer is unlikely to arise, but another question overarches its importance: how have we chosen to mediate our understanding of royalty? Are we ready to stand accountable for our rendition of familial identities as active perpetrators of pageantry? Or will we continue to feign a passive tolerance of princely shenanigans as if it played no role in ascribing our mundane lives with a momentary fantasy?

A classic example of this cliché can be found in an episode of Respectfully Disagree, a weekly podcast by The Swaddle titled ‘Are Royal Families Relevant Anymore?’. Barring one of the panelists, Carla, who was eloquent and well-informed of the matter being discussed, the other two, Aditi and Rajvi made careless speculations while citing Bollywood entertainers like Khoobsoorat as the holy grail of their limited knowledge on India’s present-day conceptions of royalty. Instead of grasping on the more pressing matters of racism and mental health that governed Oprah’s discursive intentions, the duo at this podcast spelled out their fascination for regal collections of taxidermy. Of course, had these trophies been collected in more recent times, they could be counted upon as fervent protesters for animal rights. So what if it spells some moral discord? Aesthetic is aesthetic, right? Much to Clara’s hesitation, their armchair idealism carries on in a similar spirit.

Which brings me back to a very valid concern that Markle raised in hindsight: what happens to the futuristic protection of her children from a pandemonium that clearly jeopardized her husband’s childhood? Is history repeating itself, as it often does? What must she do to avoid such consequences for her children? How is it not obvious to Markle’s professedly well-meaning speculators, that we and our speculation is the very source of that dreaded media contagion, and that our irresponsible maneuvers around commonplace follies only reduce our chances of finding the exit door from this judgemental house of mirrors?

Will our generation serve as the tipping point?

Do we even want to?

Our choices actively determine our media. And vice versa.

We are our media. And our media is us.

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