Markle our guilty pleasure and a great distraction

Markle our guilty pleasure and a great distraction
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving after their visit to Canada House, central London, meeting with Canada's High Commissioner to the UK, Janice Charette, as well as staff to thank them for the warm hospitality and support they received during their recent stay in Canada. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas /PA Wire.

This week, with Australia burning and the prospect of World War IIIa war between Iran and America on the horizon, Megxit is the easy news we’ve all been looking for.

Can’t get your head around the politics of the Middle East and US/Iranian relations? There’s always been Meghan Markle’s wardrobe, birth plan, or postnatal mental health for us to talk about.

Powerlessly despairing about the images of charred animals down in Australia? Meghan’s latest move, to “step back” from the royal family, has set the media and Twitter alight with opinions, criticism, and investigations.

Famous boy meets famous girl, they marry and have a baby shortly after, is a very easy story to follow. It’s entertainment.

The same cannot be said of precarious international relations that involve someone as erratic and unstable as Donald Trump. And seeing fires ravage their way across dry land, amidst rising temperatures, certainly doesn’t qualify as entertainment either.

In a world where we often feel so utterly powerless to affect any kind of meaningful change, titillating tales about celebrities and royals havealways served as a great distraction for the weary public, and a great cash cow for the media.

Meghan and Prince Harry, who were never going to get anywhere near the throne in their lifetime, essentially called time on their public royal life this week, stating their goal ofbecoming “financially independent”.

The response and backlash was so immediate and manic, it was as if the fires in Australia and the tensions in Iran had evaporated in an instant.

The British media did not take kindly to the couple’s latest manoeuvre.

There was the message of “good riddance” and the likening of their decision to hitting the “nuclear button”. The hysteria was palpable, not justified.

If only the media could take on elected officials such as Trump and Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison with the same force as they take aim at Meghan Markle.

After all, is it not the paid job of politicians to legislate for a fairer, safer, and more equal world? It’s easier to outrage at a 38-year-old woman of colour than it is two powerful white men.

But it’s the money part, the bit about becoming “financially independent” that really riled up the media next door.

Harry and Meghan’s message was:If you don’t pay for us, you don’t own us. And that’s always been the justification for the media scrutiny of the royal family, says writer Helen Lewis, in The Atlantic — “we pay for them, so we own them”.

But not anymore. And that’s a sting in the tail — how do justify the public scrutiny of someone who is neither publicly elected nor in receipt of public funds? Unless they’ve committed a criminal act, you can’t really.

So where do we, both the public and media, pour our attention now?

Holding publicly-elected officials to account over poor policy decisions or by stopping international wars? They don’t seem like such easy tasks.

Who’s going to provide us with a reprieve from the big bad world if Meghan Markle is no longer fair game?

A new book published this month, called Stop Reading the News, makes for a compelling argument. Its author, Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli, isn’t advocating for ignorance or for letting democracy die in the darkness.

He’s talking about our vast consumption of pithy headlines, our propensity for clicking on “clickbait”, and our new habit of skimming,surfing, and scanning reports.

He does not regret his decision to go “news free”. And in its place he seeks out experts in various fields to stay informed.

Underpinning his decision to step back from his news addiction were two questions. He asked himself if he understood the world any better after consuming thousands of pieces of news. His answer was no.

The second question, to which the answer was also no, was if he made better decisions about his professional and personal life after consuming thousands of pieces of news.

He decided to then pull back, and to become better informed, but not inundated and overwhelmed.

Another man, this week, revealed he had taken similar action. In the last edition of The Sunday Times Magazine, DJ Chris Evans revealed he was a year without his phone.

He “got rid” of his phone on January 21, 2019. In the space of a year, he says he hasn’t “missed it for a single second”. He also gets up at 3.30am every week morning and only eats within an eight-hour window.

In a chaotic world of climate change and Trump politics, any semblance of control can temporarily alleviate feelings of existential anxiety. So too, can those titillating tales about Meghan, that appear to be no more.

So what’s a member of the public to do? Consume every single piece of news as a source of entertainment? Or inform ourselves properly and use the information as a call to action?

The other question is are we going to continue to despair and outrage at the world, or will we hold those in actual power to account?

Meghan does not start wars and pull countries out of international climate agreements. Nor is she the prime minister of a country experiencing apocalyptic fires, who dodges the question of climate, and says that people’s shock comes from younger generations who just hadn’t seen these bush fires before.

Yet we rage against Meghan and her every move, while throwing our hands up with a “sure look it” about the Scott Morrisons and Donald Trumps of this world.

If we continue to view Meghan as an easy target and fair game, while treating actual leaders with apathy, and thereby absolving them of all responsibility, the only face that will have egg on it is our own.

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