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Sahay ’26: Harry and Meghan show how ‘Oprahfication’ can be exploited

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made headlines when they announced their decision to no longer affiliate with the royal family in January 2020. In essence, this meant that the couple resigned from their role of officially representing the crown. Their unprecedented move to America was followed by a series of controversial statements — a direct contrast to the neutrality expected from royals — as they emphasized their extremely personal complaints against the royal institution.

Nowadays, celebrities as living role models have increasingly come forth to share their own struggles with issues like mental health and substance abuse. This is partially a consequence of excessive “Oprahfication,” which Collins Dictionary defines as an “increase in people’s desire to discuss their emotions or personal problems, attributed to the influence of confessional television programs” like “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and, more recently, celebrity social media posts. While this increased vulnerability has made people more aware of important issues, the recent Meghan-Harry saga is clear proof that excessively confiding in the public leads to playing the victim beyond a reasonable extent for these affluent and privileged stars.

In the past few years, Harry and Meghan have been more vocal about their issues with the royal family. After “Megxit” — a term to describe Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision to leave the royal family — the two participated in a highly publicized and controversial Oprah interview. Then, they released a Netflix documentary titled “Harry and Meghan,” which provided the world with an intimate play-by-play of their thought process preceding “Megxit.” Afterward, Prince Harry published his explosive autobiography, “Spare,” a bizarre overview of his privileged existence. 

Through all of these media narratives, Harry and Meghan have harshly criticized how out of touch the British royal family has become with the modern world. Such a debate has been partially catalyzed by their accusations of racism in the royal family and claims involving “exploitation and bribery” of the British press by the royal institution. Specifically, they argued that certain members of the royal family colluded with the press to plant and leak stories about other members of the family — namely, Meghan. While these charges could have led to transformative change within the royal family, Harry’s autobiography “Spare” has negated that possibility. The issue with “Spare” is that it largely reads like a stunt to garner public sympathy and convert everyone to Team Harry. The book is not just confessional, but extremely personal to the point of irrelevance — the product of excessive Oprahfication. 

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Reviews of “Spare” were mixed. While several media outlets tended to agree that Harry's claims about toxic tabloid journalism were valid, they also correctly highlighted how much of the book seemed to focus on petty complaints reeking of his extreme privilege. Harry could have gone into detail about the royal institution's racist inquiry into the color of his children's skin tone, something heavily hinted at in the Oprah interview. Or, he could have delved deeper into the conversation on unconscious racial bias of the British elite, which was the focus of his and Meghan’s documentary. Instead, he wastes the opportunity of the book by playing the victim. While he touches on topics like sexism, mental health and racism, these themes are quickly overshadowed by his exaggerated personal grievances — especially those supposedly caused by his brother, Prince William. In one passage, he goes as far as to childishly remark that Prince William’s baldness is “more advanced” than his own. Harry also blames William and Kate for wearing a Nazi costume, agonizes over his fight with William about who’s handling philanthropy work in Africa, mentions weird tension between Meghan and Kate due to a case of borrowed lip-gloss and includes lots more unnecessary details. Through such trivial and often supercilious comments, the book becomes sensational instead of informative. 

Some claims of the autobiography, like Harry’s accusation that Prince William physically attacked him, could be genuine. But they are eclipsed by Harry's juicier, biased stories that paint him as the wronged party — a narrative the press eats up. Amidst the large volume of coverage on Harry and Meghan, the more serious issues the couple might want to highlight are lost or weakened by these juvenile allegations. 

This issue is not just limited to “Spare.” In the Netflix documentary that preceded “Spare,” Harry and Meghan frequently fell into a “he said, she said” loop that prevented productive conversation. For instance, there are trivial implications in the documentary about William and Kate having a cold response to Meghan’s hug — such a small incident is weaved into their general villainization of other royal members. Rather than use the documentary to shed light on the royal family’s institutional issues, Harry and Meghan instead used the documentary to victimize themselves, going into detail about every slight they felt from other members of the royal family. In fact, as far back as the interview with Oprah — whose show pioneered the confessional television style Harry and Meghan relied on vague but incendiary claims about racism that were sensational and implied that someone in the royal family or institution had been racist. January of this year, Harry contradicted the couple’s earlier statements by denying that he had ever called the royals racist. In other words, they let the very tabloid journalism they criticized take over their entire story and let trivial rumors spread, instead of raising awareness about mental health or issues of prejudice.

Living in the digital age means that more people are coming forward with their stories — especially people with power and influence. Often, this is a force for good, and people should feel welcome to share their pain. In fact, many celebrities like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez have come forward with their personal struggles, like eating disorders and mental health issues. Yet, their narratives have featured factual, scientific aspects of the issue combined with their own stories — a strategy that has proven to be instrumental in raising public awareness about taboo topics. The warm appeal created by the Oprah format that has extended into many forms of media is clearly responsible for this, as it makes these celebrities feel that the process of sharing their journeys can be peaceful and therapeautic. But Harry’s media tour shows how this format can be exploited for the sake of celebrities’ personal profit. Under the guise of talking through important issues, they instead seek to create a righteous characterization of their own actions. Confessional becomes calculative and conflict-oriented; one of the intentions of confessional television was to create a more relatable storyline, but that seems to have backfired in the case of Harry, whose confessions only highlight how out of touch his life of privilege is from the rest of the world. And yet he keeps recycling old grievances, constantly bringing the entire world into his fight with his family. 

Navya Sahay ’26 can be reached at navya_sahay@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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