Since the Queen’s death last month, the Duchess of Sussex has found it hard to maintain her usual vise-like grip on the world media’s attention.
Rumors have swirled that relations between her and Prince Harry and the now-Prince and Princess of Wales are yet to improve — despite the surface show of amiability that was demonstrated over the mourning period. There has been the sense that Meghan has been relegated to second fiddle: a state of affairs that this particular prima donna is reluctant to accept.
This week has spelt a comeback of sorts. Photographs have been released of the Duke and Duchess, taken by Misan Harriman, when the Duke made his indifferently received speech at the One Young World conference in Manchester, England.
Harry has been allowed to grin, which makes a change; Meghan remains her usual enigmatic self, despite her bold scarlet ensemble.
Yesterday, a more high-profile return arrived in the form of the fourth installment of the Duchess’s Archetypes podcast, after a hiatus occasioned by the necessity of mourning the Queen. Once again, it has demonstrated Meghan’s genius for backing into the spotlight, with her usual innate ability to make herself the center of attention, regardless of the subject.
This week, Meghan and her guests, the journalist Lisa Ling and the actress and comedian Margaret Cho, have explored Asian stereotyping, in particular the so-called “Dragon Lady” archetype beloved by lazy screenwriters and directors alike. Yet there’s no doubt that it is the Duchess’s life and experiences that are the ones of most interest to the executive producer, or Meghan herself. From the folksy introduction (“my weekends were spent in Little Tokyo or having iced teas… my mom and I would often go to the Korean spa together”) to a stern denunciation of the “evil exotic force” that the Dragon Lady represents, it is clear that Meghan’s intention in this episode is to denounce the evils of racism and lazy xenophobia.
Which is commendable. Unfortunately it will not come as a surprise to anyone listening to the podcast that her guests are barely allowed to make any impression, so dominant is the host.
Cho makes an interesting point about Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American star who found herself trapped in roles that catered to the Dragon Lady archetype. Meghan, however, is unwilling — or unable — to discuss her further, and so the idea is not pursued.
There is criticism of Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and — in a more obscure fashion — Mike Myers’s Austin Powers movies for promoting “caricatures of women of Asian descent as oversexualized or aggressive.” One could argue that the former presents American women as coolly homicidal and the latter shows British men to be sex pests with bad teeth, but there we go.
Ling discusses racism in the broadcast media, but before long, Meghan has turned the conversation round to her own experiences growing up with Korean-American culture. At the end, there is a cutesy bit with Ling’s nine-year old daughter Lisa. The sentimentality sits uneasily with the earlier citation of Full Metal Jacket’s famous line, as delivered by a Vietnamese sex worker, that “Me so horny… me love you long time.” And at the end, there is an off-the-peg sermon, in which the Duchess exhorts her listeners to define themselves as they see fit, with “your full, complete, whole-layered, sometimes weird, sometimes awesome but always best and true self… you’re so much greater than any archetype.” Podcast ends, job done.
It is easy to sneer at Meghan’s Archetypes podcast series, but that does not mean that we should refrain from doing so. Tonally, its mixture of sentiment, anger and condescension is strange — but perhaps it reflects its presenter in that curious combination. No doubt we can expect many other headline-grabbing shows over the coming weeks, but an unanticipated detail is a credit for a fact checker. If one was to be used in all of the Duchess’s public statements, let alone future podcasts, it could well be a full-time job, with the necessity of overtime.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.