Does Meghan Markle's Family Deserve The Bad Press? | Opinion

Samantha Markle was left to return to the U.S. without achieving the goal of her latest media blitz: to get her half-sister, Meghan Markle, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex, to talk to her again and reunite the family. But, alas, in this made-for-TV reality show—based on actual reality—that fairytale was not to be.

In an interview with the U.K.’s Jeremy Vine, Ms. Markle blamed past inflammatory public comments for which she’s been criticized on a defense of her father, due to how the “paparazzi disparaged him” in the “media madness.” She didn't take responsibility for the name-calling tweets she unleashed at her half-sister and the Royal Family, but she apologized, and said she “wished things could be different.”

She also revealed that Prince Harry had warned them during a phone call before the wedding that, “the media will eat you alive...we didn’t have the experience or the coaching to know what that entailed.

“I had worked in broadcasting,” she added, “I thought I could handle anything, but I had no idea...”

Being famous, or related to someone famous, can lead to an attachment to the spotlight, drawn into the highly seductive media milieu. As glamorous as it may seem, fame comes with a rather sharp dagger hidden beneath its cloak.

Fame is highly addictive. And the world that it comes with, bizarre.

As Her Royal Highness would learn soon enough, ultimate stardom, in the form of worldwide princess-worthy fascination, would test any family. When the paparazzi do come calling, with their sycophantic allure and incessant fawning, one’s ego can rarely withstand it. Heady thoughts of, “You want me?” lure the family member into the den of paparazzi wolves in which the story is pursued—or should I say manufactured—by creating the structure in which the family betrayal occurs.

GettyImages-974106728 Queen Elizabeth II sits with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex during a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Cheshire, England. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Since these wolves may be voracious, I have some compassion for Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, the 74-year-old retired Hollywood lighting director who had a heart attack before the royal wedding. He allegedly eschewed the spotlight during his years working behind the camera, but was done in as soon as the media had him in their viewfinder. The “pack-arazzi” will often not be quelled until they get the story they are after. Sadly, the Markles fell prey to this probing lens, elevating them to pseudo celebrities. But how does one say no to a pleading camera?

Feeling important and relevant are a deep draw for all human beings. We want to matter. We need to matter. In my research on the psychology of fame, a former child star said that he’d been “addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or another, and the most addictive of them all is fame.” To avoid this cavernous pitfall, celebrity newbies and their families would be wise to hire “handlers” and media experts to help ward off the wolves and provide much needed training. Otherwise, as we’ve seen with the Markle family, there could be disastrous outcomes.

What makes this story more tragic is that Mr. Markle and the princess were once reportedly quite close—he apparently drove her to school, paid for her education, and taught her life lessons—such as when checking a box on a form to denote her race, he inspired his daughter by saying, “Make your own box.” Nonetheless, fame commands us to obey its passions, and our brains, our neurology and chemical responses, obey. We go on autopilot. Fame becomes an intoxicant to which we grasp and cling. 

Samantha-Meghan-Markle (1) Meghan Markle and her half-sister Samantha. Getty Images/Fox News

Family members can find themselves caught in what’s called the “reflected glory” of fame, a dangerous secondary shimmer cast off by the original celebrity glow, bathing those around it in light. “Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face,” novelist John Updike said. “As soon as one is aware of being somebody, to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his over-animation. One can either see or be seen.”

In their over-animation, unprepared and befuddled, it seems the Markles might have become so intent on being seen themselves, that they have lost the chance to play a meaningful role in Meghan’s fairytale. While discretion is the better part of valor, it takes tremendous willpower to say no to our own human tendencies—all those neurons and dendrites dancing around in the excitation of attention—and turn our backs on the powerful, addictive drug of fame.

As we watch an America subsumed in a scripted, formatted, media zeitgeist focused only on ratings and internet likes, the Markles are simply following the script.

Donna Rockwell, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in celebrity mental health, and adjunct faculty at Saybrook University, College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr. Rockwell’s research findings on the psychology of fame and celebrity can be found in the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, in Being a Celebrity: a phenomenology of fame.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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