January 30, 2023

Ideology and the Prince

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

While I haven’t read it yet, Prince Harry’s book Spare has been receiving a lot of coverage. (A search of the terms “Spare Prince Harry” yields 135 million hits.) The coverage of this book teaches us a lot about the concept of ideology, or ways of seeing that appear normal and natural. How people view this tell-all book reflect differing ideological perspectives, shaped by social context.

I watched Anderson Cooper’s interview of the prince on 60 Minutes, as well as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show interview, both offering sympathetic coverage that focused on the trauma of losing his mother when he was twelve. Both interviewers have shared their own struggles with grief after losing their fathers as children, so perhaps this focus was not a surprise.

This narrative likely resonates with many American viewers who have been accustomed to  confessional-style television since the 1970s, when daytime talk shows such as The Phil Donahue Show (1970-1996) and later The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986-2011) regularly featured guests speaking about issues previously kept private, such as childhood trauma and other personal issues. The debut of “reality” shows such as MTV’s The Real World in 1992 also include private “confessionals” where participants share things with the audience that they presumably don’t share with others on the show. Today, people regularly share their private lives on social media, sometimes as their full-time job.

American viewers are thus primed to see Prince Harry’s story from this confessional perspective, viewing private information as part of a process of healing that has been a part of American television for half a century. His story also offers in an insider’s view of a life that most of us will never come close to experiencing. In the U.S., princes are part of fairy tales, not everyday life, so sharing his story enables a unique kind of verstehen, Max Weber’s concept about  understanding life experiences different from our own.

Growing up in this cultural environment, it may seem normal and natural that someone would share their personal story, as celebrities regularly do in high-profile book tours.

By contrast, the British coverage has revealed a very different way of seeing this book. The royal family might not be popular with everyone in the U.K., but a 2022 poll found that 62 percent of the public supports the monarchy. Along with the monarchy comes traditions and practices, including dress codes, rules for interacting with royals, and rules scripting behavior at formal events. These traditions may contribute to a sense of national pride for some and criticizing them or the people in the royal family may feel especially offensive in this cultural context. In some countries to this day, criticizing monarchs is considered a crime; even when these rules change people might feel that it is culturally wrong to do so.

So while TV Insider, an American-based site, described “Prince Harry’s Fun-Packed Interview with Stephen Colbert,” and Deadline.com noted that “Prince Harry Draws Largest Audience For ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ In More Than 2 Years,” British publications were much more pointed in their description of the interview. USA Today reported “Prince Harry Never 'intended to Hurt my Family' with 'Spare' Memoir: More TV Interview Revelations.” Other American sources reported on the “revelations” within the book, teasing the supposed most surprising details from the book.

The British press described the appearance much more negatively. “Prince Harry Turns Family into Laughing Stock,” said the UK’s Daily Mail. The Express, another U.K. publication, reported “Queen Dragged into Row as Harry Lets Royals be Mocked while Drinking Tequila in Interview.” The Sun, another British publication, reported “Late Show’s Stephen Colbert Ripped for interview with ‘Attention-Seeking’ Prince Harry & Fans Demand Host ‘Do Better’.” “Prince Harry ‘Downs Tequila Shots on Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” reported Metro, also a British publication.

These headlines don’t tell us how readers make meanings of Prince Harry’s book and its content, but they are a small window into different ways of seeing the same content. Even the BBC, Britain’s government-funded news source, recognized these disparities in an article titled “Why Americans Seem More Pro-Harry than Brits”:

Harry and Megan have their detractors in America - but they are far fewer in number and far less vitriolic in than in the UK. In the US, their story of how they were mistreated by the British press and by Harry's closest relatives is received with much greater sympathy….

This makes no sense to Americans for whom the value of meritocracy is deeply ingrained. And who were beguiled by the star power the couple exuded in the first few months after their fairy-tale wedding….

Ultimately, Americans are flattered that when seeking freedom the Sussexes chose to make their new home in America. The land of the free. A place, Americans like to believe, where everyone can create their own opportunities in a society free of the class structures that still exist in Britain.

The author also notes that Americans are not as steeped in the traditions of the British monarchy to really understand how unusual this tell-all book is within the context of the royal family. I would add that Americans are also very comfortable with the idea of reinvention after a struggle and relocating to “start over.” We also value what might be seen as authenticity or revealing one’s “true” self as part of this “new beginning.” How many of our families’ origin stories start with coming to wherever we are now to start over?

Ideology does not mean that all Americans or all British people will view the prince the same way. While opinions may vary within any group, ideology creates a cultural context through which these opinions emerge.

Comments

The article really brought me a lot of knowledge

I want to tell my friends about it.

The article provided me with a wealth of knowledge.

The article provided me with a significant amount of new information.

a wonderful combination of theory and real-world circumstances. It offers practical guidance that can be used right now.

The prince's opinion and view on something is still considered by everyone and it is possible that they will agree with it

Your talk and sharing is very wonderful. I greatly appreciate your insights.

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