Hi. Rather than clutter your inbox, this week’s Vlog is a double-header: one email, two sub-1 minute video updates. Thanks for watching.
First, Meghan does Oprah. Then on Tuesday March 16, I'll survey different takes on Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, as the VVD leader prepares - barring surprises - to lead his fourth coalition government since 2010.
Meghan and nostalgia
Oprah’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was widely admired as a landmark in the short history of televised confessionals from Britain’s royal family. On the whole, Dutch media reported both Meghan’s distress and the diverse reactions at face value.
Public broadcaster NOS summarised the two-hour broadcast in three words. Depending on your loyalties (often determined by age, nationality or race), Meghan’s revelations were shocking, recognisable or shameless - schokkend, herkenbaar of schaamteloos.
Oprah was “the real queen here,” said Tina Brown, British-born serial editor of American news magazines. While the royal couple received no payment, Oprah’s production company earned about $8 million from CBS for the interview, according to the Los Angeles Times. Advertising spots were priced at $325,000 per 30 seconds, twice the usual prime-time rate.
A more detailed comparison of Europe’s 21st-century monarchies can wait, although Dutch royals certainly appear more modest and employable than the British variety. Meghan blamed relentless attacks in the tabloid press for suicidal thoughts during pregnancy - a confessional tone that confirmed just how much her new persona as an independent ex-royal owes to the tragic precedent of Princess Diana, Harry’s mother.
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In Britain, a famous television anchor Piers Morgan, co-host of ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain, scorned Meghan’s account of a dysfunctional royal family as “despicable”. After a passionate on-air defence from the show’s weather presenter, Alex Beresford, Morgan reacted by walking out of the studio - and a job he’s held for the past six years. The moment made such good television that the network issued a statement confirming the altercation was “not manufactured”.
No such claim could be made for the main event. Whatever your verdict, Oprah’s interview - the most dangerous to Britain’s royal family since Princess Diana admitted adultery to the BBC in 1995 - was an instance of television achieving the sheer bravado of showbiz. Its three protagonists are so famous they don’t need surnames: two self-made celebrities trained in Hollywood, one hereditary royal. Harry, the amateur, was cast logically enough in a walk-on role.
Meghan’s “truth,” as Oprah termed the sorrowful report of a loveless institution, relied heavily on an implicit assumption of crude racism in Britain’s establishment. Yes, but… This is a half-truth. Racism - in the corridors of Westminster, Windsor, newsrooms - is not seriously in doubt. The sniping at Meghan from British tabloids betrayed numerous racially-loaded slurs.
The symptoms of racism in diverse, metropolitan societies are more often subtle and insidious - not least the so-called “micro-agressions”. I’m less convinced by Oprah’s “shock” at Meghan and Harry’s account of the speculation over their child’s likely skin colour. No mixed-race family can avert such questions, however ‘woke’. Oprah surely would have recognised the inevitable embarrassment of crude aristocracy and clumsy in-laws.
As many pundits observed, Britain’s royal family squandered a great opportunity to diversify ‘The Firm’ - as they call their family business. Meghan’s potent charisma and extraordinary fame promised a modernising face for their troubled, anachronistic brand. Many royalists wished for that, but their real naïvete surely was to expect that Meghan would (or should) aspire to such a dreary role.
At base, the inner logic of the family rift follows from mismatched and unequal talents. Simon Jenkins, former editor of the Times, anticipated Meghan and Harry’s departure in May 2018 - during the after-glow of their spectacular wedding - in his ‘First Thoughts’ column for the Guardian.
Four faces of Mark Rutte
Barring surprises, the Dutch prime minister is set to lead another coalition government - his fourth since 2010 - after elections on March 17. Successive biographers have sought in vain for a common thread, a political DNA. Rutte mistrusts ‘vision’ in politics, calling it “an elephant” that can obscure the view. His most recent biographer settled on a theory of meervaren - making do - to explain Rutte’s longevity.
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Other labels for Rutte include ‘Teflon’ and ‘chameleon’. He has a sense of humour - add ‘comedian’ - but a suspiciously poor memory in times of trouble, especially when under pressure in parliament. A bachelor who lives quietly in a three-room apartment, Rutte drives an old Saab and once dreamed of becoming a concert pianist.
For a politician short on substance, a more useful approach to the man may be to compare his record to northern European peers in Germany or France. I’ll try that in my next post, Four faces of Mark Rutte, on March 16, the eve of the election.
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Keep well. Met vriendelijke groet!
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EVENT: Tuesday, March 16
On the eve of a general election in the Netherlands, the John Adams Institute welcomes digital strategist Arun Chaduary - a veteran of US presidential campaigns for Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, now advising the Dutch labour party PvdA - for an insider’s account of electioneering in the age of social media.