The following are things Meghan Markle has made, failed to make, or is planning to make: a $24 million Spotify deal, a $100 million Netflix deal, an animated show about a girl traveling through history that Netflix canceled, a company that oversees her Spotify and Netflix deals and has its own nonprofit wing, a podcast, a documentary about her and Harry’s love story, guttural moans (more on this in a second), a move across the pond, and a “new life from scratch.”
If you see smoke billowing above Los Angeles, don’t worry. It isn’t the rampant wildfires—it’s Meghan and Harry’s content factory north of the city in Montecito churning out content. In a new profile from The Cut, writer Allison P. Davis tackles, among other things, this content that Markle has embarked upon making. One of the “other things” that Davis was forced to tackle was Markle seemingly telling her how to do her job:
(At one point in our conversation, instead of answering a question, she will suggest how I might transcribe the noises she’s making: “She’s making these guttural sounds, and I can’t quite articulate what it is she’s feeling in that moment because she has no word for it; she’s just moaning”).
I had to reread this several times to fully understand it. To clarify: Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, current resident of Montecito, California, knowingly made perplexing throaty mouth sounds and offered them up as some sort of meta-morsel of introspection into her inner world. (I can’t thank Davis enough for including this detail.)
Markle’s suggestion is like entering a hall of mirrors located in the Post-Profile wing of New Media. While I’ve never been profiled by any news outlet (Vanity Fair, my schedule is open), I’m sure it’s a mental tug of war between being yourself and performing a version of yourself. But still, I think it’s probably best practice to let the profiler do their job. Imagining yourself being interviewed on Oprah’s couch is a normal stage in brain and personality development, but for someone who famously has been interviewed by Oprah, it feels artless to publicly indulge in that performance.
Aside from that brief and paradoxically honest contortion of self-perception, none of Markle’s other content-promising projects seem to be leaving any sort of explicit mark. It is content for content’s sake. Archetypes, Markle’s new podcast, aims to “investigate, dissect, and subvert the tables that try to hold women back.” But Olivia Petter, in a review for the Independent, sums it up perfectly, writing that while the project was “promoted as a subversive feminist podcast,” it actually “appears, so far, to be nothing more than an exercise in navel-gazing.” The content of the podcast, along with the projects Markle references in the Cut profile, all feel empty.
A few years ago, Markle and Harry’s endeavors would have probably held more weight. But describing the thesis of her personal romance as “love wins,” or discussing balancing motherhood and career, are markings of, as Davis
writes, a “millennial woman whose feminism was forged in the girlboss era.” We’ve long matured past talking about how companies don’t know how to market to women and whether or not love prevails. We get it. It’s no longer 2013.
To be fair, the blandness of Meghan’s content could very well stem from the very real trauma she experienced from the British tabloids. Every aspect of her life was skewered by that country’s uniquely racist and horrific gossip press. It’s vicious enough to make anyone, let alone a divorced Black American woman who married into the royal family, have suicidal thoughts, as Markle did. It certainly is perverse enough to make someone strongly consider what information they publicly share, knowing it will get twisted and used against them. So Markle’s sort of insipid feminist content makes a lot more sense when you consider it’s been filtered through the layers of protective barriers she was forced to build to literally keep herself alive.
The dilemma then is how does she lower those barriers to allow any authentic side of herself to come out? Right now, this pivot to content making and storytelling has all of the oomph distilled out of it, so much so that the public simply isn’t satiated by it. I don’t think she has to reveal all of her messy family drama or trash talk her in-laws in order to tell a more authentic version of her story, but what she’s putting out right now isn’t cutting it. Maybe the answer is taking some time before performing a public version of herself again. Maybe that’s actually what’s happening behind all the reported production delays. But the subpar and stale feminist content is only adding empty air where her tiara once lay.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Meghan Markle was the former Duchess of Sussex. Markle stepped down as a senior member of the British royal family in 2020 but still retains her title.