Meghan Markle’s new podcast is a sadly a bit of a dud
Wednesday - 24/08/2022 12:04
Meghan Markle’s new Archetypes podcast is finally here after 20 months in the making. Sadly, it comes close to redefining the word banal.
It’s gone. After 1558 days, the woman formerly known as Meghan Markle, who then became the Duchess of Sussex has undergone a stunning transformation. Arise Meghan – Just Meghan – Spotify’s newest A+ star.
On Wednesday, Australians woke to the release of the debut episode of Meghan’s Archetypes podcast, replete with a freshly made-under star, her usual designer clobber gone in favour of a plain white singlet, the mother-of-two so earnestly peering out from the marketing image.
Most notably, absent from all the media shots was the royal title she picked up on her wedding day back in 2018. The message we are meant to take away is that this is Meghan. Raw. Unfiltered. Unleashed.
In ditching her title, here we have Meghan’s ascension (at her behest or Spotify’s marketing team, I wonder?) to mononym status, an ostensible thrusting of herself to the highest celebrity plane like Oprah or Beyonce.
And the project responsible for this elevation? The podcast that represents the starting gun being fired on Brand Sussex launching itself full-tilt into the American entertainment market?
Oh boy, is it a dud.
To understand why it is such a lemon you only need to look at two numbers. Meghan, based on the word count from the transcript available here, was responsible for about 61 per cent of the conversation and Serena Williams, a woman whose achievements include 23 Grand Slam Singles titles and who is, in Meghan’s words, a “trendsetter, trailblazer, businesswoman, mum” only hits the 39 per cent mark.
To put it another way, Meghan spoke for approximately 1.5 times more time than the woman who was there to tell her story.
That is, of course, the same woman who stunned the world earlier this month by revealing that she is set to leave tennis after a history-making career, a woman who truly deserves the epithet of ‘icon’. Here was, in journalist parlance, a sensational ‘get’ and an opportunity for a truly thought-provoking and insightful discussion about Williams’ career, life and the slings and arrows she had endured along the way.
Instead we get Meghan, Meghan, a touch of Harry and some more Meghan with some Serena thrown in here and there. It takes up until the 11-minute mark before we actually hear from the tennis great with Meghan’s other half, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex even getting a look in before Serena meaningfully joins the conversation.
Sadly, the trio’s interaction comes perilously close to redefining banal.
MEGHAN: Hi! You wanna come say hi? Look who just popped in.
SERENA: Hello! Hello there! (in British accent)
MEGHAN: Hello! (in British accent)
HARRY: How you doin?
SERENA: Good how are you?
HARRY: I like what you’ve done with your hair! That’s a great vibe.
SERENA: Thank you. Good to see you too as always. I miss you guys!
HARRY: Well come and see us!
SERENA: I will!
MEGHAN: We’ll make a plan.
HARRY: Have fun!
MEGHAN: Thanks my love!
The problem is that there is a Grand Canyon worth of a gap between what was promised with Archetypes – a “groundbreaking” series “[investigating] the labels that try to hold women back” – and what has now landed, a nearly hour-long show that should really be called something like “Gabbin’ with the Duchess”.
In her introduction, Meghan promises: “Over the course of the next dozen episodes, we’re going to live inside and rip apart the boxes women have been placed into for generations.” This episode doesn’t offer up so much as a demure tug of those genuinely pernicious boxes let alone ‘ripping them apart’.
Some celebrity chitchat, one very brief interview with an expert, and a discussion about balancing career and motherhood, all with some intellectually pretentious trimming hot glue-gunned to the edges, is hardly going to have the patriarchy quaking in their boots.
Archetypes is not provocative or perceptive or eye-opening or even particularly smart and feels like the sort of presentation that would be wheeled out to a room of male banking executives who are being forced to sit through an International Women’s Day seminar. (Women get called bossy and that’s unfair! There are gender double standards! Oh no!)
The story that Meghan is clearly most interested in getting into is Meghan’s story. We get to hear, again, about how she took on a sexist dishwashing detergent ad as an 11-year-old (“I could paint this as a moment of triumph … But this experience was also something bigger: an awakening”), about how her Catholic high school instilled in her a deep-seated conviction to gender equality, and about how it was only when she “started dating my now husband” that she learned that “apparently ambition is, uh … a terrible, terrible thing, for a woman; that is, according to some.”
(Not sure where Meghan was in 2013 when Facebook supremo Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, in which she delved into woman and ambition, was in every newspaper, magazine, two-bit blog and spent more than a year on The New York Times’ bestseller list.)
Archetypes numero uno feels like a paint-by-numbers exercise in Sussex-ing: One repetition of a story the world has heard numerous times (Meghan campaigning against that ad), a couple of jabs at The Firm and a whole lot of her speaking her truth in her dulcet Californian tones.
Now, let me say here, obviously, that would have been a deeply upsetting moment and her frustration that she was expected to plough on irrespective is entirely understandable.
But … why bring this up at all? Taking the approximately 878th swing at the royal family from afar is hardly ripping about those boxes and the woe-is-me-dom is just yawn-worthy. How much more mileage can the Sussexes ring out of the Big Bad Palace storyline?
(I’ll point out here that, according to the Telegraph, “The suggestion that her former aides forced the Duchess to work against her will is likely to cause consternation at the palace, with a source familiar with the tour questioning her precise recollection of events.”)
Here’s what I struggle with: Meghan doing a feminist podcast series is a cracking idea. Meghan seems so hungry, so very hungry, for the world to see her as a thought-leader and powerful voice and not just a woman who married a man from a very famous family. To which I say, huzzah! This warms me to the bottom of my hardcore Female Eunuch-clutching, Mary Woollstencraft-saluting, Betty Friedan-applauding heart.
But the reality of Archetypes is it’s a syrupy, highly polished production with some Helen Reddy thrown in that seems largely intent on being a star vehicle for the former actress.
Why oh goddamn why is Meghan not using her platform as one of the most famous people in the world to lift other women up or to shine a light on the suffering of girls around the world?
Earlier this month we hit the first anniversary of the chaotic, heart-rending human tragedy that played out when US forces exited Afghanistan and those scenes of truly desperate souls trying to flee the country are heart-rending. At the time, the Sussexes put out a statement saying in part, “As we all feel the many layers of pain due to the situation in Afghanistan, we are left speechless.”
How amazing would it have been if Meghan had decided to use her very first podcast to share the stories of women and girls now trapped living an unthinkably restrictive and miserable life under the Taliban?
Or imagine if Meghan had chosen to use the awesome power of this moment to speak to an abortion doctor forced to shut up shop by the end of Roe vs Wade or to someone fighting to end sexual violence or to the women driving the Black Lives Matter movement or … the list is, sadly, very, very long.
Because let’s be real: Whatever Meghan focused on and whoever she spoke to for this, her very first real outing as a content creator, was going to get global attention and make headlines around the world. She did not need a star guest to ensure that media organisations and vast swathes of social media would pick this up.
What I struggle to get past is that this show took three production companies, six executive producers, and six other producers working over a period of 20 months to bring to fruition. (Were they all being paid by the hour?)
In a promotional video also out today, Meghan says: “People should expect the real me in this and probably the me they’ve never gotten to know, certainly not in the past few years where it’s through the lens of the media.”
The problem is, the “real” Meghan that comes across via Archetypes is exceptionally good at filling airtime but has very little to say aside from applauding herself, throwing out meaningless lines like saying she wants her series “to reveal the layers that thrive within all of us” and reminding the world of her brief royal martyrdom.