Megxit and The Death of Fairytale Romance

Romance has been a central structuring ideology of capitalism, especially late neo-liberal capitalism—and the intertwined lives of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry represent that romantic ideology perfectly. An ordinary girl—okay, a successful and beautiful actress—is chosen by the Prince to come and live in a castle and enjoy a life of such excessive wealth and opulence she never has to think about such mundane items as budgets, health costs or retirement again. 

That’s what romance has always promised us: That we can have our own private happily ever after without worrying about the transfer of wealth to the billionaire class or rising health insurance costs or environmental collapse. And that’s what makes Megxit, the impending exit of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry from the Royal Family, such a big deal.

Paper cutouts of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. (Peter S / Creative Commons)

Meghan and Harry announced on their webpage last week that they “have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” intending to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”

Well, let’s just say: We were not happy. The Royal We, her Majesty the Queen, apparently didn’t even know about the impending Megxit and Charles was “furious.” Many of us regular “we”, who had traveled all the way to England to see the Royal Wedding or stayed up till the wee hours of the night to watch live on TV, felt as if someone had just told us fairytale endings don’t exist. 

To add to this sense of impending romantic collapse, the president of the Romance Writers of America, Damon Suede, and its executive director, Carol Ritter, resigned this week amidst charges of racism. The controversy started last year when a Chinese-American board member called a romance novel, written by a white woman and set in 1800s China, a “racist mess.”

Romance has always been a racist mess, and a sexist one, too. (As many commentators have pointed out, the fact that Meghan Markles is mixed race has been part of why she has not been able to live up to the ideal princess set by the terribly white Kate Middleton.) But when the professional organization, the main propaganda arm of the Romantic Industrial Complex, starts acknowledging the power dynamics at the heart of romance, the jig is up. 

Once we acknowledge that our futures cannot be solved by fairytales, and that those fairytales were racial and gender fantasies that only served the ruling classes, it’s as if the fairy dust falls from our eyes, and we see the world as it really is. Once the ideology of romance is no longer “worth the costs,” we are going to have create different ideas about how to have a happy ending.  

If Meghan, the lucky girl who rode off with handsome Prince Harry, says that she’d prefer to earn her own money and live her own life, thank you very much, how can any of us find solace in the promise romance makes us? We are told that if we just meet “the one” we can not only have all our emotional and sexual needs met by this one person, but more importantly, that we can escape structure into our own private fairytale.

This is exactly why Megxit is such an important story: It signals that fairytale romance is no longer as powerful as it was just a few short years ago when Harry’s elder brother, William, married another “ordinary girl,” and we could all fantasize that anyone could marry a prince. It signals that even the actors who have most held up the promise of romance—the Royals and the Romance Writers of America—are sick of this racist and sexist mess.

It won’t stop the fires burning through Australia, nor will it stop the transfer of wealth to the uber rich—but it just might be the modern fairytale we need to survive into the uncertain future that awaits us all.

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About

Laurie Essig is Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies at Middlebury College and the author of Love, Inc.: Dating Apps, The Big White Weddings and Chasing The Happily Neverafter.