Here on the West Coast, Damian Lillard’s game-ending 40-foot jumper in the NBA All-Star Game came moments before the start of Oprah Winfrey’s two-hour emotion-leaching interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, thus reminding us of the considerable similarities between the game and the British monarchy, starting with the extraordinary lengths to which each will go to try to remain worth our notice despite the fact that neither really has any enduring value at all.
This was the All-Star Game that shouldn’t have been—just ask Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and their plague-coated barber. With all due respect to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hilarious shooting accuracy and the McDonald’s commercial of days gone by performed by Lillard and Stephen Curry, the game was difficult to absorb. The scoring, skills competitions, and general eeriness were frantically jerry-rigged to make one think that this was worth a three-hour pregame show and then a two-hour game shortened for television (as in shortened so you wouldn’t wreck your television by throwing your shoe through the screen). It served as a momentary windfall for historically black colleges, a nice boost for Giannis, and a lamely inconsistent acknowledgement that COVID is still kind of a thing.
But it is also an acknowledgement that the All-Star Game is run like a royal house, in which status is everything, and status is defined by who is allowed inside. “Team LeBron” is the nomenclature equivalent of “The House Of Windsor,” ridiculous in its way but still more evocative than “Eastern Conference All-Stars”or “International House Of Pancakes.” The only real difference is that the All-Star Game has fan voting, which the monarchy doesn’t.
Too bad, because the All-Star Game also got its brains kicked in ratings-wise by Winfrey’s two-hour spectacular about her friends and business partners the Sussexes. Even allowing for the general uselessness of the monarchy, this was still quite a riveting tale of pettiness, dishonesty, racism, tradition gone mad, privilege gone madder, and the perils of institutional self-absorption. Chris Paul had 16 assists last night? Please. We got to learn the gender of Meghan’s new baby!
Yes, the royals kicked the entire day’s supply of entertainment ass, even more than Joe Frazier did to Muhammad Ali in the remastered version of the first of their three fights 50 years ago. Meghan Markle’s ongoing tale of her in-laws’ encrusted cruelties almost made you forget that they were trying to maintain the notion that the royal family represent something more valuable than merely keeping Olivia Colman in acceptance speeches.
Indeed, The Crown was the primer for how we all came to care about Markle’s tale because we knew most of the players ahead of time. We know Prince Charles as the man kept waiting for the throne by his mother’s persistent refusal to die. We know Prince Philip as the antiquarian fusspot who has one foot firmly in the 19th century and the other in the first half of the 20th. We know Prince William as Prince Charles in training. We know the shadow-dwellers who keep everyone in line by citing any number of mysterious reasons why things that seem normal to you and I cannot possibly be done because the only job is preserving the yurt of dry-rot and twigs that is the monarchy.
And we are coming to know Queen Elizabeth as the well-meaning but ineffectual matriarch of this conga line of intergenerational misfits. She’s the only one who seems to have consistently treated the couple with any measure of care, even though the preservation of the monarchy through archaic and antisocial behaviors is largely done for her benefit. Harry and Meghan left the throne-sitting business for their sanity and will make $100 million more from Netflix to play the entertaining exiles than they ever would make as nobility, yet they talked about how they’d go to back to Hobbiton and live in Frogmore Cottage in a heartbeat if only things could be different—which of course they can’t because the monarchy couldn’t be the monarchy if not for the nurturing of long-held and strychnine-laced familial jealousies.
The monarchy is like the All-Star Game in that they are both value-deficient holdovers from an earlier time that need gargantuan efforts to continue to justify themselves, but the monarchy is definitely worse than the All-Star Game because even an aggressively mutated All-Star Game only lasts a day and doesn’t have nearly as many utter bastards attached to it.
Indeed, one of the most maddening things about the interview was the way Meghan and Harry both made damaging charges about their treatment while always stopping just short of saying exactly who the bastards were, a disgraceful example of forgetting to solve the crime that even a well-worn British detective show like Vera would never allow. She always presents the killer in the end, which this show didn’t. Even the All-Star Game tells you who won the damned game, no matter how absurd and useless that information may be.
But therein lies the final truth. The story of this monarchy ends only if someone finally spills all the tea and leaves no future conjecture points about who did what to whom and for what creepily misguided reason. And when it does end, likely with the queen’s passing and all the other family members doing ghastly variety and cooking shows, we’ll look back longingly as this monumental cavalcade of superhero spongers and wonder why they ever mattered at all.