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What Your Fascination with the Royal Family Says About You

Royal viewing habits range from pleasant distraction to unhealthy addiction.

Did you get up early and watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot at the royal wedding? If you did, you are in good company. If not, no doubt you caught the highlights. It was hard not to, if you have any exposure whatsoever to television, radio, or social media. Which prompts this question from a psychological standpoint: Why are we interested?

Vicarious Celebrity Culture

Everyone loves good entertainment. The royals are top shelf reality TV, full of pomp and circumstance, pageantry and tradition. For most people, following the royal family is an escape, perhaps even more so than with other types of celebrities given their unique culture and customs. Assuming such viewing is part of a balanced lifestyle, there is nothing wrong with keeping up with the modern day monarchy.

Part of the attraction is the fact that the life of the royals is often portrayed as more fantasy than reality. Of course there are scandals and tragedies; many people remember the death of Princess Diana like it was yesterday. But for the most part, there is an emphasis on glamour over grind. We do not envision newly wed Harry and Meghan returning home from a day of photo ops and royal duties to toss in a load of laundry, do the dishes, or mow the lawn. Unlike the lives most of us live, royalty is portrayed as crowns and ball gowns—which is part of the allure.

Everyone Loves a Good Fairy Tale

Hats, gloves, crowns, castles—such are the makings of a Disney Princess story, which always has a happy ending. Sure, we recognize the perception is just that, and we understand that our glamorized view of the royal lifestyle is no doubt very different than their day-to-day reality. But why ruin a perfectly good fantasy?

A recent Time magazine article detailed some of the psychology behind the obsession with the Royals.[i] The article quotes Dr. Frank Farley, who describes us as “social animals” who often live some of our own lives through celebrities and famous media figures. He describes this phenomenon as “parasocial behavior,” which he explains “can create a one-sided relationship in which someone becomes attached to a person without actually interacting with them in any meaningful way.”

Do the royals fulfill our own fantasies? Farley explains, “We all have dreams of wealth and fame and happiness and style and social influence and so on, which starts early with fairy tales and the way we raise our kids.” He also attributes interest in the royals to media saturation, where coverage drives interest--which drives more coverage.

When it comes to the young members of the royal family, however, it appears that part of the seduction is the similarity.

Modern Day Monarchy: Royal Yet Relatable

The young royals have reinvented and reinvigorated our love affair with the monarchy. Unlike the way many people view the elder members of the royal family, we seem to be on a first name basis with Harry and Meghan, as well as William and Kate. Against a backdrop of pageantry and tradition, these young people are royal—yet relatable. They represent the modern monarchy, mixing trend-setting with cultural customs.

Yet they also live real lives, engaging in the same social rites of passage as we do. They get married, even breaking traditions as Harry and Megan did with some aspects of their royal wedding,[ii] have children, and engage in philanthropic pursuits.

They also appear to struggle with the same issues as we do. Documentaries like the Netflix series “The Crown,” and “Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance”[iii] have dramatized the lives of the royals in a way that appeals to the world. Sure there is artistic license, but many people can relate to some of the same emotions they feel within their own lives, while also enjoying the escape of vicariously experiencing the royal lifestyle.

But not all of the drama is overblown. Prince Harry touched the lives of many people around the world when he revealed in 2017 that after 20 years of blocking out the pain, he finally sought treatment to deal with the grief of losing his mother Princess Diana.[iv] This revelation made him vulnerable and relatable, and hopefully diminished the stigma of seeking treatment felt by so many others in similar situations.

Enjoy in Moderation

As with any other form of escape, however, overindulgence is unhealthy. Some people know more about the royal family tree than they do their own, which can indicate a serious imbalance of priorities.

The solution? Viewer discretion is advised. Following the royals comes with the same warning label as a good bottle of wine: enjoy in moderation. No binge watching. Quality time is better spent affirming the celebrities within our own families. Let us make our loved ones feel like royalty too.