Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
Separating Fact from Fiction
If you follow The Crown, you might have noticed criticism online regarding the latest season, particularly the storyline between Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles, Emma Corrin's Princess Diana, and Emerald Fennell's Camilla Parker Bowles. The latest is that people are taking to the Instagram of the Royal Family to post scathing comments toward the real-life Camilla, who is now the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Crown is a mix of fact and fiction, with characters based on real people and dramatization of events that occurred in real life. This is true of any historical fiction, but most of what I have watched and read in the genre is based on people or events that happened in the more distant past. It is brave to base a television show, especially one that has a chance to become as popular as this one has, on events that occurred so recently. I imagine Peter Morgan must have anticipated some backlash from the very beginning.
The problem in the news article linked above is that some fans are taking it upon themselves to shame the Duchess of Cornwall based on what they have seen in the show's portrayal of her relationship with Prince Charles during his marriage to Princess Diana. Does that mean that the show is to blame?
I found myself watching the latest season quicker than I normally might have out of fear that the episodes would be pulled. I really hope they never will be. From a writer's perspective, it is interesting to explore the question of how long one should wait before writing fiction based on recent events. Is it ethical to dramatize events that may cast a real, living person in an unfavorable light? That's what I am going to explore here. Please note that opinions within are my own and based on the understanding that I presently have.
The Crown Isn't the Problem
From the very beginning, we see "Netflix Original Series" in big letters come up on the screen when starting an episode. We do not see "A Documentary" anywhere in the title of the show. I would hope that most people understand that The Crown is fictitious, and that if we are so inclined, a quick Google search for "did X really happen" is possible while watching the show if a smart phone is handy.
Though the show's writers and actors may be avid researchers, I would bet money that none of them have ever been in a room where any of the events unfolded between Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of her family.
Through research or watching a YouTube video, we can verify whether something a character said in The Crown was actually said in real life. A notable example is the interview just after Charles and Diana's engagement where, when asked if they were in love, Charles said, "Whatever 'in love' means." This quote made it into the most recent season of the show.
I am probably what would be considered an average viewer. I am not a historian, and I didn't know much about the Royal Family before the show. I didn't care enough to read about them before. While I understand The Crown is not the same as a history lesson or documentary, it has helped me to care more about Queen Elizabeth II, why she is so significant (apart from just her title), and what has happened during her reign.
While I am an average viewer, I take everything on the show with a grain of salt and would never be so audacious as to go online and bash any member of the Royal Family.
What am I suggesting?
The Crown isn't the problem.
The problem is people.
Words Are Powerful
It's very easy these days to pull up an online profile, story, or something one does not like and leave a comment similar to the ones left for the Duchess of Cornwall recently. Social media seems to induce a sort of amnesia where people forget how important words are.
The Duchess is not the only victim; a quick scroll through Facebook will reveal a slew of rude comments all throughout any news article or political post. It can make it difficult, if not impossible, to stomach most social media sites (unless one makes very judicious use of the block and mute buttons, but this runs the risk of damaging friendships, if we aren't careful).
Yes, part of the problem does seem to be that people aren't doing their research or are not able to separate fact from fiction. The bigger issue is the lack of embarrassment people feel when they post comments like the ones toward the Duchess about how the world hates her. (Really? One person can speak for the entire world?)
Before posting a comment, a good preemptive question is: "Would I feel embarrassed if my employer, my parents, or grandparents saw this?" I understand that people can be disqualified for jobs based on what they posted on Facebook. While I am not saying I always agree with that practice, we do need to be careful about what we post online. Even if it won't damage our reputations, the old adage about sticks and stones is not entirely true. Words do hurt, and once uttered, they can be impossible to recall.
Do I think the Duchess of Cornwall gives a fig about Instagram comments? No, I do not. All the same, if she had the time, she could very well be reading a few of them. She might come to know about them through the news. But who might we talk to on social media who actually does read the comments, and who might take them too much to heart? We can never know that, but I would hope that everyone cares.
I think most people do care and don't wish to inflict any real harm, but once again, we forget there is a person on the other side of the screen. We feel like our words are not effective on the screen, but this is far from the truth.
We can read a book about someone or watch a show and feel like we know them, but we don't. No matter what factually transpired, we weren't there and it wasn't done to us, so we can never know all we would need to know to pass a sound judgment. Similarly, we can feel offended by someone's opinion but have no idea what transpired for them to arrive at that opinion.
In conclusion, I hope that Netflix will never consider ending The Crown prematurely or pulling/revising any episodes. While I understand that its critics worry about it damaging the public opinion of the Royal Family, I believe most of the show's viewers are people like me who hold views similar to the ones I expressed here.
The Crown should not be watched as a documentary or relied upon for factual information about the Royal Family, but it can make us care about and research things that perhaps we otherwise wouldn't. It can hint at the humanity behind the royal façade, that at the end of the day, they can make mistakes and wish to be redeemed and loved too.
Perhaps most of all, it has made me feel very thankful to just live a simple life.