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18th February
written by Sean Noble







It wasn’t until Downton Abbey was into its second season that I took the time to watch the first episode.  After that, it didn’t take long for me to be completely caught up, and searching for ways to get my hands on advance episodes of Season 3.

I love the show.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on all the reasons why, but there is great complexity in something that at first blush may seem like a simple story.

The Left in America is schizophrenic about the Abbey.  It has had high acclaim in Hollywood, winning numerous awards, but others, like the New York Times, have pilloried the show.

Worse, is this screed by Simon Schama on Daily Beast.  Here is an excerpt:

Downton serves up a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery. It’s a servile soap opera that an American public desperate for something, anything, to take its mind off the perplexities of the present seems only too happy to down in great, grateful gulps.

Yes, I know it’s perfect in its way. Nothing beats British television drama for servicing the instincts of cultural necrophilia.

In response, Jerry Bowyer writes a very thoughtful piece for Forbes entitled, Down On Downton: Why The Left Is Torching Downton Abbey. (WARNING: The Bowyer piece has spoilers if you haven’t seen the entirety of all three seasons)

One of the first things one notices, if one is a regular viewer of BBC productions, is that Downton is unusually ideologically and religiously balanced. One of the other effects one notices when one watches a lot of BBC is that one starts referring to oneself in the third rather than the first person. But one digresses…

If the viewer is expecting vintage BBC, Downton is full of surprises. This is not PG Wodehouse, with Jeeves the butler easily thinking rings around his Lord. This is not Brideshead Revisted‘s take on the upper classes, packed with alcoholic elders and simmering, repressed homosexuality amongst their offspring. It is not Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue with easy satiric shots at the hypocrisy which arises amongst the upper classes and their dysfunctional patter of religious and sexual…yes there it is again, repression.

The upper classes at Downton aren’t repressed, they’re restrained. They are not inbred, intellectually backward fools; they are intelligent and thoughtful. As a general rule they treat their servants well, care about their welfare and are generally respected by them in turn. They are, in a word, admirable. And for a period drama, that treatment is, in a word, surprising. And surprise is an essential element of compelling drama.

Films and series about Edwardian upper caste manners which portray the genteels uncharitably are boring, like the steady, unending (until one turns the switch off) hum of a fluorescent lamp. Downton Abbey is what George Gilder would call the entropic disruption to the background noise of revolt against the old world. To portray Lord and Lady Grantham as anything other than drunks, fools, hypocrites or either sexpots or sexual glaciers (or best of all, alternately both) is itself an act of cultural rebellion.

That’s arguably why the left is bashing Downton Abbey. The New York Times Art Beat column has reported that British critics are ‘torching’ Downton Abbey. Apparently Downton Abbey is snobbish, culturally necrophiliac (and if you don’t yet know what that word means, I suggest you leave it that way) and its popularity in the United States is due to the rise of the Tea Party movement and conservative opposition to the death tax. Even worse, creator Julian Fellowes is the holder of a Tory Peerage. Definitely not the right sort of people.

Having watched all three seasons, I think one of the reasons the Left hates Downton Abbey so much is that it undermines their narrative about class warfare.  Lord Grantham is not a greedy overlord looking to enrich himself on the backs of the serfs.  He is actually a man who is trying to maintain Downton and the village to keep people employed.

When he learns that he has lost a fortune in a bad investment, he is angst-filled about those who rely on him for work.

And that is what most business owners think about.  How to stay profitable and keep people employed.

My guess is that Hollywood didn’t quite understand the nuance of what Julian Fellows was writing because they were distracted by the British accents.  But I guarantee that if it had been a show about Sam Walton building and protecting his fortune, it would never have even aired.

The lesson is this: one way to fight the culture war in the U.S. is to mask it with British accents and history.

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  1. Jenny Christensen

    Well said! 🙂

  2. Jared Ray

    Interestingly enough, the Netflix description blurb says the following:

    “Exposing the snobbery and machinations of a disappearing class system, this series chronicles the elite Crawley family and their assorted servants.”

    Apparently Netflix is also missing the point.

  3. SMH

    This is dumb. Libs don’t hate Downton. I watch it. Lots of people I know watch it. And here’s another eye opener: Its FICTION. Do you really think the rich were all like the Crawleys? It is not validation of the right or the rich. It’s FICTION.

  4. SMH

    Libs don’t hate Downton. I watch it. Lots of people I know watch it. And here’s another eye opener: Its FICTION. Do you really think the rich were all like the Crawleys? It is not validation of the right or the rich. It’s FICTION.

  5. marcus

    hey moron, I’m on the left – not a wishy-washy Democratic liberal who supports Obama who I despise but A REAL LEFTIST and I love Downton Abbey.


  6. Kim

    My, Sean…you have a way of bringing out the best in people. As spoken in a very Maggie Smith-Dowageresque voice.

  7. Ron Jon

    Why the emphasis that it’s fiction? DUH it’s fiction!

    Sean, looks like you struck a chord with this one. Here come the lefties, all bent out of shape because they happen to like the show but not understand the concept. Simple minded libs!

  8. Tra La La

    Ha. A few historians and critics do not a liberal backlash make. I suspect that most of us take Downton Abbey to be what it is, the soapiest of soapy soaps with just enough real emotion and humanity to make it interesting. And no soap, no matter how drenched in British accents or fabulous trappings can undo the real evils of the English class system — for a more (though by no means entirely) realistic view of the moral problems inherent in this system, watch the excellent BBC production “The Manor House” – a reality show in which modern folks take on the roles of everyone in a house like Downton Abbey, from Lord of the Manor to lowly scullery maid. It is fascinating to watch the participants fall into their roles and the ways that it damages all of them. And, by the way, a realistic film about Sam Walton and the people who made his fortune would be quite interesting. Finally, if the scene of the “poor” Grantham’s be-moaning their fate when they might have to move from a castle to merely a huge mansion did not cause a few eyes to roll, well . . . not to mention that their concern for the number of servants they would be able to retain certainly sounded much more about them than about the servants.

  9. Double k

    Yeah, it’s a fictional story. This post is ridiculous. I could easily write one about how stupid Republicans are (which they are). Go back to worshipping Bush and leave TV shows out of the political debate.

  10. Mary von Dorster

    This is absurd. I love Barack Obama, am a progressive Dem and I LOVE Downton Abbey!

  11. Corinne

    You are right on Sean!

  12. 19/02/2013

    I’m new to the show, but I agree. I think there are hidden messages in the show as well.

  13. […] Original post at […]

  14. Jared Ray

    My questions is, why would self-described liberals be following (let alone commenting on) Sean Noble’s blog posts, knowing full well his political leanings? To take it one step further, why has nobody addressed any of the points he made with any measure of credibility or intelligence? Unless you can adequately refute the points withing the post, declaring the fact that you are a Liberal AND love Downton Abbey only proves that you don’t know WHY you’re a Liberal. Any takers?

  15. 20/02/2013

    @Tra la la and @Jared Ray, I think Tra la la’s comment has at least the veneer of credibility. I know nothing of the show he’s mentioned, so I have no clue about that. Still a reality show can’t be the same as the real thing.

    His response on Sam Walton is a little weak too. He seemed to miss the point. Sure, a film on Sam Walton could be made to his liking, but using the word “interesting” is lame and evasive.

    His ” And no soap, no matter how drenched in British accents or fabulous trappings[,] can undo the real evils of the English class system “. This is more evasion. The problem is not the “****real***** evils of the English class system”, but rather how the left wants it portrayed dishonestly in a one sided fashion. (That’s what’s meant by “undermines their narrative about class warfare”)

    This is of course too subtle to yield grass roots liberal dissatisfaction with the show, hence the oblivious comments of: “ridiculous”, “absurd”, and “hey moron” etc.

  16. […] Divergent, and to rip one off from Obama, Downton Abbey (see my previous thoughts on that show here and […]

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