As I See It

Downton Abbey: A Republican’s ideal

Updated: 2014-01-15T02:02:21Z

By JIM HAAS

Special to The Star

As my wife the English teacher and I were settling in to watch public television’s popular “Downton Abbey,” 8-year-old granddaughter Samantha asked if it was “appropriate” for her to see.

A period drama set in England a century ago, “Downton Abbey” follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and its large staff of servants.

There is no violence, and any sex going on is mostly discreetly ignored, as was the custom of the time.

It’s sound historical fiction, and an entertaining dose of history is always “appropriate” for children. What’s not to like?

Plenty.

England’s ancient and rigid class structure is on full display at the Crawley house.

The Earl of Grantham, whose home is his castle, is lord of the manor in every sense except when he has to negotiate family issues with his wife, his domineering mother, or his willful daughters.

Fortunately, he’s a gentleman: courteous, generous, and considerate of others as long as they do nothing to encourage change of any sort.

The Earl is a Conservative with a capital “C” and sees trades unions, women’s suffrage, and other social movements as threats to the ancient order.

Why should he not? He inherited his place at the top, and if those less fortunate would just keep to their places, all will be well.

The servants — maids, valets, footmen, and cooks — have small rooms in a separate wing, do all the work including helping the uppity-ups put on their clothes, and cater to the whims of the ruling family.

When a new footman introduced himself as “Jimmy,” he was promptly told he was now “James.” Mustn’t allow informality between the Makers and the Takers, as some of today’s Republicans might put it.

Last season, one of those Republicans, Fox News economist Stuart Varney, suggested that the society portrayed in “Downton Abbey” is admirable: “Rich people, powerful people, in America today, are reviled. They’re dismissed as fat cats who don’t pay their fair share. . . .

“Yet, along comes this show ‘Downton Abbey’ — rich people prominently featured and they’re generous; they’re nice people; they create jobs, for heaven’s sake; they’re classy; they’ve got style and we love ’em. … That show is wildly popular, which poses a threat to the left, doesn’t it?”

No, it doesn’t.

Varney is English, so we might forgive his enthusiasm for the relics of feudalism, but who among us would want our jobs, our healthcare and our children’s futures to depend on the success and values of one fat cat so powerful that he can casually change the name we go by?

Earl Grantham is a decent man, not overly bright, with far too much control over lives not his own.

In the real England of a century ago, landed aristocrats and captains of industry fought tooth and nail against worker’s unions, women’s suffrage, national insurance, and other changes that would dilute their power to run the country to benefit themselves.

Gee, much like Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative Legislature passing the unneeded Voter I.D. law, proposing to gut public sector unions, and cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of public services.

“Downton Abbey” is an inappropriate model for a modern democracy.

Warn your children: This is not how we want to live in America.

Jim Haas lives in Olathe and is a retired history teacher, principal and graduate-degree director.

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