As my wife the English teacher and I were settling in to watch public televisions popular Downton Abbey, 8-year-old granddaughter Samantha asked if it was appropriate for her to see.
By JIM HAAS
Special to The Star
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.
Its sound historical fiction, and an entertaining dose of history is always appropriate for children. Whats not to like?
Englands 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, hes 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, womens 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. Mustnt allow informality between the Makers and the Takers, as some of todays 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. Theyre dismissed as fat cats who dont pay their fair share. . . .
Yet, along comes this show Downton Abbey rich people prominently featured and theyre generous; theyre nice people; they create jobs, for heavens sake; theyre classy; theyve got style and we love em. That show is wildly popular, which poses a threat to the left, doesnt it?
No, it doesnt.
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 childrens 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 workers unions, womens 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.