Opinion » Bill Cope

The Ups of Downton

We am most amused


Poor Sybil Crawley. She died, you know. Tragic. Tragic, indeed. She had just given birth to her Irish husband's baby and, because of the arrogance of that aristocratic twit of a doctor brought up from London by her father the Earl--"Earl" being his title, not his name--the warnings of the village's humble country doc were ignored.

And sure enough, poor sweet Sybil--who had rejected the privileges with which her own aristocratic blood would have naturally bestowed her by first acting as an attending nurse to the Great Wars' wounded, and then by falling in love with a commoner (the aforementioned Irishman who had been the family's chauffeur until the romance became known)--died.

But does not the fault ultimately lie with her father, who sided with his fellow blue-blood rather than the kindly country doc? And even before that, should not "M'Lord" (as the staff call him) have been more accepting of the affaire de coeur between Sybil and the chauffeur in the first place, thereby saving his youngest girl the hardship of having to leave Downton and live like just any other old Irish person? And doesn't Matthew's (M'Lord's other son-in-law) discovery of the total mismanagement of the estate prove that without the constant vigilance of the housekeeper and butler, the ladies' maids and valets, the scullery maids and footmen, Lord Crawley and his family couldn't wipe their own ... uh ... noses?

Ah, but now is not the time for such considerations. We am too distraught over Sybil's last scene. Besides, we come today not to judge the high-born denizens of Downton Abbey, fictional as they are. Rather, we come to judge the low-brow density of one Stuart Varney, a sadly un-fictional character who has, like so many before him, illustrated that the intellectual gravitas of anything coming out of Fox News could fit under Gretchen Carlson's eyeliner with room to spare for Karl Rove's flop sweat.

Mr. Varney, a Brit himself, is described as an "economic journalist" on the Fox network. We presume that alone is credential enough for him to pass as an authority on the societal implications of the enormous popularity of Downton Abbey. This in spite of the reality, as discerning people have long known, that the Fox organization is to the field of journalism what aroma therapy is to the field of medicine. (And let us be clear: When we speak of the "enormous popularity" of a PBS television series portraying the ups and downs of an early 20th century family of British aristocrats and their basement full of servants, we're not on the same scale as, say, Seinfield. Or even Honey Boo Boo.)

Recently, Varney put on display his expertise of how this haut monde soap relates to today's political environment, announcing it must be bad news for liberals that so many Americans have fallen in infatuation with the Crawleys, as it speaks to an admiration for the same rich that liberals so loathe. Said Varney, "... along comes this show [in which] rich people are prominently featured, and they're generous, they're nice, they create jobs for heaven's sakes, 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?"

We are all too aware there is little to be gained by arguing a claim from the watery logic of a Fox contributor. Still, we must try, not the least reason being we am a man both dotty over Downton Abbey, and a man of the left. When the series is in season, we and my wife arrange our Sunday evening so as not to miss a moment of the upcoming episode due to some calamity such as an un-invited nature call or dinner. We am also a liberal and damnably proud of it, so we feel more than qualified to dispute Mr. Varney's twaddle.

Let us ignore the implication that the only possible reason to watch this show is to enjoy the spectacle of people dressed perpetually in tweeds or black tie, having their soups and puddings served to them by grateful underlings who would otherwise be sweeping chimneys or picking pockets if not for the grace of the Crawleys. Let us ignore all other qualities such a show might offer: production values (superb), setting (awesome), acting (even if it were bad, the thick British patina makes it a treat), and intricate plotting (story lines as intertwined as a bucket full of gummy worms).

Let us also ignore the suggestion that the audience for this treasure is conservatives, who on Sunday nights give up their pawn shop shows, their wrestling, their 700 Club and, yes, their Honey Boo Boo, and rush en masse to PBS for another dose of Downton. Let us ignore that for decades, it has been liberals who howled like randy Tasmanian Devils at every threat to public broadcasting, or that liberals are far more likely to be historically aware of the inevitable outcome of the Downton Abbey arc--the rapid atrophy of the British gentry to the degree that, by the time another 50 years pass, it is likely the Crawleys would be living in a small apartment at the back of the manor and performing as tour guides to flocks of Liverpool housewives curious about the wallpaper and china.

Instead, let us focus on what we suspect is Mr. Varney's real motive for so lavishly extolling the virtues of these fictional rich people. We must remember that Mr. Varney, as a member of the Fox family, owes his employment to another sadly un-fictional character, Rupert Murdoch--a very rich person, indeed, and one known for his appreciation of slavishly loyal employees. So is it unseemly to suggest Mr. Varney was simply, by proxy, stroking his boss? Or what our French friends might call "fellation par substitut?"