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Affluent Christian Investor | August 23, 2017

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Down On Downton: Why The Left Is Torching Downton Abbey

The first thing to do is to admit that I’m a Downton Abbey fan. In fact, I’ve watched every episode twice. But in my defense, I counterbalance my Downton viewings with at least one hour spent with my chainsaw for every hour tuned into Masterpiece Classic.

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.

Now at first glance one might think that all of this goes a bit too far, dragging politics in where it has no proper place. But on second look, the left’s reaction is understandable. Julian Fellowes and they are on the opposite side of something. But it’s not that Fellowes is on the right, and they on the left. It is that Fellowes is in the middle and they on the far left. Downton Abbey is not an apologetic for the old order. It just gives them a fair shake.

Lord Grantham is admirable, yes, but wrong on many things. He makes a pass at one of the house maids. He flies off the handle at Bates unfairly. He foolishly squanders the family fortune on a bad investment. He expresses bigoted views towards Catholics (of which Fellowes, a practicing Catholic, must surely disapprove). Most tragically, he lets his upper class solidarity lead to a medical decision which may have led to the death of his daughter.

But, in general, Lord Grantham is a faithful, intelligent, decent and benevolent. The world has to change; he knows it, but he wants the world to change more slowly than it wants itself to change. His wife and children are not in general wiser than he (which marks the show as distinct from almost all TV advertisements set in families), but they are sometimes wiser than he…just like in life.

Fellowes seems to be saying that the old order had its day; it was good, though not perfect, during its time. It deserves a decent burial and a fond memory. And he also seems to be saying that change for change’s own sake is just as destructive as preservation for preservation’s own sake. Liberation of women, good. Growth of an all-encompassing set of regulations bad. My friend John Tamny (editor of this page) has given a good account of Fellowes’ political philosophy as expressed in his novels .

But Downton Abbey is also a rejoinder to the current rage (in both senses) of class warfare. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal:

“I think the—well, not even the subtext, the supertext—of ‘Downton,’ is that it is possible for us all to get on, that we don’t have to be ranged in class warfare permanently—that for the general public, the fact that people are leading different lives with different economic realities and different expectations is perfectly cope-able with.”

“If you can’t deal with that,” he continues, “then your life would be unlivable. And I think politicians try to encourage us to think in a hostile sense [of] people who have a different circumstance to our own. Which I find very unproductive and uncreative.”

So Downton Abbey‘s message is an anti-class warfare one. The fact is that the spirit of the critics is hard left, and maybe that’s why Downton Abbey makes them so angry, because the success of the series shows that this group does not speak for America.

It also shows something equally important to the future of our culture: that there is no inherent need for good TV to be left of center. Stories sympathetic to virtue, preservation of property and admiration of nobility and of wealth can be told beautifully and to wide audiences, and I suspect they will be more and more in the future.

 

Article originally published on Forbes.com.

Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of AffluentInvestor.com, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.

Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.

Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for CNBC.com, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.

Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.

Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.

Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest five of their seven children.

 

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