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Why every man must watch Downton Abbey
This is going to be a fairly refreshing change from my usual gloomy hardcore lefty posts (I'm libertarian verging on fanatical liberalism), so don't stop reading just yet! Today I am going to discuss with you why as a man, gay, bi or straight, you MUST (not should, MUST) watch Downton Abbey!
What's it about?
Basically, Downton Abbey is set in the fictional British estate called Downton in the World War I era, and is about the Grantham family; a wealthy but highly disfunctional household. The first episode is set after the sinking of the Titanic in 1914, in which Lord Grantham's future son-in-law Patrick has (apparently) been drowned. Now as we know in the bad old pre-Germaine Greer days, it wasn't legal for women to inherit a family fortune. Supposing a man had a daughter, it would be passed down to his son-in-law. Which is unfortunately the case for Lord Grantham, the patriarch of the house, who only has three unmarried daughters and no boys (gasp!). So what moves the series along is mainly the conundrum of finding a bunch of male suitors for the three girls, so as to solve the problem of inheritence. The main characters so far (in the first 2 seasons) include:
The protagonist of the series, and the master of Downton, Lord Grantham served as an officer in the Anglo-Sudanese War of the late 19th century. Although old-fashioned and conservative, he is a kind man, and is loved by his friends and employees alike.
Lord Grantham's American wife, she is extremely concerned about finding suitors for her three daughters. Like her husband, her heart is set in the right place and she treats her servants well. Not as class-conscious as her more conservative in-laws.
Lord Grantham's eldest daughter, Mary is probably the bitchiest of the three. In the beginning of the series, she treats others with disdain and even declared that she wasn't sad at her fiance's (apparent) death because she never loved him anyway. She matures throughout the series and becomes a better person throughout the war years.
Lord Grantham's second daughter, Edith is apparently "the uglier one". While being a nice and friendly person, she suffers from low self esteem and tends to be clingy and emotionally needy, which frightens guys away. She and Mary hate each other.
Lord Grantham's idealistic youngest daughter, Sybil strongly believes in a non-judmental world where people are all equally valued. She is a first-wave feminist, and joins the suffragette movement of the early 20th century. She falls in love with the chauffeur, which causes her to be estranged from her class-conscious father.
A distant cousin of Lord Grantham, Matthew is a young middle-class lawyer who falls for Mary. Initially she does not like him, finding him too simple and unrefined for her taste (rich bitch!). He joins the army as an officer during the war, following the footsteps of his uncle.
Why should you as a man watch Downton Abbey?
Now you must be thinking, "It's great that you love Downton Abbey and shit, but will straight guys actually enjoy it? Isn't it something like Sex and the City?" NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! It isn't rubbish, this is quality stuff and I will tell you why. A great aspect about Downton Abbey is that it isn't a typically feminist (as most dramas are) piece which portrays everything from a male-oppressor-female-oppressed POV. Too often we find that mainstream feminist literature cannot discuss issues which affect men without reminding them that they're still somehow overprivileged and that their issues are less serious than women's issues. Downton Abbey is unique in that it talks about and critiques the issues women face/faced, but doesn't sideline the issues that us men face. Men are also victims of domestic/emotional abuse(e.g. Mr Bates and his wife), men are expected to be strong, aggressive and brave, and "wimpish" men (nice guys) who don't conform to the boy code (contemporary Anglo-Saxon notions of masculinity) are despised and marginalized by our society.(e.g. William who is given a white feather of cowardice for not joining the army) Also, men are not simply emotionless drones who are utterly devoid of feelings. We too are living, breathing human beings, but not like Mary is aware of that in the way she treats Matthew in the beginning. Not only is she extremely sarcastic to him ("yes, I agree the whole thing is one big joke") despite his genuine apology for what he said, she also subtly insults him at the dinner table, comparing him to a "sea monster" of Greek tragedy. Later, to rub salt into the wound, she tells him, "Oh you know what? I really do like you; But um, we'll have to wait and see if mum's baby is a boy (her mother becomes pregnant in mid Season 1). Until then I can't promise you anything." (the message is that he's simply a moneybag and nothing more and that she doesn't REALLY like him, she only wants to marry him for respectability and a patriarchal inheritence). Most people don't know how hurt men can get at these kinds of things, and Downton Abbey does a splendid job at illustrating the fact that men too have fragile feelings that can be hurt, men need to be able to express their vulnerability, to have a shoulder to cry on, or they'll resort to other, destructive ways to channel their emotions (e.g. Matthew joining the army and going off to war).
Why do I love it?
But I think the main thing I love about Downton Abbey was that I found myself relating very closely to Sybil. Although Sybil and I (Yes, I'm talking about her like she's a real person!) come from different socio-cultural mores and entirely different time periods, we're both the same in that we are progressives; Sybil is trying to expand the horizons of female gender roles in the 1920s, while I am personally striving to gain a wider range of acceptable male forms of self-expression in contemporary culture. In other words, I really like Sybil because I can relate to her, and I think she and I would be good friends if she lived in this time period. Compared to mainstream TV like Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City, Downton Abbey is beautiful in the sense that no matter who you are, you will find a character you can closely relate to, because they are all human. They aren't perfect, but you realize that they're just trying to find their place in the world, and I feel our world today is no different; I see myself as the guy version of Sybil, who is bringing revolution to a changing world (with changing gender roles). To me, I strongly, strongly believe that history should be largely taught through TV (e.g. The Three Kingdoms, Downton Abbey, The Borgias, The Last Emperor, Jodhaa Akbar, etc). The beauty is that the facts will be more memorible because the historical figures in question aren't just pictures in a textbook; they're living, breathing human beings with unique personalities and problems just like us, and students will also get a hands-on view on things like power, class distinctions, gender and sexuality and how these things shaped the world we live in. So when somebody says he/she hates history, it means they haven't been learning it the right way!
Watch it man, you won't f***ing regret it!
- Downton Abbey ITV1 promo - YouTube
Here's a trailer to Downton Abbey I stole off Youtube. This should give you an idea of what it's about.