Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Downton Abbey in America
Season 4 just ended, and as always, I'm left in a dreamy state. There's something so attractive about Downton Abbey. You can't help but wish to be a part of the British aristocracy and feel pity and admiration for the working class that run the estate. So appreciate PBS's attention to historical detail, capturing the drama that occurred as the world changed its course in the early 1900s.
In Season 4, Episode 5, the Countess of Grantham says to her maid Baxter that she was attending a charity function. When asked what she would like to wear, the Countess said she does not want to make anyone feel bad.
The scene, though minor, caught my attention. It shone light on what we knew but hadn't brought to the forefront of our minds: Image is so important to the aristocracy. What you wear, who you marry, how you talk, what words you say. The package that you present to the social public is important. You have the choice, even if you are of a higher status than the rest, to be thoughtful about what you wear. It was a business decision to make sure that you carry yourself a certain way. It was a way of life.
THE UPPER CLASS IN AMERICA
This sounds shallow to us with a 21st Century American middle class mindset. We value freedom, individuality, being able to be who we want to be.
But the reality is that mindset still exists with us today.
Who is aristocracy in America? Famous people. The wealthy. In America, our currency is fame and fortune. Think of how important image is to them. The upper class of America choose to either use a good image to their advantage (donating to charities, wearing tasteful clothing) or a bad image to gain popularity (need I say more than Miley Cyrus?).
Having spent time as an assistant in the world of the wealthy upper class in California, I see evidence of the British aristocracy customs. Manners, traditions, customs. So much time and money are spent on the preservation and establishment of presentation and reputation.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
There are times when it drives me mad at all the little things that are done. It feels like so much time and money and energy is wasted on making sure things are just a certain way. They employ dozens of people to facilitate what seems like unimportant, pointless. Wouldn't it be better just to cancel the fundraiser and donate all that money straight to the charity?
Writing from an American middle class situation, I have a hard time with this aspect of the lives of the aristocracy. Can they not put on their own necklace? The other part of me understands that if the aristocracy DID want to dress themselves, many of the characters would be out of a job.
But in the end, when presented on screen, we can't help but swoon and dream. There is something appealing about being able to choose to spend your time that way.
I appreciated in Season 4 that we saw a lot of the "work" Lady Mary and Lord Grantham put in to run their estate. While the servants continue to slave away (happily I will say)--their lives a stark contrast to those upstairs--the world continues to go on. And Mr. Carson approves. (What else do you need?) With the addition of the situation in Season 1 when Lord Grantham tells Matthew the important of understanding your role as an employer (much to the benefit of Mr. Molesley), my attitude toward the Crawley's (and the upper class in general) starts to warm.
The upper class are often antagonized by those of a lower rank looking up. While I can say that I feel like both ends of the spectrum have their strengths and their weaknesses, the joy and gratitude with which the staff at Downton carry themselves has quite a bit to say about how we should look upon generous and fair employers, even if they do have more money than we do. Gobs of money doesn't make you a bad person.
I think as hardworking Americans who struggle to attain "success", its easy to look poorly on those who had everything given to them. Or at least, that's how it appears. We like the rags to riches stories, but despise those born into wealth, although the end result is basically the same.
Let's give the aristocracy of America a break. They are just like the rest of us, only born into a different life than we were given. That doesn't make anyone better than the other. Besides, why are working so hard to attain wealth anyway (that is another issue entirely). Simply, let us learn to look at everyone through the same lens of humanity.
Soli Deo Gloria.
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