Why the Left Hates '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 Woodhouse, 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 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 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.



Posted in Economics, Entertainment, Feminism, Marriage, Media, Morality, Politics Tagged with: , , , , ,
  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.coffey.908 Bob Coffey

    Of course the left hates it – it goes against the liberal lie that the wealthy are moral degenerates while the seething masses of the unwashed are paradigms of virtue.

    • [email protected]

      Don’t know about you, Bob – but there’s a whole lot of “seething” coming from the masses posting here – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  • Gary Cangemi

    I’ve given up watching this series for two reasons: the obvious plagiarism of plots and characters from other sources, most notably the blatant rip-off of a plotline from the classic film, Mrs. Miniver, and for the imposition of 21st century political views into an early 20th century period drama, namely Lord Grantham’s modernist defense of Thomas’s homosexual overtures. I enjoy the period drama genre because it allows me to escape the 21st century and imagine life in another time and place. Authenticity is essential. There is no place for historical revisionism in it.

    • http://www.pourbooks.com/ Anthony Pour

      I guess you are talking about Season 3, Episode 8. I agree with you there. Some of His good old Lordship’s lines are very much out-of-characeter. But, as for me, I just looked away for a moment. The rest is well worth watching.

    • The Brigadier

      But isn’t that kind of revisionism exactly what the author is writing about? He cites several examples from previous Masterpiece Theatres that treats the upper class as thieves, stupid, uncaring and extremely sexually repressed. You can’t have all that and not expect a show trying to be fair to go a little way in the other direction. You are trying to hold this show up to higher standard than the usual British fare. It must be good.

      • Gary Cangemi

        Yes , but it must also be honest. I think most people who watch and enjoy period drama do so for the element of authenticity it brings to the portrayal of a time gone by. Imagine watching an episode of Downton and seeing a cell phone lying on a table next to Lady Grantham, inadvertently left there by a stage hand. (this didn’t happen-just an illustration) Wouldn’t the veil of suspended disbelief suddenly come tumbling down as you are reminded that this is just a 21st century dramatization? Well inserting modernist thinking into post-Edwardian dialogue is just as unsettling, especially when it is so blatant and obvious. To me it says that the author cares more about his causes and political beliefs than he does about the story he is telling and the audience to which he is telling it.

        • Conservadiva


        • Jamieos

          My mother was born in 1903, and yet she was not judgmental about homosexuality. I do believe that her stance on the subject was partly based on her ignorance about what it was that male homosexuals do, since I had no real idea myself until I was well beyond the age of innocence – about the time AIDs entered the picture. Full disclosure: I was born in 1931, but I went to art school and that means I knew gay men aplenty. Also homosexuality was I believe more recognized in Britain at an earlier date, and it was not unknown in public schools and in society, as was unfaithfulness in marriage. I do think Americans have been governed more by “Middle Class Morality’ as Alfred Dolittle called it (My Fair Lady) until very recently, when it is now shoved down or throats on a regular basis (pun not quite intended). However I haven’t yet seen the third season of Downton – have the DVDs but I have been saving them for a perfect set of evenings.

          Incidentally Lady Grantham was one of the large group of wealthy American women who married English nobility in the last quarter of the 19th and the early 20th century. Winston Churchill’s mother Jenny Jerome was an early example, marrying Randolph Churchill, second son of the Duke of Marlbouough. The Duke was broke and the Jerome family liked the idea of marrying into the nobility – fair exchange they thought!

        • Gary Cangemi

          Thanks for that insightful reply. It is possible that certain members of the aristocracy were privately tolerant of homosexuality but I doubt they would have openly defended a member of their household staff who made overtures to a same sex member. Lord Grantham’s response sounded exactly like something someone would have said in the current same sex marriage debate, not a remark that seemed consistent with the times of Downton Abbey. Its application to the story was deliberate , in my view, to introduce the topic and make a modern political statement.

        • Jamieos

          “I doubt they would have openly defended a member of their household staff who made overtures to a same sex member.”

          I quite agree – and I believe there was a certain amount of paternalism practised by the upperclass employers, so that if an older servant came on to a younger more innocent one, he would have been dismissed out of hand to protect the younger, and that would have included male female hankypanky as well. And since service jobs such as these were considered quite desirable, such activities would have been carried on very secretly. Actually back in the day all such behavior outside conventional morality was acknowledged, but it just wasn’t pushed on the public as being respectable. As long as these illicit sexual behaviors were kept sub rosa then they were tolerated, but when they were outed publicly, they became scandal. Not a bad system actually.

          Well I’ll have to wait and see what I think after I’ve watched season 3.

        • Gary Cangemi

          Excellent points. Last night’s episode was interesting. While the gay underbutler gets a free pass after making sexual advances to a footman and is portrayed as the hero for defending the footman, the maid gets canned for even considering having lunch with the ex-chaffeur, now parading around as a respectable member of the upper class. I don’t get it. Under the rules, shouldn’t they both have been fired for stepping over the bounds of propriety?The inconsistencies here stick out like sore thumbs.
          And was it necessary to kill off Crawley after surviving WWI, near paralysis, and just after having a son? He was one of the few stable characters in this piece.

  • LArry

    Knew you guys would be appalled by anything gay. LOL. I know tons of liberals who love Downtown. You know those commie NyT gay critics. What would you expect. Glad there are somethings liberals and right wing nut cases can agree on. Downtown is great fun. I generally get me a bucket of Chick-Fil-A to Munch when I’m watching. Great combo. I also leave an empty chair in front of the Tv.

    • LikedTheOldUSABetter

      So, just what the hell are you trying to say?

    • YCNAN


      • [email protected]

        Downton. Watch it. It’s a good show . . . except for the paucity of cats.

        • YCNAN


    • Abbey_Fan

      Obviously made-up rant… I have never seen Chick-Fil-A in a bucket!

      • [email protected]

        This chicken-hound cat is licking his lips – but I prefer the chicken my house-person makes. The Chick-Fil-a owner is a dweeb.

    • Winghunter

      Another fantasy boy, how warped. When you insult Conservatives as ‘rightwing nutcases’ you’re also calling our Founding Fathers the same (precisely what has provided for our liberty for the past 230+ years) which makes you a traitor.
      We’re getting to the point we won’t suffer traitors much longer in which case there will be two chairs empty in front of your TV.

  • Remington 870

    The left hates anything where family, honor and patriotism are featured. Demonizing religion and traditional marriage are the perverted lynch pins of liberalism. I don’t have any liberal friends and never have. i regard these low life people with the utmost distain.

    • Mary

      nobama feels that the only way of ife is to be lose like his mother….disgraceful….this is what he learned

    • [email protected]

      Sorry Charlie. You don’t have to “demonize” traditional marriage in order to respect love between two men or two women.
      Now, if you’re talking about a marriage between a man and a doberman pinscer – that notion skeeves me too.

      • Winghunter

        Why do you pretend that beastiality is anymore inherently wrong than the psychosis of homosexuality?? Careful, your fantasy is showing.

        Homosexuals weren’t removed from the mental illness list by scientific breakthrough, they weren’t cured – the Gaystapo simply forced a vote on the APA.
        Homosexuality: The Mental Illness That Went Away bit.ly/MdG2gm

  • http://www.facebook.com/judy.ratliff.94 Judy Ratliff

    why are they bashimg them? obama had part of the cast from this show here last year at the White House.

  • http://www.pourbooks.com/ Anthony Pour

    I have watched every episode at least twice, yet every time the credits come up at the end, I go and pat my TV with the same heart-felt affection. The old-world Downton Abbey saga proved to me that even the latest, technologically most advanced LED screen is capable of spewing something other than the deranged HD crap most networks keep flooding it with these days.

  • Mary

    I must start to watch this…..I like what I am reading…..

    • YCNAN


      • Winghunter

        I bypassed it out-of-hand precisely because I thought it would be like the other garbage of Time-Warner/NBC/CNN/ et al. Now, I’ll have to try a few.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NLORN6B3ZNGCAJTFHWWFUUEY4Q jong

    Ah for world that was indeed not perfect but, had one thing the liberals can not stand for. Civility.

    • [email protected]

      Lots of civil discussion here . . .

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NLORN6B3ZNGCAJTFHWWFUUEY4Q jong

        Far more than you would get at Huff and Puff and we deal in facts.

  • WASP

    I’m not so sure that a significant % of the viewership isn’t libtards. Ever since those damm Kennedys came upon the scene, the left has pined for a Nobility, Remember all that drivil about “Camelot” in reference to the patrician Kennedy perverts. The left still thinks that a patrician ruling class (them, of course) is a great idea. The anti-american slime worship the ground the ruling class walks on. “Anyone who wants a strong State, either is, or intends to be, the State.” Voila!

  • Ilene

    I watch it, and love it!

  • cpass

    Lovely article! The left hates anything that smells of polite society with people who respect each other no matter what their status in life’s professions. Downton is a “masterpiece.” It seems the Brits know how to do theatre better than anyone. The story triumphs over “class warfare,” which is ironic to have this set in Britain when the British in reality have gone off the rails into Fabian Socialism. In that way, the story is much more American in its values, or at the least shows a side of British culture that used to be great and honorable. I am enjoying Downton very much and recommend it highly!

  • [email protected]

    An equivalent article would be “Why the right hates Ted Nugent”.
    Sure some “conservatives” hate Ted Nugent’s degenerative rock-and-roll (particularly the moral values despising “Cat Scratch Fever” kind of songs) . . . but Downton Abbey is just as popular among liberals as it is among conservatives, because everyone likes a feel-good story about nice people – regardless of their financial status.
    Now, how about an article about something else that liberals and conservatives can agree on, like “Why we all are against the killing of American citizens – even those who join the Taliban – without due process guaranteed by the Constitution”. I hope that article will note that this terrible strategy was begun under President George W. Bush.
    Another one – “Why the Patriot Act Should Be Repealed”, since the Patriot Act allows the U.S. Government to imprison U.S. citizens without formally charging them – again lack of due process, and again an act passed by a Republican Congress and Republican President Bush, a bill which was printed overnight and approved the next morning with literally no opportunity for anyone to read – with only a small contingent of liberals and libertarians opposing it.
    ZLet’s get on the stick and find things like these which we can agree on – rather than dividing ourselves against ourselves.

    • Winghunter

      There are no American citizens who travel to an active combat zone and join the Islamists to fight against us. That’s an automatic surrendering of citizenship. If you can’t process that logic, see a shrink – quickly.

  • [email protected]

    BTW, I personally don’t like Downton Abbey – but only because the characters don’t show enough respect for their house cats.

  • Dave4654

    I like DA because I find it entertaining. Sometimes funny and sometimes the tears flow (yes I admit it). Best stuff on public broadcasting.

  • bondservant1

    Two commentaries in the same week – http://teapartyeconomist.com/2013/02/14/12544/

    • Jamieos

      I read Gary North and found him interesting as usual. I must say that the crux of all this – at least to me – is that we who are conservative resent the destabilizing efforts and the effects of them done by those we call Progressives. We are rooting for stability, something we perceive as slipping away, and if this is the case, and I strongly believe it is, then we should also critically examine some of the issues posited by BasilBuddhaCat above.

  • kjenkinsaf

    I don’t know why people have to tear apart that which is different. The NYT is chock full of bigots, racists, and anti American snobs. All college educated I’m sure. I think there is a prerequisite to be gay, progressive or communist (or the trifecta!) prior to being hired. What passes for art in New York, and London for that matter, may be on a higher plane than what my proletarian mind can perceive, but it’s a damn sight better than anything THEY proclaim. Love Downton Abbey, and even liked The Waltons.

  • phoenix01

    I may have to check this show out.

  • Vincenta

    We enjoy Downton, however we are upset that writers killed off Sybil and now Matthew. The story line is very entertaining and down to earth.

    • http://www.facebook.com/deidra.jorgenson Deidra Jorgenson

      The actors did not want to remain on Downton

  • http://www.facebook.com/deidra.jorgenson Deidra Jorgenson

    I appreciated the story line where change is resisted, in large part, because of loyalty/concern as to the well being of the people being supported by the manor.The biblical view I understand is that we are equal in the eye of our Creator, but not equally endowed physically, or fiscally for example. The responsibility , and subsequent accountability for what we do in this life with what we are given/achieve is well thought out in Downton’s theme… and appreciated by many.

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