If you’re not watching Downtown Abbey, you might snooze through this post. But my guess is that you are watching Downtown Abbey because almost EVERYONE I know is. Across the board. Transcending gender, race and age. Downton appears to span every dividing line with a compulsive finesse. Many of us wait with a hungry anticipation for Sunday night, so we can lose ourselves in a world that is completely different from ours in every way imaginable.
Or is it?
Why do we have such a craving for this show? For these characters? Because at the core of each episode is a web of tangled roots consisting of age old themes of which we are all familiar: family, relationships, sibling rivalry, love, lust, money, shame, humour, hierarchy, transformation, grief, rebellion, prejudice, power, conflict, loyalty.
Downton Abbey may be set in the early 1900’s in an exclusively white community, but in fact it provides us with an uncanny mirror to our very own existences. Strip us of our smart phones and our laptops and I reckon any one of us will find a character or a scenario in Downton that we see ourselves reflected in. Edith’s struggle to individuate. Thomas grappling with his sexuality. Mrs Hughs confronting her mortality. Lady Grantham questioning her marriage. Mary facing issues of infertility. Lord Grantham resisting change and feeling redundant in his 50’s. Daisy dealing with her low self esteem. A family in grief.
We may not be wearing corsets and crinoline, but it is the common humanity displayed in these characters that draws us to them – that compels us to fall into their world and long for it again when the credits have rolled.
This week my husband was having a bit of a sulk because he felt that the kids and I were ganging up on him over something. He was ‘giving it Grantham’ – big time. When I pointed this out to him, he laughed, recognizing how true my observation was. It’s a relief to be taken back to a simpler age, but also a relief to feel while we are watching, that we have a shared understanding – a heart and soul connection with life as it was lived almost a hundred years ago.
Downton’s popularity may well be a knee jerk reaction to the excesses in our culture – over sexualisation saturating the media, celebrity worship, shrinking attention spans, mindless violence sold as entertainment and mind numbing reality TV.
Call me old fashioned, but whatever the origin of our fixation – I personally think it is a welcome and soothing balm.
And it appears that many of you do too.
I only have to see the backside of that lolloping Labrador and my pulse begins to regulate. I know I am in for a treat. A window to a world long gone, and yet one that is still strangely very present.
Question: Are you watching Downton? Which character can you relate to?
Writing prompt: Choose one of the broad Downton themes from the list above and write into it. Narrow it down, starting with a wide angle lens and zeroing in. This is an excellent writing practice – finding a rhythm between the universal and the personal.