This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Downton Abbey.



     Last Sunday Susan and I made a point of finding and watching the season premier of Downton Abbey, even while we were on vacation and had turned the TV on in our room but once (to check the snowstorm back home).  Why do we like this show?  We are both progressive followers of Jesus who abhor inequalities of wealth and power.  Is this not just a slightly more intellectual version of silly fawning over the British royal family? 
     I realize of course that Downton is about inequalities of wealth and power.  And I am well aware that the luxuries of the upstairs Downton family are entirely underwritten by the work of others (most of whom never appear on the show).  Lord Grantham’s family appears almost never to do anything approximating labor, and even look down upon those who do.
     But Downton is also about change.  For the system is collapsing in slow-motion as we watch.  That is part of the fascination for me.  I mean, it starts in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic… and the rest of the drama – like the century itself – is little more than commentary on that event.  Had the show been set a hundred years earlier the situation would have been far nastier, and interesting for entirely different reasons.
     The “values” of Downton are perpetually under attack.  The abbey is invaded by change daily, from new technolgies – electricity, the automobile, the telephone, and now the mixer – to new and previously proscribed kinds of relationships.  In other words, it is a “distant mirror” of our own time.  We know, as the characters do not, where this is all headed for them.  That is, on the one hand, democratization, technical advancement, liberty, and social equality will increase.  And on the other hand, they will soon have to contend with the Depression and World War II.  
     We do not know where it is all headed for us.  We certainly hope to do a better job of integrating the positive and filtering out the negative – but one of the warnings we derive from the Downton stories is that these two may not be separable or even easily defined.  Perspective is important.  From the view-point of Lord Grantham and stalwart conservatives like Mr. Carson, we don’t see the violence and depravity inherent in the British (or any) class system the abbey represents and which they are interested in preserving.  They only see decency, order, and stability, all under threat.
     But, as we see the changes assaulting Downton Abbey, along with glimpses of the underside of that whole system, I think we end up rooting for a world that is more like the best of what we know today: with more equality, compassion, and openness.    Hopefully this will help us resist forces that ever seek to drag us back into increasing inequality, injustice, and violence.  And perhaps the most hopeful thing about Downton Abbey is that those who want to keep the old system always get shaken, shamed, cajoled, encouraged, and manipulated, and eventually they lose.
     You can’t unhit the iceberg.  But you can stop grieving for, or even trying to refloat, the sinking palace, and start building hope in the life-boats. 
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