Why This Catholic Has Downton Fever
The Masterpiece Classic television show – Downton Abbey – that airs in the United States on PBS, and originally started in England, has taken the whole world by storm. The show is a period drama, set in early 20th century England. It’s the tale of an aristocratic family, who owns the fictional estate, Downton Abbey, and their servants downstairs. It navigates the turn of the century’s changes of politics, relationships, fashion and food. I know I’m biased, but even according to the New York Times,
Since its September 2010 premiere on ITV in Britain, the show… has appeared in more than 200 countries or regions…“Downton Abbey” was the most-watched drama in Denmark, the No. 1 scripted series in the Netherlands and at or near the top of its time slot in countries like Singapore and Brazil last year, according to figures provided by NBC Universal International. It has also been one of the most watched imports in Australia, Norway, Belgium, Israel and Iceland…
Numerous people have credited its popularity with universal themes like social status and romance… but I think there are plenty of shows that exploit these common narratives. I would argue it’s so popular because the entire world is just entirely sick and tired of things that are crass. One of the show’s best, shining features is the overarching tone of restraint and modesty that defines the nature of the drama. There are no rude jokes, few episodes that you’d be embarrassed to watch with your grandma, and high moral standards. The characters face real consequences for their actions, which makes them seem more lifelike. The bright, natural light and beautiful classical music, perfect in their simplicity, are refreshing.
None of this is to say that the show doesn’t have flaws. Occasionally the show slips into melodrama or dignified characters do something exceedingly out of character. There are wicked characters and ones who are boring and tasteless… but they seem to fade in the context of more shining examples of morality. I learned in the sixth grade that all stories must, by definition, have problems. As much as I’d love the show to revolve around Lady Mary’s outfits or the dry quips of the Dowager Countess, those alone do not make a story.
I think the writer of the show sets the drama in another time to remind us of what pure relationships look like. Purity is a universal good. The Church (at least, the universal one we’re a part of) proclaims purity as a way to define our hearts and the way we treat one another. Downton exemplifies this in plenty of the relationships it portrays. I think one of the reasons I was so shamelessly happy at the engagement of one of the couples, was because of the purity that defined their relationship. They’d been friends first, had clearly not slept together, and experienced joy with mere dancing and jokes together. Call me simple minded, but isn’t that how the best relationships begin? Being so crazy about the mere presence of the other person has a way of easing the temptation for sex before marriage. In the world of Downton, marriage is encouraged, babies are welcomed and the moral order doesn’t seem threatened.
The Church also loudly proclaims the goodness of men being masculine and women being feminine, another universal truth. As the male characters of Downton march off to World War I in the second season and the female characters spend their time praying for them and nursing the wounded back to health, one is nostalgic for a time that sex differences were embraced and people could freely be themselves without worrying about seeming like stereotypes. The women take great pleasure in dressing up in wonderfully feminine gowns (without baring too much) and the men always look handsome in their tuxedos.
All in all, I think the reason I enjoy Downton so much is because of it’s unabashed embrace of tradition and grace. I get so tired of the twenty-first century media’s glorification of anything different, with complete disregard of worth, but also of the numerous people I know who feel like tradition is something to be squashed and disregarded. I’m tired of rude and tasteless jokes being embraced and people treating sex like it’s meaningless. I suppose the insane popularity of Downton gives me hope that maybe the rest of the world is also getting a tad tired of the perpetuation and ugliness of sin.