Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Downton Delusion

Downton Abbey seems to be a national obsession but I can't quite understand it myself. Why do we enjoy watching a generation of injustice, inequality and wasted opportunities and celebrate them like they were the "Good Old Days". There was nothing good about them but they seem to be the golden age to the British.

My grandma died this week. She was 95 which is a good age and she had loved through a lot of change. She got her first passport to come to my wedding in Spain when she was 81. She was an impressive and strong woman but I have to think what she would have been . Her parents were servants to the aristocrats. Her dad was the chauffeur and I think that her mother was the upstairs maid. She was born to Downton parents, those that lived at their masters wishes. My grandma went to school at Wyggeston Girls Grammar School where she was even a prize winner. I do not know when she left school and with what qualifications but this was a time when women were still not encouraged to continue their education. She had her teenage years in the depression and her early twenties were the war years. What saddens me most is what she could have been if she was born in 1979 and not 1919.

That is what we are celebrating with Downton, the inequality that wasted potential like my Grandma's. The wealthy had their great houses and the aristocracy had their protected lives, because some ancestor had done some favour to some monarch. But why because my ancestor's were successful should I expect to be successful as well? They had their privilege and success built in. This was first weakened by Lloyd-George's "People's Budget" but mostly the inequality and injustice was a consequence of the post-war second world war settlements. The returning soldiers and the women who had fought and worked at home wanted a different world and so the Downton Age passed. There were still pockets left but the 60's and 70's took care of them. I still remember the sense of deference amongst the farmers to the old aristocrats, who had once been their landlords.

Now we have this return to idolising the gilded Downton Age when we are in the middle of another depression caused largely by the same families who caused the last one. The aristocrats who we thought had been vanquished just became the much more diffuse "Establishment". Why do we idealise a time that was so unfair, so unjust and so unequal. We love Agatha Christie where Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot come from the same Downton world with trips on the Orient Express, or cruises down the Nile. We fantasize about a life that did not exist for most people and forget that it was the nineties and noughties when we really "Never had it so good". Now we are entering another age of inequality and instead of fighting against it we are embracing it. It seems that we want to be back in Downton, knowing our place and doffing our caps again.

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