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#21 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 12:11 AM



#22 Tyler

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 08:46 PM

Downton Arby's.

#23 kenmorefield

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 11:46 AM

I'm still trying to think more about how powerful of a sense this show gives you that there is a good and traditional way that things ought to be. [....]

I find their hang-ups and class strictures annoying. And yet [....]


Don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds almost like you find something mythopoeic about the sense of purpose and implied design that is in the class structure even if it (the acknowledgment that there is purpose and design in life) is not always understood or responded to correctly by those within it. I don't find that to be atypical of postmodern reader/viewer who develop deep affinities for historical fiction/romance (I see the same thing operating in aspects of the Jane Austen revivals of the 80s and 90s). Live in a cultural/philosophical landscape that insists there is no purpose and no design, no "way things ought to be" (only the way things care or the way things have been) and the spirit cries out from deep to deep with an affinity not for the way class structure was justified (divine right of kings, noblesse oblige), nor even the class structure itself, but for the recognition that making sense of an often confusing existence is (at least) as integral a part of human happiness and spiritual fulfillment as the attainment of a privileged mode of existence.

The editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature say of Malory's Arthurian romances: "Nostalgia for an ideal past that never truly existed is typical of much historical romance" and "much of the tragic power of his romance lies in his sense of the irretrievability of past glory in comparison with the sordidness of his own age."

I would argue that DA, while having plenty of melodramatic elements, is ultimately more of an historical romance than a melodrama. (Digression #1--I think Upstairs, Downstairs is much the same material but as melodrama rather than historical romance. Digression #2--This postulate needs a lot more teasing out, and if there were world enough, and time...) While I think the first quote is perhaps more cynical (though not overly so, it's no different from Billy Joel's "The good old days weren't always so good" or Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" I do think it points to the mythopoeic longing you may be hinting at. It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

P.S. I think in some ways Daisy is my hero. But that's another huge digression...

Edited by kenmorefield, 28 March 2012 - 11:48 AM.


#24 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 01:49 PM

Don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds almost like you find something mythopoeic about the sense of purpose and implied design that is in the class structure even if it (the acknowledgment that there is purpose and design in life) is not always understood or responded to correctly by those within it. I don't find that to be atypical of postmodern reader/viewer who develop deep affinities for historical fiction/romance (I see the same thing operating in aspects of the Jane Austen revivals of the 80s and 90s). Live in a cultural/philosophical landscape that insists there is no purpose and no design, no "way things ought to be" (only the way things care or the way things have been) and the spirit cries out from deep to deep with an affinity not for the way class structure was justified (divine right of kings, noblesse oblige), nor even the class structure itself, but for the recognition that making sense of an often confusing existence is (at least) as integral a part of human happiness and spiritual fulfillment as the attainment of a privileged mode of existence.

I think you're definitely on to something. The news coverage of the popularity of the show is amusing, partly because it comes from a sort of surprised double-take ("The ratings have increased mostly through word-of-mouth and ... Wait, we still like this?") Even the SNL parody touches upon how utterly ridiculous MTV culture thinks of Downton Abbey culture - it's a demonstrable difference of view. Sir Walter Scott wrote historical romances, and one of the definite points of his novels were an idealization of old ideals and values. Modern day times has changed and reformed a number of evils and oppressions that needed to be changed and reformed. But Downton Abbey is a show that demonstrates some of the old injustices we've rid ourselves of while still exploring some of the old values we chucked out with the bathwater that look like they were probably worth keeping. The nobility of different characters in the show has more to do with personal character than it does have to do with class. And yet, there's a sense in which the old British class structures look like they may have been occasionally meant to cultivate and protect certain attributes of nobility after all.

It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

A single paragraph that I believe you could probably develop into at least an entire thoughtful and fascinating essay. How many TV shows do Americans actually watch and how many of them cultivate an affection and nostalgia for something valuable that it seems like we have now irretrievably lost? Not many. It's also quite easy to cliche historical romance and nostalgia. It's not quite as easy to create a collection of complex characters, some of whom are convincingly genuinely good, and some of whom are legitimately wrestling with character flaws and losing while all the time making you believe they can still change. Our age is more than just directionless - it is anti-upper class, anti-elite, anti-intellectual even. Thus, the enjoyable irony that so many of us like this show.

On my own digression, my personality, personal tastes and natural proclivities tend to be repelled by anything that looks even remotely Jane Austenish. Downton Abbey is, somehow, an exception.

#25 kenmorefield

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 11:07 PM

It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

A single paragraph that I believe you could probably develop into at least an entire thoughtful and fascinating essay. How many TV shows do Americans actually watch and how many of them cultivate an affection and nostalgia for something valuable that it seems like we have now irretrievably lost? Not many. It's also quite easy to cliche historical romance and nostalgia.mehow, an exception.


Or parody it. I've been thinking about your reply most of the day and it made me realize that I think DA and the cultural work it does is almost the exact opposite of Mad Men. I enjoy MM after a fashion, but like so many one note parodies ("oh, isn't it funny how we use to be nostalgic about this period because, boy, oh boy, wasn't it awful?") it tends to wear thin on me very quickly. And I usually feel like those who like it or esteem it tend to think it is being more daring/brave/innovative than what I see. It sucks to be a woman in a patriarchal culture. It sucks to be a man in that culture. I think DA can show the problems, both personal and systemic of a period but still show people who try (and sometimes succeed) to carve out a life for themselves within it, whereas in MM nobody ever succeeds in doing that...in fact, it is Greek hubris to even try. I get that the cynical detachment is an emotional defense/cover for lives of quiet desperation, but, again, small doses....

#26 Anders

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 09:30 AM

I've been thinking about your reply most of the day and it made me realize that I think DA and the cultural work it does is almost the exact opposite of Mad Men. I enjoy MM after a fashion, but like so many one note parodies ("oh, isn't it funny how we use to be nostalgic about this period because, boy, oh boy, wasn't it awful?") it tends to wear thin on me very quickly.


Do you really think that's what MAD MEN is about? About us feeling superior to the past? I think that's a surface level reading myself.

I guess I'd love to hear more about this in the MAD MEN thread. I liked DA, but I think MAD MEN is the superior show.

#27 Ryan H.

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 11:37 AM


I've been thinking about your reply most of the day and it made me realize that I think DA and the cultural work it does is almost the exact opposite of Mad Men. I enjoy MM after a fashion, but like so many one note parodies ("oh, isn't it funny how we use to be nostalgic about this period because, boy, oh boy, wasn't it awful?") it tends to wear thin on me very quickly.

Do you really think that's what MAD MEN is about? About us feeling superior to the past? I think that's a surface level reading myself.

Me too. I don't think what makes MAD MEN exceptional is its cultural critique.

#28 kenmorefield

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:55 PM

I guess I'd love to hear more about this in the MAD MEN thread. I liked DA, but I think MAD MEN is the superior show.


Anders, I think I'll (I hope, graciously) decline that offer. I think that discussion would too easily morph into (if it isn't already) a partisan debate, and I'll concede you're not in the minority. (Also, I just don't feel like I could muster the energy to contribute to a discussion framed in that way.) I have no interest in debate(s) about why one show is better than another (or not), though I have mild curiosity about analytical comparisons that illuminate either art object (or both) in a way that helps clarify for me (or others) what it is about the thing one prefers that makes one prefer it. Persiflage's comments were actually quite enriching for me in that regard, and I meant to share with him how they were so. If I offended or riled fans of MM in the process, I apologize, and I certainly wouldn't want to compound that error by going into their (virtual) house and fanning the flames.

I do not think Mad Men is about us feeling "superior" to the past (just as I don't think Downtown Abbey is about us feeling inferior to the past). I do think both Mad Men and Downtown Abbey are as much about our relationship to the past as they are about the specific moment in history that they portray. And I do think think we are today, in this moment, a cynical age. As such, I think part (much? most?) of the cultural work that Mad Men does is reinforce the notion that we are right to be cynical, because while it critiques the 60s with biting, Back to the Futurish, 20-20 hindsight, it offers (me) little to nothing in the way of alternatives to the life and values it critiques.

I do think Downtown Abbey is ultimately more complex, because it, at least, invites us (or me) to consider alternatives both as held within the period itself and in our responses to them. Mad Men has often provoked sympathy in me but never (in 4+ seasons) empathy. I find its point of view to be ultimately just so limited. Perhaps that's an indictment of me and not the show, but Downtown, for all its hamhaned pacing problems in Season 2 will occasionally surprise me. Or, rather, the characters in it will occasionally surprise me. Both shows give me characters who I think are unhealthily determined by the cultural environment they are in, but in showing me characters who (try to) make meaningful choices, DA gives me a belief that there is a core person underneath the cultural determined one with whom I relate. Once I get past the thick layer of ennui that infects everyone in MM, I just don't see much there.

Huge caveat--it's worth pointing out that neither show is finished. As such, making final judgments about what either does (or fails to do) is, of course, premature.

Edited by kenmorefield, 29 March 2012 - 01:57 PM.


#29 Anders

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 02:52 PM

I do not think Mad Men is about us feeling "superior" to the past (just as I don't think Downtown Abbey is about us feeling inferior to the past). I do think both Mad Men and Downtown Abbey are as much about our relationship to the past as they are about the specific moment in history that they portray. And I do think think we are today, in this moment, a cynical age.


Thanks for this Ken. This is much more enriching than insisting that one is better than the other.

I agree with you on the above, while I disagree on the specifics of the way MAD MEN asks us to engage with that relationship with the past.

#30 BethR

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Posted 05 January 2013 - 10:09 PM

As Ken points out above, Downton Abbey is not finished, and season 3 premieres in the US on PBS tomorrow night. I am primed with all the semi-spoilers from TVGuide. Let the melodrama recommence!

#31 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 12:03 PM

This is now the only must see TV in our house. My wife is in love with this show, and I find it entertaining. Sometimes I'm entertained by the overall story and the time spent with these characters, sometimes I'm entertained at the overall story and the time spent by these characters.

So far season 3 is much more the latter iteration of entertainment. Medical Scares (again)! Inheritance issues (again)! These times, they are a-changin' (again)! I'm hoping for some big shift in action, but I'm glad that they've moved on from is Dowton doomed by the Canadian railroad crisis. I also noticed a lot more double entendres and the like this time around. Envigorating indeed.

#32 Tyler

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 01:11 PM



#33 Overstreet

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 12:33 PM

I've been amused to find that the top story at Patheos Movies, which says "How Downton Abbey Should End," directs readers to my Holy Motors review. It's been that way for a few days now, in spite of the fact that I reported it. I wonder how many people have actually followed the link and read the whole review...

#34 Christian

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 02:13 PM

:) That's hilarious, Jeffrey.

Any comments under your review from puzzled readers who followed the link?

#35 Overstreet

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Posted 25 February 2013 - 02:24 PM

Nope, not yet. I'd be delighted...

#36 Christian

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 10:34 PM

Out of the blue, a co-worker told me last week that she'd be passing along Seasons 2 and 3 of "Downton Abbey." She knows I enjoyed Season 1 and couldn't get to Season 2 the week I had it on loan from the library (Sarah plowed through it without me).

 

Now I'll be able to watch both seasons at my leisure. Which means I'll probably wrap them up around the time of the Season 9 premiere.