I’ve recently become a Downton Abbey devotee, am finding this epic saga about the English aristocracy and those who serve them to be absolutely riveting. A good friend of mine convinced me to watch it, knowing that even though I’m more a fan of shows with medieval settings (The Borgias), or serial killers (Dexter), that I would love it as much as she does.
She was right, and whenever I have the time to sneak in an hour of the trials and tribulations of this British family and their staff I claim the couch and remote, and indulge. I’m only halfway through season two (I’m told someone pivotal dies soon, please don’t ruin it for me), but I’m already quite attached to the characters, either rooting for their choices, or alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) appalled by some of their comments.
The story takes place almost a hundred years ago, and as I watch the episodes I’ve had time to think about how much things have changed since the early nineteen hundreds. Women in the UK are no longer struggling to attain the right to vote. Having babies, (or even sex) out-of-wedlock, will no longer (in most instances) get a woman shunned from the world.
I’ve read that being a member of the English peerage is no longer what it used to be, that class lines in England have been blurred and crossed to a considerable degree since we said goodbye to the twentieth century. I can’t see these transitions as anything but a positive outcome of activism, being that I’m a firm believer that we should be judged on our own merits, not on our ancestors’ bloodlines.
I believe most of the characters at Downton Abbey would have my head for that (some of the downstairs staff included).
As I wrapped up a particularly riveting episode last evening (will Matthew make it back from France? Does Sybil find forbidden love with the chauffeur?), I couldn’t help but feel slightly frustrated with certain characters, caught myself judging their narrow-mindedness without considering the weight of societal approval back then. I had to constantly remind myself what being “shunned” meant socially, economically, and emotionally for those who strayed from their appointed class lines, as well as what it meant for those who parted from society’s rigorous moral code.
Still, I longed to reach through my flat screen (if you’re reading this husband, don’t worry, I won’t), and shake those actors at times. I wanted to implore the staff of Downton Abbey not to judge Mr. Bates on his physical imperfections, but instead on the contents of his generous heart. I felt like informing the Dowager Countess that she should just get over herself, and celebrate the fact that her granddaughter might be in love, even if it is with the help. I desired to remind the second Grantham daughter, Lady Edith, that the large stain on her dress at dinner was not nearly as important as the fact that their family’s trusted butler might be dying right in front of her.
I found that last scene particularly galling, but that’s just me.
As I turned off the DVD player last night, remembering how to return to regular cable and being inordinately proud of myself, I found myself wondering what the next hundred years would bring for all of us, particularly those considered “disabled”, either physically, mentally, or emotionally.
For one thing, I hope this century sees the end of the word itself, with the word “differently-abled” being used to replace one that sets limits and defines a person, rather than one which focuses on their strengths and the beauty of their differences. Truly, eradicating this word is more important than you might think, because it sets the stage for how a person is viewed, immediately putting them at a disadvantage.
Along with “retarded”, I’d be happy to see that one go.
I’ve been fortunate enough to live through almost a half century (!) of progress for African-Americans, women, and the gay community, among many others. I’ve read, heard, and spoken to people whose views have changed regarding each one of these groups, and it’s been so heartening to witness not only their acceptance of those who are different from them, but their ability to embrace those differences. I have hope this acceptance will extend to my sons.
It is my greatest wish that my children and their peers will one day live in a world where their differences are respected, not overlooked, but instead celebrated. I hope this will transpire during my hundred years (people in my family live insanely long lives, so there’s hope). Perhaps, if I am incredibly lucky, I will one day look back at the long arm of a century lived and recall with incredulity that people once dismissed those who didn’t conform to a picture of “perfect”, and reflect upon how antiquated those opinions were.
Perhaps I will get the opportunity to smile at their folly, and wrap myself in the certainty that indeed, times have changed, people have changed. I dream that one day I will inhabit a world that has been made a better, more welcoming place for my sons, and all who walk the path of “difference” with them. I dream they will be happy, productive, and respected.
And I hope, along with rooting for Sybil and her outrageous love, that this is one dream that actually comes true.