It occurred to me, in the process of a conversation, that the current ‘madness’ for Downton Abbey, in which I am a joyful and willing participant, has as much to do with our modern society as it does our taste for history and the perception of glamour and family stories.
Why would I say such a thing? What possible connection could the series of Downton Abbey have to do with our twenty-first century? Well, the fact is that there have long been, at least in the so-called Western civilization, the layers of society having to do with wealth and privilege as well as the ‘under-levels’ that support those ‘upper levels’. In the time of Downton Abbey, there is a great sense in many members of the family that there is duty as well as privilege, that many people, both in the household staff and in the property’s farms and in the village, depend on the well-being of the big house’s economy for their own livelihoods. In our modern time, extraordinarily successful people such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey, among others, extend their care and interest to the world stage, and there are, of course, many, many more who are less well-known but no less important and effective. These folks all embrace the Biblical injunction that “to whom much is given, much is required.”
There have always been those who see no sense of responsibility further than what their greedy hands can reach. All those scions of wealthy families who drank and gambled their fortunes away and many times their lives, also, and there are twenty-first century versions of those. Or those who insist on owning many houses or incredibly large houses and furnishing those houses with the most expensive art and décor that can be found.
But all of these elements perhaps explain the international fascination and appreciation with the clan of Downton Abbey, with their romances and losses and constant struggles to understand the world they are moving into, as are we all.