Why Do Americans Like Downton Abbey?

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I’ve got a confession to make: I like Downton Abbey. My wife and I have watched every new episode together since we discovered the series. We binged on the first season on Netflix, and we have a standing date to watch new episodes when they come out.

As a conservative, someone who adheres closely to Jeffersonian notions about self-government over monarchy, I was surprised at how enthralled I was with a drama about a bunch of titled blue bloods living a life of opulence. But enthralled I am.

I’m probably one of the least culturally aware people on the planet. My tastes in entertainment tend to be eclectic, so it was surprising to me to find out just how popular Downton Abbey is in America. I was a little taken aback when I learned from friends and family that they watch the show too. Why has a show about the doings of a noble family living in the Edwardian era become so popular?

At Forbes, Jerry Bowyer suggests that it’s about Downton’s rejection of typical class war narratives, and that could very well be it.

Certainly, the show is like a breath of fresh air. It took me a long time to figure out what was fueling my fascination with the show, but I think it’s the lack of cynicism.

It seems every where we look in entertainment we see cynicism and irony. The rich are always depraved (unless they’re of a certain ideological bent, naturally) and got rich on the broken backs of the working class. Men are always blundering idiots who are outsmarted by their wives and children. It all gets a little tiresome.

Downton has none of that. The characters are characters, not caricatures. They are flawed and troubled. They have their biases, and even their bigotries at times. In short, they’re complex people who aren’t easily defined as good or bad, and they’re all the more real for it.

That the rich are shown as being something other than inherently bad, and the working classes shown as something other than inherently good, is refreshing as well but I don’t think any of that is calculated. I don’t think the writers set out with any particular political objective in mind. In fact, I think they specifically eschewed political perspective in favor of a straight-forward narrative about complex people living complex lives in complex times.

In a world where we are endlessly bombarded by ideologies in journalism, books, movies and television the portrayal of compelling characters in a story uncolored by any political sympathies stands out.

Many on the left seem to hate Downton, but I think that’s the result of so many in the entertainment world being so far left that anything in the middle looks as though it’s to the right.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • WOOF

    People love the fantasty rich.

    England with great weather, life in bright 1080,
    surrounded by great art in a 300 room house
    on a five thousand acre estate populated by well dressed wits.

    Easy to project living like that.
    Story lines in the tradition of the great C. Dickens.

    + Maggie Smith.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      We can agree on Maggie Smith. She’s fantastic.

      • KJUU

        Is this an historic occasion? Rob and WOOF agree on something??

  • 11B40

    Greetings:

    Subtitles would be helpful.

    • WOOF

      I activate the captioning option, otherwise I’d miss dialogue. It’s somewhere among all the buttons on your remote.

  • banjo kid

    Don’t watch TV unless it is a true documentary .I am not in to miniseries either so this is a bust to me . sort of like Dallas right ?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I’m pretty selective in my television watching. I’ve sworn off cable news. In fact, we don’t even have cable any more. We use a Roku box and pick and choose what we want to stream through services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

      But Downton is very, very compelling television.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    Okay, I’ll check it out. But I would rather watch a documentary on the “Decadent Lifestyles of the Obama’s, America’s first Liberal Communist Family” instead. It would just be more relevant to contemporary times.

  • Matthew Hawkins

    It is good writing with compelling characters. Everything else you said was BS.

  • exsanguine

    If you have good writing, great acting and a compelling story you can even tolerate leftoid leaning shows. The brits have a better knack for making very watchable TV. I am just finishing up watching Foyles War. Try that one next Rob.

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    Why Do Americans Like Downton Abbey?
    ‘Cause it’s so much like “Desperate Housewives.”

  • pjaneenah

    Now that the season is over you can get your Downton Abbey fix at http://anamericandowntonabbey.blogspot.com/, only none of it is made up, and it all happened right here in the United States.

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