January 31st, 2012

Harriet Vane

A parallel: Oakland, Ohio & Damascus, Syria: Another Maggie Smith

Dear friends,

I had no heart last night to watch the last instalment of last year's season of this year's favored costume drama, Downton Abbey, a conservative fantasy. Caroline's latest blog on DA includes a powerful clip from Oh What a Lovely War! David Attenborough's famous film exposing the horrors of WW1 and through song and music how the powerful and rich during that era used this war to further their own class interests and got the average person to destroy his body and life through shaming techniques and repression.  Maggie Smith was in that too, in her prime, playing the whore of capitalism. Do take a few minutes to watch it. It's rousing and should raise a grimace. She has become so associated with these duchess types, it is good to show her in her earlier different self.

Maggie Smith as the whore of war

She played in one of the greatest one act plays I've ever seen, a virtuoso monologue: Bed Among Lentils by Alan Bennet. Now you have to sit for 40 minutes. If you can't do it now, do come back

Alice: she is cured! no longer has a drink, no longer has any unallowed sex with the grocer

So why had I no heart?  Yesterday a group of people who have come to be known as the Occupy Movement tried to occupy a large vacant building in Oakland, Ohio. They were beaten, gassed, harassed, and finally arrested.  No one arrests any of the bankers who brought this depression the US; no one tries to put in prison any of the banks illegally foreclosing on people. The Occupiers had been thrown out of their original place and they were unusually frank on DemocracyNow.org.  The lack of any place to be together, to organize from a place, to live and work is hurting the movement centrally.  Many are homeless and it's freezing and they are all alone. When they are together in a space, they can provide kitchens, bathrooms, food, a library, places to help one another when sick. The space was a vacant gov't building. The homeless population across California is so high there are streets and streets of such people.

The overt profound inhumanity and brutality of the scenes, the obdurate refusal to allow these people any minimal comfort and of course the use of violence and prisons to stop the socialist movement from going forward is central to the US way of life today and has been since the 1930s. The Occupiers are now being called "terrorists." This is the first step in putting them away in solitary confinement. The US prison system is privately owned and will love this.

Yesterday in Syvia, Assad and his government carried on slaughtering people. The gov't soldiers are murdering whole families now; any one demonstrating is of course immediate fodder. US foreign policy gives the Syvia gov't thousands & thousands (millions if you look acros a decade).  The UN head gave a speech protesting and saying how terrible all this is. A woman interviewed on Democracynow.org commented bitterly he has been giving this speech all year and doing absolutely nothing to stop the murder of the people of Syria trying to change their gov't so they can have some access to the natural resources, and makes a society where they could have jobs and schools and a decent life is made the central way of stopping this.  This kind of open killing was not what was used in South and Latin America.

I have a book for you to read my fiend: The Intimate Papers of Colonel Bogus by Michael Barsley. It is about Ritzkrieg, the upper class life that went on in hotels during WW2. It will explain the connections between the funding of such a series as Downton Abbey, what happened in Oakland, Syria yesterday.

My English mother-in-law, born in 1911, died in 2004, was a "lower governess" in a great house when she was about 15. So 1926 or so. She told me many a real story: it was a gruel, a grind, work from 5 to 11 and constant surveillance ("in service" is the right term). You made almost no money quite literally.  The class system was mean and tough.  She quit after a year and one half -- as did many young women after WW1 who could find something else for the first time. Woolworth's, 5 and 1/2 days a week, long hours, low pay was a blessed escape with real money in com.  Some means to buy some enjoyments she might like, a book, some time somewhere she might go where she liked.  Which she never had in the great house; it was not her space any of it. We do hear a tiny bit of that when Gwen says that's my typewriter. Mrs Hughes says the space is not yours, none of it. The bed Gwen sleeps on is hers by sufferance.

She did not go into an office, competition was fierce and connections mattered.  If we are to believe Gwen got that job, it was not that she persuaded the man, but that Lady Sybil put pressure on the man. That's NOT the way it is shown in that film. Instead my mother-in-law ended up in Woolworth's and she fervently used the world "independence." She did not go into a factory which is often compared to the great house as better. Was it?  My mother-in-law was "declined gentry" and had passed the 11+ in school. she still could not go on past the age of 13 but she could educate small children to read, write, do arithmetic, and in deportment.

She came near a nervous breakdown from her time in Downton Abbey, for as to sexual repression, it was not as strong as the program makes out - or not in the way the program shows, not for the lower orders. Surreptious was the name of the game. The upper class male was free to harass the woman (as we see in Altman's Gosford Park), the master to take women. The atmosphere was fraught with anxiety and fear for women, for if caught and impregnated, she was indeed thrown out and shamed. Men were chased too, but they kept a certain dignity as males. Homosexuals?  Left to do mischief? are you kidding?  blackmail was rife and they were the most hidden of all.

No treachery. As to lady's maids, their power base was their mistress and they would no more dare to hurt her than they would the heart at the center of their bodies.

I did watch the last half-hour of the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, City of Our Final Destination based on Peter Cameron's novel.

I will probably write twice more on Downton Abbey, on the series itself on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two.