misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Downton Abbey 2: 5 & 6: the weird permutations of an expensive widening sociological event

Dear friends,

I continue to catch up with Downton Abbey and am watching well ahead of where I've made notes, so this is a sort of spontaneous reaction to what I've seen last night plus what I read this morning about Downton Abbey at Christmas (see to take one establishment example - there is now an establishment on the Net):  Vanity Fair. I watch because it's something so easy to do and keeps me up until 11 and then I can sleep.  Anything else takes too much brain power and don't take coherent enough notes  I were to write on the second series, I'd have to re-watch.

I find myself intrigued in the same way as the first series. It's talked about as if the soap opera form is its worst aspect. No. It's what makes the experience and why people keep watching. (Some of the acting is wooden; let’s face that it must be given the dialogue and what’s implied about the characters.) The soap opera form perfect for TV (which we watch as part of our lives through recurring incidents over our days), and all its characteristics even when presented in this simplified debased way hold us. It's a fictive system a limited cast of characters, no closure, repetition, a community which is self-perpetuating, big events every once in while to which all the characters go or participate in. The house holds it altogether in these house soaps. And so we sink in regularly at a regular time; it’s a testimony to a peaceful life that we have and that's what's reinforced.

But in season 2 time has gone on and Fellowes used up his original central cliches, so weird oddities emerge which probably reflect his narrow reactionary but also idiosyncratic outlook. In the opening we had central paradigms from Austen and Trollope (say). For example, from the get-go it's made clear it's the weakness and lack of acquisitive instinct of Grantham that somehow (and this is part of his "goodness") that makes him not break the entail while ni P&P Mr Bennet cannot break the entail. Even Mr Bennet would if he could - or he'd pay someone to. What are we taught here. (All art is propaganda.)  To reject the idea of goodness without examining what it's all about is the point. Quietly to deride it as weakness without looking at this ridiculous instance. "Queer" and vulnerable people as targets to make into evil types: gay footman, lout foreign duke (that's Pamuk was middle eastern is not a coincidence -- see Dixon on the Empire), the spiteful lady's maid.

"Am I really a stranger? Do you not recognize me at all?" ({POV: Lord Grantham)

But now we get these less common paradigms. For example, the Martin Guerre story of the crooked revenant. The imposter who  omes to try to take over the position and prestige of some dead person (or contrariwise, the real person turns up when he was a real bastard and he been replaced by a decent imposter).  This is the story wreaked on Edith. This is combined with the Quasimodo story. Now disability is not sympathized with because it includes ugliness. The actor who played the false Patrick Crawford, heir returned after all from the Titanic was made fearfully horrible -- an Elephant man made hideous. Really repulsive.  In Hugo's famous rendition, Esmeraldo feels for Quasimodo, pities him, but she does not love him.

Edith is made to love him. What has Fellowes got it in for her as a type of? I suppose the idea is she would go for anything if it's male and so we can scorn her and feel better (is this the sop thrown women)? But it's an individual twist that is sick, sickening from every angle. It brings out the worst soppy self-hatred from Matthew who now says oh no I can't be heir, I can't fuck, I can't make sons for this place. For once even Grantham wants to investigate and not just cave in.

Another curious permutation is the hatred of the magnate newspaper man, partly because people in trade are we knew it all the time so vulgar. Only he is a match for the repellently evil Mrs Bates. His unscrupulous aggression comes out when he threatens Lady Mary that when they marry she had better not cross him. 

"Don't ever cross me -- do you understand -- said with desperation, as if he is not to be blamed if he thrashes her?" (POV: Lady Mary)

Whew. What fun this guy's sex will be? This leads to justifying violence against women -- which I've no doubt lies behind the Mrs Bates paradigm.

But it's the target that's out of whack. Trollope hated newspapers for their power and their lies and pretenses not what particular individuals he thought of as types who run them.

Another:   The story of the forced marriage of the scullery maid to the honest naive dying footman (who of course saved the real heir's life) and her refusal of her widow's pension is a weird wild card too. So poor people are not justified in taking gov't help?

Guilt-ridden scullery maid and the ever judicious Mr Carson (who gave her away): "It was not a kind act" she insist (POV: Anna)

Then there was the kick Fellowes got out of making fun of Mrs Crawley as the good-natured person who wants to do good. We are to see at core all this is a power play on her part. She wanted to run Downton Abbey. Well, she's a simple-minded idiot who even Lady Violet can easily deluded by the merest suggestion into thinking she'll do good somewhere in Europe over refuges. No attention of course to where she'll go or how she'll do it. She's off. Cora never had it so easy and we can all sneer quietly with her at this mediocrity.  (Ultimately a hit at people who work for immigrants getting visas and jobs.)  I imagine like all the other Names Penelope Wilton was well paid. I didn't like to see her character made fun of. I'm hurt for her the way I am for the Edith character (see dialogue )

Each time I watch, it's in a kind of appalled fascination -- like listening the other day in a beauty parlor to racist talk by a group of white people inveighing against the honoring of Whitney Houston and presenting her as a dreadful drug addict when what happened was she drowned in her tub because she fell asleep from too much xanax.  Blame the pharmaceutical and medical establishment for that. And the irony of the death surrounded by people anxious to cater to her. The whites hated the ludicrous ceremonies on TV which did not so much as mention how she died or how she made her career, nor allow the husband in. But that's not what the beauty parlor people said. It gets worse when I read the establishments blogs -- the man who identifies with Mr Carson, (provoking my dead maid) the Vanity Fair above. They are versions of the dialogues in the beauty parlour over Houston and the TV programs supposed about her.

I think of Maggie Smith as Alice in the Talking Head (Bed Among Lentils) where she called "it" -- all that she saw around her (see Another Maggie Smith), the codes that demanded she stop drinking as in bad taste. Oh yes the way to dismiss is laugh and trivialize but a series of programs which have become a sort of large community sociological event like Whitney Houston's funeral (or the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice) is functioning meaningfully.

The questions for both are, how (technical stuff -- like the colors, photography, use of shots, zoom and close very exciting) and why? (2012) and for whom? (ah, that's the kick).  I shall watch to see if Fiennes's Coriolanus is allowed distribution and what is said and not said.

Tags: 20th century, capitalism, costume drama, disability discourses, downtonabbey, downttonabbey, dream life, emforster, female archetypes, feminism, film adaptation, romance, social life, women's films

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