My husband and I have been watching Downton Abbey lately and, as is our custom, we have caught up through the seasons after the rest of the world has already watched it. It came to the top of our list after seeing it nominated for a few awards in the circuit the last couple of years. We have watched many TV dramas of late. I love them because I feel like I can have a deep relationship with the characters that can be developed beyond the two-hour story arc of a film. I am also always drawn to English based stories, being an avid fan of things like Harry Potter, and stories by Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters. I asked myself again why we, and so many other Americans, are so fascinated by British aristocracy, royalty and culture. My thoughts drifted to the conclusion that I am not so much fascinated by their differences from me, but by their sameness. The humanity in the people from another time, culture, and class is what draws me in and keeps me there.
I began drawing lines and connections to other shows and making comparisons.
The next one in the chain was Mad Men. We have devoured that show in the last year and are waiting with bated breath for the new season to start. We have analyzed it, written blogs about it, and stayed up many-a-night past watching an episode, cocktail in hand (a must when watching Mad Men) and picked apart the deeper meaning. Although the culture and period differ, one of the main themes is the same thread that weaves through Downton Abbey. The idea that our actions have consequences is so visceral in both series.
I have realized that my favorite shows and movies have that common element. When characters must experience the result of their choices in a realistic way, the show becomes a humanizing experience. As individuals we have a hard time understanding the true consequences of our actions. We tell ourselves a lot of things and bend the truth to do what we want. Watching things happen to people on screen as a result of their choices makes things clear. Stories are easy for the human race to digest . . . must be partly why they’re as old as humanity itself.
I watch these shows and think how lucky I am to not have the cultural constraints of their respective times placed upon me. I stop myself when I realize that we all have those constraints, but we do the best with the time and place we have been given. I look at the character of Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. I scoff at the arrogance and presumption that leaks out of her. I relate to her and like her, but can’t believe what she takes for granted being the daughter of an earl. Then my previous week floods back to my memory and I realize I am guilty of the exact same thing. It took a story set in the 20’s about fabulously rich people from another culture to remind me that I am selfish and I take my life for granted.
Sin is sin. It just wears different clothes; sometimes from the 20’s, the 60’s, or my own closet.