Downton Abbey: Another Story Sympathizing With Colonizers?

Firstly, I am an avid and addicted fan of Downton Abbey – I wait, I watch, I wait, I watch, I become increasingly sad as the season approaches its end, and then increasingly lose my patience as I wait for the next season to begin.

As I began watching Season 4, my feelings seem to have changed or become muddled. Perhaps because I’ve been watching shows like The Wire, Treme, and recently watched the film 12 Years A Slave, the ‘whiteness’ of Downton Abbey has been glaring in my face and I find myself greatly questioning the voices unseen and unheard in the show. In the first couple of episodes, I felt that I was watching a show that was sympathizing with British colonialists.

The merits of the show are that it explores the fictional psychology and circumstances of aristocratic society adjusting to shifts of power and socio-economic changes from the inside view of one particular estate, its wealthy and its servants.

As I think about it, it’s not that I mind ‘yet another’ show where I identify with primarily white characters and explore history through these characters experiences and stories. (I kind of do. But it’s just so good…) It’s the lack of other shows, stories, voices, and even a broader diversity across race/socio-economic status of characters within the show itself.

It would easy for me to dismiss the show as ‘identifying with colonizers.’ That would dismiss everything else they are – human, mothers, daughters, wives, cooks, lovers, friends, enemies, frenemies, murderers, rapists, straight, gay, war veterans, doctors, nurses; loyal, loving, conniving, jealous, happy, healthy, sick, etc. It would also dismiss that while humans can be maintaining very dark structures, within those same humans can be differing opinions, dissent, disagreement, and their own leaps and bounds of progress (albeit causing massive amounts of regress across the globe. I’m sorry if this whole thing is making you throw up right now).

It does no good to reduce any human really. I’m not sure if that has led to any intelligence, ever.

My ‘idealized’ version of Downton would be that just as the ‘downstairs’ maids and butlers worlds are explored, so should a host of other characters – farmers, Jack Ross’s life as a British-African and that of his family and friends, and other people who are affected by the old-money order of life, wealth distribution, land ownership, etc.

I guess it make things a bit less idyllic, nostalgic, and dreamy, but would be a step in being more holistic (ah, just what TV shows strive to be). And that’s the thing I love about Downton. I am simultaneously consuming the stories and perspectives of such a large set of characters. Each has their own purpose and purposelessness, boringness and intrigue. It brings out the nuances of social and political ideologies of the evolving time period (not that I would know how historically accurate any of it is), and from what I’ve gleaned in my watchings, doesn’t really make a statement in defense of anything, just rather explores it from the perspective of those who keep and fight the ideologies and structures in place. And I truly believe the talented writers would find a way to preserve that nature in another set of characters of various racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

I expect too much from my TV shows.

I also just realized how absurd all of this wishful thinking is. “Meanwhile, in India / Egypt / South Africa / Ireland, etc. …” (diasporic brown person feeling bad for wanting to shed light on colonialism).

On a side note, this show has some damn good writing. Bad ass status writing and storytelling. With the exception of some stupid reality-impacted story lines (Gah! Matthew!) and the very poorly explored story of Jack Ross (do me one better Downton, do me one better).

Interesting Reads on Downton:

The (Un)Making of the British Aristocracy: ‘Downton Abbey: Season 3’

Julian Fellowes responds to criticism over ‘Downton Abbey’s’ latest shocking plot twist

Downton Abbey, The Period Piece, & The Question of Race

2 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: Another Story Sympathizing With Colonizers?

  1. The thing about Downton Abbey is that it was created by a British Tory who is unapologetic about his nostalgia for the colonial era. It’s no coincidence that it’s missing a wider range of perspectives.

    1. Hey John, thanks for reading, and what you shared is helpful in keeping the show in perspective. It continues to be one of my favorite current shows, but I find it important to keep myself from buying into the nostalgia for aforementioned reasons.

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