One thing the Acculturati like to talk about is Downton Abbey. (Here's a thing where Emily Esfahani Smith twits Simon Schama for calling it "snobbery by the bucketful." "The scenes take place in and out of a manor inhabited by tony aristocrats," sniffs Smith. "Its appeal is aesthetic. As an art history professor, Schama should know this." I'm pretty sure she's not kidding.)
And in case you thought Jonah Goldberg had farted the last word on the subject, get this: Ashley McGuire lets us know up front that she's sophisticated and Has Agency --
I’m no dummy. My last order from Amazon included The Feminine Mystique, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics.-- But she watches crummy TV shows. Why? Not merely to relax; that'd be common.
I simply think that I (like my fellow educated female consumers of garbage television) am looking for intrigue. Intrigue that gives us something to talk about. Something to think about. A framework to ponder our sex.
Television is a sort of social barometer, and as women we are particularly inclined to take the temperature of our society and it how it views us and treats us.Those days when you were a kid and imagined TV shows really spoke to you and your generation? That's why you have this coming to you -- McGuire pondering her sex:
It’s a sort of lifeline to any woman drowning in the thick waters of modern culture...
Indeed, the show evokes wholly contrary thoughts about womanhood and feminism. As I watch the show, I find myself fighting between two selves. One side of me hardly envies the women of the era, when marriage was a woman’s only ticket in life, when the corset still grasped the fashion industry, when one make-out session with an exotic boy could ruin your prospects for life.
But then one side of me envies the women of Downton ever so slightly. Envies the thought of my husband referring to me as “her ladyship.”In previous sub-generations, ladies who didn't want to live in Dallas might yet have envied the women of Southfork and dreamed of falling under the spell of courtly if amoral J.R. Ewing. But when the show was over and the Asti Spumante drained, I don't think their fantasies spurred them to social analysis like this:
Are we happy with where we are? Do we demand enough of men? Do we demand enough of ourselves? Can we do better than table flipping in Jersey or ten plastic surgeries? Are we really that much better off today, or are today’s television shows any indication that there is still much work to be done?...
The women of Downton want driving lessons, they want jobs, they want the vote. But are there things from that era that we have thrown away that might have had value?...If only we had cars and servants with crisp aprons! Clearly society has failed us.
Did respect for a woman’s reputation keep men in check and protect ourselves from winding up like Ethel, pregnant and scared? Did good-old-fashioned esteem for women raise the odds of winding up like Anna and Mary, wives who had been thoroughly woo’ed by good men?We'll never know now; there's no time machine to whisk us back to the days when women were thoroughly woo'ed and could do without that spinster's toy, the Vote. Ah well; there's still a little Red Bicyclette left, and a page where one can send eloquent essay-length distress signals that Ross Douthat may pick up. In the words of Martin Mull: It's not that great and it's late and once again, honey, you lose.