Downton Abbey

It’s all too easy to explain. An affluent, privileged, entitled audience gets tacit absolution for not being generationally wealthy, landed by divine right, privileged, and entitled to the point of keeping a full-time household staff in the basement. People who take annual, semiannual, or even (I’m not kidding) quarterly overseas vacations for strictly touristic purposes are given an opportunity to compare themselves to a family of stuffy old-line aristocratic wankers, and in so doing to pronounce themselves deserving meritocrats. PBS’s audience skews affluent, highly educated, and haut bourgeois.

That is, arriviste. If it were a truly elite institution, as opposed to a merely upper-middle-class one, its funding stream would be set for generations to come, and it wouldn’t have to run its ever more insufferable pledge drives. Likewise if it were a truly republican institution and didn’t have the other, bullshit kind of Republicans routinely stripping it of its public funding or threatening to do so over transparent moral panics, like some kind of budgetary S&M dungeon game. Neither the truly financially capable old-money patrons nor the demos is willing to reliably foot the bill, so PBS is forced to grovel to a combination of striving, insecure, small-time new money and, worse, multinational corporations that see an excellent opportunity to have their dirty deeds swept under the rug by the its news division (and by NPR, which they also shower with their largesse, strings fully attached). The hauts bourgeois in the donor pool wish, wish, wish that they could do more to keep NPR and PBS solvent, but really they wish that other high bougies would step up to the plate and eliminate the need for these federally chartered public corporations to whore themselves out to big pharma and the military-industrial complex. Then the credit card bill from the most recent trip to Grand Cayman comes due, and maybe they really can’t afford just five dollars a month, sixty dollars a year. Oh well.

Bougie watches Downton Abbey and sees a family full of useless wankers who can definitely afford the premier circle membership or whatever the fuck PBS is calling it that includes the Season II box set. The Grantham clan’s relationship to the economy is utterly masturbatory. Someone centuries earlier conspired with Parliament or the Crown to steal a bunch of land, and now their weakened, dissipated descendants claim their rentier parasitism upon this corner that is forever England as their birthright, and are forced to do much clutching of pearls at the thought that they might lose these sacred halls to crude new money industrialists who more recently conspired with Parliament to rob the public unto beggary and work it to the point of exhaustion and early death. The only solution is for one of these descendants to marry the daughter of an American robber baron for a portion of her family’s ill-gotten money. But, you see, the continuation of this bizarre sacred arrangement is really about the welfare of that fussy old bachelor Mr. Carson, who would be greatly disappointed to see the Granthams have to do something for a living other than chronically spilling their seed on the ground in circle jerks with other, equally useless country estate rentiers. My God, he’d need to take another glass of claret if the manor were forced to turn itself into a sort of museum or bed and breakfast for paying guests in order to stay afloat. And what would be done with all the Cockneys in the kitchen? It’s not like the UK’s voters could get their shit together and end up with, say, Clement Attlee as Prime Minister and fewer of the indigent dispossessed starving to death in a Yorkshire gutter.

Downton Abbey is exceptionally fucking ridiculous. So was the aristocratic society that it dramatizes. It should be an embarrassment to all Britons that such a posh wankfest was ever allowed to take root in their midst. The British aristocracy sucked the lifeblood out of the working classes in their ridings, counties, and country. Normal Englishmen and women (and children) were starved so that these useless pieces of shit could dick around with recreational hunts on estates where indigent peasants were generally denied permission to hunt deer for sustenance. This alone was obscene. To add surrealism to mere obscenity, these fuckheads kept up a formalized act of bizarre stolidness in public and then, behind closed doors, had their sons initiated into an underworld of homoerotic sadism in the “public schools” and other allegedly educational institutions. Jimmy Savile was not exactly sui generis.

The arguments that are made on the throne-and-altar right in defense of this and similar arrangements (including the continued maintenance of the UK’s largely embarrassing royal family) are no less ridiculous. One of the most common ones is that they were quick, quicker even than the commoners, to send their sons off to fight and die in the Great War. Of course they would; they were already negligent enough as parents to send their boys to boarding schools overrun with violent sexual predators and general perverts. Only under a deranged, amoral (or utterly evil) worldview was there anything admirable about this Abraham-and-Isaac mass-child-sacrifice clusterfuck. There was literally no reason for any of the parties to that war to take up arms until the communists started rising up in Tsarist Russia. Until that point, the only things truly at stake were the easily bruised fee-fees of the inbred extended family of Europe’s monarchs. For nothing more than the pathetic wounded pride of their Germanic ruling families Europe’s young people spent several years gassing each other by the millions in tubercular trenches, ostensibly because some political lunatic had assassinated a royal nobody in the Balkans.

It was as if the Hatfields and the McCoys had systematically butchered half of Knoxville in the course of trying to exterminate each other just because Jack McCoy had been murdered by his Cherokee day laborer, Arthur Branch, in a pay dispute. Or something like that. Sam Waterston played some kind of liberal Georgia dandy, if I recall correctly, in I’ll Fly Away, so it’s possible. Hell, even the Crips, the Bloods, and the LAPD at their Reagan Administration worst never stirred up a shitstorm like World War I.

The US haute bourgeoisie today looks pretty good compared to the Edwardian aristrocracy of jolly old England. It at least makes a show of being productive and useful to society, and it doesn’t have all the unbelievable hangups over trifling matters of etiquette concealing a habit of having its boys abused until they’ve been made into men. At the same time, it benefits handsomely from a cruel, arbitrary, unfair, inefficient socioeconomic system that mercilessly chews vulnerable people up and spits them out. It has gotten the long end of that stick. When all the fog settles, Bougie, too, has blood on his hands. The haute bourgeoisie has the added gall to pretend that its success is solely the result of its hard work and excellence in a scrupulous meritocracy, a laser-leveled playing field that makes those of Eton look like the hardscrabble of the Peak District. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the upper-middle-class being noisy gimmedats who collectively purchase Congressmen and entire municipal governments.

But of all things English that we might admire–England’s trailblazing engineering, its pastoral and horticultural traditions, its craft excellence in brewing and cheesemaking, the Magna Carta, the Common Law–why the fuck do we admire and honor these useless, parasitic, backstabbing asswipes? And the royal family for that matter? Liz is all right, and Will and Kate, too, but that endlessly droning son of hers with the dingbat late first wife of the equally departed Eurotrash Arab lover and the overtly trashy second wife? And her Nazi-fancying grandson? When David Cameron jacks it into a pig’s carcass, his country’s consensus is that he’s one dirty bastard. Prince Harry would have to publicly behead a Drummer for anyone to say worse than now, now, chap.

There’s little point in putting a BOLO out on the labor theory of value in a country where the queen owns all the swans. Kent: Harry had a gent who ran amok in it, and Warren Zevon had a country that ignored its traditions in medieval literature and hazelnut cultivation to focus instead on its bourgeoisie’s socioeconomic inferiority to some of the worst, most useless, and most snivelingly destructive Englishmen imaginable.

Ferry, cross the Mersey….England has an excellent maritime tradition, too, in case anyone gives a shit. Just thought I’d put that out there, since some of the English do morally grounded, nonmasturbatory things with their time, and I might as well beat my countrymen over the head with trivia about these pursuits until they regain the capacity for self-government. Goodnight, and God save the House of Commons.


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