FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Help at Downton Abbey

America is going nuts for Downton Abbey (DA) and its soap opera portrayal of life upstairs and downstairs. Thanks to Amazon UK, and a multi region DVD player, I am ahead of the curve and have seen all of season two. And it is insufferable.

If DA is to be believed, the domestic class of servants in pre and post WW1 England was thrilled to be in servitude. Whether it was worrying about the love life of the spoiled, narcissistic oldest daughter, or voluntarily staying up all night to tend to the sick mistress of the house, the servants at DA are depicted as obsessed with the well being of the rich and preserving appearances and status.   The rich, of course, couldn’t give a shit for the poor, but then there were many more where they came from.

The writer of DA is Julian Fellowes, AKA Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, AKA Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, AKA a Conservative Peer.  Steeped in right wing ideology, DA minimizes the seething class tensions and rage that existed just below the surface in early twentieth century England, and instead depicts a cast of servants that have a bad dose of false class consciousness.

If DA was real, then we would never have had unions or strikes, or any organizing because the workers wouldn’t have wanted to upset their beloved and benign bosses.

One particularly annoying example is when the poor Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), suffering from low self esteem because he has been rejected by the army, seeks solace in the arms of Jane (Clare Calbraith), a war widow who is reduced to working as a maid in his house. Jane is only too happy to oblige, not because she is poor and needs the job to survive, but because she really feels bad for the Earl, and wants to make him happy.

When it is clear that her presence might cause some problems for the Earl, she is only too happy to give in her notice. The Earl, being a benevolent sexual harasser, gives Jane some money as a parting gift, but Jane, who could really use some Marxist feminist analysis, protests that he doesn’t have to be so kind because he doesn’t owe her anything!

DA is a lot like the hit movie The Help. Both buy into the conceit of the privileged that the people paid to take care of them really do care for them, and the pay is just an added bonus for doing something they love.  In The Help, the black maids were more concerned with the well being of white babies than with civil rights for their own babies.

In the book and the movie, the black women are angry, but they have no political consciousness since their anger is at individuals who are caricatured racists, rather than the system of racism that was embedded in all the major institutions. Anyone familiar with the history of the civil rights movement knows that this is a gross misrepresentation of the time since blacks had an extremely sophisticated understanding of the way power worked on the macro level.

The author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, was sued by Ablene Cooper, a woman who worked as a maid for her brother, for using her name (the main black character in The Help is Aibileen), and likeness without permission. Stockett’s book is a best seller, and the movie was a hit so we can safely assume that this woman is not short of a dollar or two. The lawsuit asked for a puny $75,000 in damages, and what did multi-millionaire Stockett do? She paid for a team of lawyers and got the suit thrown out.

I have just returned from my own little Downton Abbey since I spent the first week of the New Year on a cruise ship. Having to meet some family obligation, my partner and I were thrown into a situation where people working in sweat shop conditions are not safely tucked away in some developing country. On the ship the cabin stewards, waiters and kitchen staff worked 13 hours a day, seven days a week for nine and a half months. They get two and a half months off (unpaid) to visit family back in the Philippines and Indonesia. They make between $7-9,000 a year, and sleep in a cabin half the size of mine with three others. They are on call 24 hours a day in case, god forbid, a passenger has a need that can’t be met in the 13 hours they are actually paid to work.

The New York Times ran a story after the season premier of DA saying that it is so successful in the US, that there is a rush to develop similar shows. I am thinking of making a pitch to a Hollywood studio for a show called Occupy DA. Here the servants are raging lefties who spit in the food, join unions and overthrow the tyranny of capitalism. I wonder if they will show this on Masterpiece Theater.

GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press)


More articles by:
July 19, 2018
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail