why we watch Downton

People like Downton because it shows a bounded, ordered, fated, world – in many ways you know what you get.  In stark contrast, our present world is endlessly shifting, unbounded, and competitive. This new state has become too much for many people and we want some of the stability and reality of that earlier world back, and so we watch and yearn.

I have found Deleuze’s descriptions of the control society very helpful for understanding this.  He would call Downton a ‘discipline’ society and our global capitalist world a ‘control’ society.  He says,
The factory (discipline) constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass, and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation (control) constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each dividing each within.
It’s not just liberals who like Downton, it’s anyone who struggles with the delirium and harshness of the control society.

three seas away
April 7, 2011, 6:35 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: ,


When I was a toddler, I spent two weeks in the nursery aboard the Queen Elizabeth II which steamed from Bombay harbour across the Arabian sea, through the Gulf and the Suez Canal (before it was closed), through the Mediterranean, the Straits of Gibraltar, across the Atlantic to New York Harbour.  One ocean and three seas away.  There were marigold garlands when we slipped away and ticker tape at the final port.

A ship is an island, bounded by a black steel hull, a complete miniature civilization, with its own social code, transient citizenry, micro institutions, canned rituals, beautiful and crazy people with no escape learning to thrive with or tolerate each other.  A ship has it’s figurative birth and death too, arrivals and departures, tinged with sweetness and sorrow.

In university I read the modern Irish playwrights and novelists, their obsession with the sea:  how it gave life and took it, how their strong women watched their sons go out on boats, how they were wracked with worry, buoyed by hope and then, inevitably, emptied again by word of the loss of another boy.  Their worlds were bounded and also harsh and isolating.

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