Why Do Americans Like Downton Abbey?


I’ve got a confession to make: I like Downton Abbey. My wife and I have watched every new episode together since we discovered the series. We binged on the first season on Netflix, and we have a standing date to watch new episodes when they come out.

As a conservative, someone who adheres closely to Jeffersonian notions about self-government over monarchy, I was surprised at how enthralled I was with a drama about a bunch of titled blue bloods living a life of opulence. But enthralled I am.

I’m probably one of the least culturally aware people on the planet. My tastes in entertainment tend to be eclectic, so it was surprising to me to find out just how popular Downton Abbey is in America. I was a little taken aback when I learned from friends and family that they watch the show too. Why has a show about the doings of a noble family living in the Edwardian era become so popular?

At Forbes, Jerry Bowyer suggests that it’s about Downton’s rejection of typical class war narratives, and that could very well be it.

Certainly, the show is like a breath of fresh air. It took me a long time to figure out what was fueling my fascination with the show, but I think it’s the lack of cynicism.

It seems every where we look in entertainment we see cynicism and irony. The rich are always depraved (unless they’re of a certain ideological bent, naturally) and got rich on the broken backs of the working class. Men are always blundering idiots who are outsmarted by their wives and children. It all gets a little tiresome.

Downton has none of that. The characters are characters, not caricatures. They are flawed and troubled. They have their biases, and even their bigotries at times. In short, they’re complex people who aren’t easily defined as good or bad, and they’re all the more real for it.

That the rich are shown as being something other than inherently bad, and the working classes shown as something other than inherently good, is refreshing as well but I don’t think any of that is calculated. I don’t think the writers set out with any particular political objective in mind. In fact, I think they specifically eschewed political perspective in favor of a straight-forward narrative about complex people living complex lives in complex times.

In a world where we are endlessly bombarded by ideologies in journalism, books, movies and television the portrayal of compelling characters in a story uncolored by any political sympathies stands out.

Many on the left seem to hate Downton, but I think that’s the result of so many in the entertainment world being so far left that anything in the middle looks as though it’s to the right.