Friday, January 30, 2015

Man on the Run

Is something wrong with me? I adore Sarah Bunting, the Downton Abbey class warrior who is a pal of Tom, also a class warrior and the widowed husband of Sybil Grantham, a class-warrior-lite herself.

I have no idea--as many have wondered online--why the Grantham's keep inviting Ms. Bunting to dinner so she can abuse them. She’s relentless in her challenges of their class assumptions and behaviors. And she's not very tactful. Perhaps that's her sin. One should not be rude to one's host. At the dinner table she's like the family teenager who has had her eyes opened to the sins of her parents and feels obliged to let them know how wrong they are, how unfair, how callous.

So why, if she's so boorish, do I like her so much? Well, she's right, of course. About the unfairness of the caste system epitomized by the English aristocracy. If she were alive today (not to mention real), she would be camped out at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. The target of her scorn, Lord Grantham, like all men in positions they inherited from their fathers, doesn't like being called out. He gets huffy and rude himself, the ultimate sin for a well-bred Englishman. It's fun to watch.

But more than that, I like Sarah Bunting because she's a strong woman. She has the same spirit as the Dowager Countess (played by Maggie Smith), Lady Mary, Rose, Anna, Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, so many of them on the show. I can see Sarah marching with the suffragettes, burning her bra (though that didn't actually happen much), speaking at pro-choice rallies, demanding to know why rape kits go untested. 

Let's face it: we establishment men are slow to change. You have to get in our faces and make us uncomfortable or else we think everything is fine. "They're happy downstairs," Lord Grantham might say, as the men in the American South said about their slaves. We treat them well. They'd be lost without us.

The gutsy, audacious women who have insisted that women be treated fairly--the Susan Caddy Stantons, the Gloria Steinems, the Malala Yousafzais--are all celebrated. Eventually. After time has cooled the passions they inflamed, or when, as with Malala, the flames are not too close to home. It's not always pretty to watch the sausage of social change being made, but what Sarah Bunting is doing on Downton Abbey is mild compared to what so many have done to help remake the roles of women in Western culture. 

Besides, we know how this story ends. Lord Grantham gets to keep his head and his title. He even gets to keep his monarch. But gradually Sarah Bunting and her sisters and like-minded brothers knock him off his pedestal of hereditary privilege. I suppose I like watching the toppling of pedestals of pomp and vanity.

Push, Sarah! Get Tom to help. And maybe Mary's new beau, Charles Blake. He's been suggesting for a while that the manor is unsustainable. Lord Grantham didn't throw him out of the house. Perhaps that was because he was a man.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the question should be; would anyone's life be enhanced if Lord Grantham were suddenly impoverished? And would Daisy be exposed to Sarah if not for Downton Abbey? It's hard to respect the Sarah's of the world; they eat you caviar, and then tell you you have no right to have it.