Image by Hey Downton Lady
I read an article recently titled, "Why Men Like Downton Abbey." While the main purpose of the article was to make fun of the idea that men can't enjoy historical drama (and I agree that's pretty stupid), I think the question of masculinity plays a big role in the series, and that's part of its attraction. As one respondent to the informal poll replied,
There's a Clint Eastwood epic flowing through the show in that everyone has deeply repressed emotions and is big on obligations to duty. I don't think you see that in American shows so much, especially with reality TV. Everyone is putting their thoughts out there and emotions are heightened. [In 'Downton'] people are swallowing their deeply held feelings and doing their duty anyway. I wish I had the ability of Mr. Bates to stuff everything down into a dark hole, but instead I'm Twittering.You're right, guy who confuses Twitter (noun) with tweeting (verb)--even if Downton Abbey had wifi, Bates would be too busy being awesome to use it. I'm pretty sure the whole reason WWI started was because he was no longer in the government's service and thus unable to prevent it. Also: Clint Eastwood.
To my dad's generation, Eastwood is what John Wayne was to my grandfather's generation: the embodiment of what a man should be. And it's no coincidence that both actors made their name in westerns, a genre that's all about coming-of-age and masculinity. So I think when Twittering Guy compares Downton to "a Clint Eastwood epic," he's actually identifying the themes of manliness running through the show.
Unfortunately, none of the men on Downton are doing a very good job of maintaining their masculinity. As I mentioned on my recap of the Series 2 finale at Edwardian Promenade, practically every man on this show, with the possible exception of Carson, is emasculated by the end of the season. Let's take a quick run-down, shall we?
- Lord Grantham--He's the boss of the place, but after the army turns Downton into a hospital, no one listens to what he says anymore. Plus, we wants to go into the army to fight the war, but he can't because he's OLD. So instead he just spends the entire season in his out-dated uniform, which is pathetic. When the war is finally over, he wears these new-fangled tuxedos, as if he's a young man on the cutting edge of fashion (not even), and starts an affair with a house maid. But he can't even manage to do that right--instead, he's cock blocked by Bates. COITUS INTERRUPTUS, as they say.
- Matthew--Of all the men on the show, Matthew really gets it the worse. He is LITERALLY impotent for half the season. They bring it up so much that his nickname might as well be Castrated Crawley. "I'm going to see Mr. Crawley--you know, the one who's basically a eunuch." "Oh, yes, that one." Even when he does regain the use of his limbs--all three of them--he still behaves like he's powerless. Instead of telling Mary he loves her and he's going to do something about it, he apologizes. Instead of taking responsibility for his own decisions, he blames everything on fate. Instead of having a dick, his is one.
- Bates--Despite his gimpy leg, Bates used to be the most badass guy on this show (which should tell you something right there). Oh, he wouldn't punch you in the face, but you knew that he could if he wanted to. Plus, he staked a claim on what he wanted, like in the final scene of Season 1 where he told Moseley to back off Anna. But then, before Season 2 had barely said good morning, his ex-wife, Vampy Vera, showed up, and it became abundantly clear she'd ripped off his balls and been kicking them down the street for years. You could practically see him shriveling before her very eyes. He then spends the rest of the season slinking around, hiding, and basically letting Vera command him to her bidding. Anna has to order him to marry her (naturally he acquiesces); and don't even get me started on the Bates Motel he keeps talking about. Oh, the Freudian symbolism! I think we all know he didn't kill Vera, but don't you kind of wish he did?
- Branson--Branson doesn't fair as badly as some of the other men in this program--after all, he does profess his love to Lady Sybil and drive a car. But then came the part where he was rejected by the military for "medical reasons." Now, I don't know if this is just an American thing, but in US movies whenever a man is rejected from the military for medical reasons, it winds up being code for This Character Is Gay. Seriously, every single time. Of course Branson isn't gay, but if his petulant behavior for the rest of that episode is anything to go by, being rejected by the military is still an insult to his masculinity. As for Sybil, he may have to fight for her, but it's not as if he has to fight for her against another man of her own class, is it? He's the only young man meat in town. She's in total control of their relationship, when he sees her, where, and what will happen when he does. And he ends up accepting Lord Grantham's money. Nuff said.
- Thomas--Thomas is another character that used to be pretty boss, but he's been acting strange all season. First he fell in love with a blind guy who committed suicide, then he let the doctor/military guy boss him around. And he actually showed concern for people a few times. But by far his lowest point came at the end of the season, when he found out the cache of black market goods he'd spent all his money on were fake. Then he seemed pretty pathetic. By the end, Thomas is once again a footman, which I think we can all agree is a bit of a demotion.
- Sir Richard--Sir Richard, Lady Mary's slimy fiance, is the only guy in this season who gets anything done. You want Vera taken care of? BOOM. Get out of my office, bitch. You want Matthew distracted from Mary? DONE. He could do that in his sleep. You want to weasel out of an agreement you made with him? Too bad--now get against the wall and pucker up, slut. Is it any wonder he's the one about to marry the Ice Princess? Both Lord Grantham and Matthew know this guy is bad news, but are too intimidated to say a single word against him. He owns their asses.
Clint Eastwood and Lady Violet have a similar opinion of you.
If there's any character that embodies Clint Eastwood's masculinity in Downton Abbey, it's Lady Violet. Who's the only person with a clue as to what's going on around the Abbey? Who's the person that successfully outmaneuvers the military and the church to get William to Downton Hospital and married to Daisy? Who's the only one with the cojones to tell Matthew that Mary is still in love with him and he needs to man up? Who sweeps in to save the day whenever one of the sisters needs help? LADY VIOLET, that's who. Then she rides off into the sunset in her fancy equipage and feathered hat.
I suppose it's no surprise in a show about a house that the male characters aren't quite as masculine as Clint Eastwood, but it would be nice if they asserted themselves more in Season 3. For example, when refused a place in the military, Lord Grantham could say, "You may stop me from serving as an officer, but can you stop me from sailing my yacht full of explosives into the German fleet?" instead of, "What's the meaning of this? *bluster bluster bluster*" And instead of telling Mary "I'm so so sorry," Matthew could say, "Get on that table so we can add a rhythm section to this gramophone record." Then they'd be giving Lady Violet a run for her money.