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Happy Endings

This past Sunday, Julian Fellowes did not disappoint his viewers: Downton Abbey’s ending could not have been sweeter. The birth of Anna’s baby, the possibility of friendships and weddings particularly that of bad luck Edith, especially as amother of an out of wedlock child, to Bertie, one of the richest men in the country was in deed satisfying. Even Barrow the sinister and deceitful butler reborn – shown cuddling with Master George and little Sibyl- emphasized that happiness can triumph.

 And how we wish it could be so.

 Our hearts yearn for redemption and fairytale endings. Having been made privy to the desires, foibles, losses and confusions of the Abbey’s inhabitants, both up and down stairs, we wish them well: glad that Mary has finally found her love mate ; that Robert’s ulcer is on the mend; that Cora has found herself a new woman, yet supported by her husband; and Dickie’s anemia is not pernicious( could the Harley street doctors been wrong?)

 Amidst the disgraceful infighting in the Republican Party, the hateful slurs and the incompetence of a conservative thinking group that refuses to move forward on planned parenthood and religious values, we need a salve. The beauty of the lustrous flowers at Downton’s New Year’s wedding, the finely embroidered fabrics of the guests, the feeling of elation and good cheer extend beyond the television screen into our homes and fill them with promise that life can be as glorious as the surfaces that gleam out towards the viewer: constructed to envelop and overwhelm our senses.

 We observe that Daisy is finally moving forward and Lady Mary is revealing kindness not just sarcasm as she murmurs that after all she and Edith are sisters. Poignantly after Mary had acted spitefully prior to this denouement, Edith had also reflected that she had set her pain and anger aside because – long after their parents and friends are dead, they as siblings will share similar memories, that no one else will possess. Edith’s ability to grudgingly forgive, continue her professional pursuits as owner of her magazine and house her ward/ child – along with being totally honest with Bertie’s mother speak to her strength of character- and set her up for the rewards of love, marriage and happiness.

 Yet even earlier, the acceptance of now dead Sibyl’s husband Tom demonstrated how the family rebounds from tragedy as well as accepts that they must make space in their lives for change. I believe it was Cora, the American, who overcomes Robert’s reticience of the mixing of classes. Interestingly his own marriage ( for presumably wealth) has been with a Jewish woman. This intermarriage is repeated between Rose andAtticus, also from a wealthy Jewish family. They set out forAmerica to continue their life. And it is Rose, newly Americanized , who dispels Robert’s aversion to Cora’s new found independence.

 Downton while chronicling the times, the wars, the changes of wealth to middle class, the rise of the motor car amongst many other rises and downturns in society dramatized the variety of responses to those economic and sociological shifts.Dear Carson whose identity has been totally linked to Lord Grantham is sweetly taught by his Mrs. Hughes or Elsie, the sensible and kind overseer of the household. She represents the voice of reason who moves with and into the future, even teaching him the difficulty of preparing a meal can be exacting. Her gentle trick serves its purpose. She never minces words, but her skills in working with the Downton staff has garnered her respect and affection.

Ironically at the conclusion of the series, Carson is the only person who is shown to have to endure a negative future: with his palsy passed genetically down, he is removed from his position- perhaps willing to just instruct not just command as his life’s work has been re-ordered. We can only hope with the kindly Elsie at his side, she will suggest new ways to maintain his dignity and not go gentle into that good night, recalling for me Howard’s End, the film by Merchant Ivory: in which the wheels of progress must disrupt the rural life for its English inhabitants.

 One could not discuss Downton without mention of the ineluctable Violet, a role inhabited by Maggie Smith, the terse and extremely literate granny who works behind the scenes, pulling threads to surmount and overcome the family’s obstacles. (How Victor Newman might have benefitted from a lesson that actually improves the state of one’s family instead of destroying what he persists in proclaiming he loves!)  Her one liners are zingers that hit their targets, and better yet, end the prattle of debate. Wise, also remarkably coiffed and dressed, the dowager is an old lady to be emulated not scorned, ridiculed or ignored. Her granddaughters rely on her wisdom, sharing their secrets and accepting her remedies. Although her manipulation and attempts to maintain control of the village hospital do not turn out to be fortuitous, she goes off to Europe to sulk, but quickly returns when she is needed.

So Fellowes has intertwined the major themes of any good novel to create his intriguing work: resilient protagonists, class clashes, love trysts, betrayals within diverse populations set against the tumultuous rumbles and rifts of a changing world . In the final analyses, whether gowns are shorten or house staff downsize , it is the interactions, honesty of reflections, relationships and striving that underpin the stories- no matter the times.

 As we watch House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, we long for the soothing touches of fabulous clothes, the remnants of society’s fading decorum and structure,the feisty respected grandmother and leisurely strolls in the pastures or on cobblestoned pavements between longing sweethearts to sooth the harsh pitfalls and everyday traumas that arise. We applaud the family’s now bygone morality that endures to patch triumph in a shifting and shiftless world, and choose to forget that the do – gooders as in Show Me a Hero can wind up dead, their efforts perhaps forgotten.

As my friend Anne has often said, we need beauty in our lives. In that way, the bad, the ugliness of behaviour and intentions is balanced and we can comprehend the yin and yang of our world. But for the moment, Downton’s doors are shut and we are no longer privy to the respite where we have savoured on Sunday nights.

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TV and Podcasts as Pleasures, Guilty or not.

I used to feel that somehow television was an embarrassment, that only the uneducated or dull watched tv. However, I am admitting that besides my guilty pleasure of The Young and Restless, I do spend time in front of the tube.

Part of its legitimization arrived again- through my daughter. She is a writer, a most down to earth, erudite and knowledgeable, an every new- trend- kind of person. She was aware of NPR, Mark Maron and his WTFers, This American Life, The Moth and many other shows even before my husband. (These, by the way, are podcasts or what used to be called radio shows).

Because of her, last year I went to Massey Hall to hear Ira Glass from This American Life Show.  As stated on their web site: ”  There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. For example: 477:

Getting Away With It

OCT 19, 2012Stories of people breaking the rules fully, completely and with no bad consequences. Some justify this by saying they’re doing it for others, or for a greater good. Some really don’t care. And, unlike the mealy weaklings you usually hear on this program: None of these wrongdoers seem regretful about what they’ve done in the slightest.”

Glass or another interviewer begins with the context, the overview, highlighting the theme that will pervade the three stories that will unfold. In each, a person retells  their narrative that develops in some way the underlying motif for the episode. Sometimes the interviewer poses questions; sometimes not.

The results are often funny, witty, insightful, surprising and it makes you remember that life is, in deed, stranger than fiction.

So, back to Ira Glass at Massey Hall.

Glass regaled his listeners with amazing stories of the people he has culled for the show, almost like a Ripleys Believe It or Not. Wonderfully and unexpectedly, he begun this show  at Massey Hall in total darkness, reminiscent, I suppose, of the old days of radio where the family gathered around the talking box  in murky light.

But I can also imagine the power of FDR’s fireside chats between 1933- 1944 as people awaited some news or expression of hope to keep them going  during black days.

Or maybe this is a television or movie- induced image I have incorporated into my fantasies.  Likely not though, as even my parents remembered the impact of these communications between the cheery-voiced president and the fearful public.

At Massy Hall, I was amazed that there were so many young people in attendance and it was full to the rafters. Yet it should have come as no surprise: considering this younger generation lives with earbuds firmly attached like electrodes to their heads.

Nowadays of course, with technology stopping up their ears, they/we are multifocused, on hearing, seeing, walking or involving themselves/ourselves in athletic and aesthetic endeavours: we can exercise or via iphone, receive a description of a painting . It’s as if all of our senses are lit up at once, not only one sense focused and receiving full attention.

In any case, daughter #1 was listening to an Ipod discussion that featured well respected and well- known critics who were being asked who, in their opinion, was the most evil person ever. One said Hitler, the usual, but one actually contributed “Victor Newman”. For those who scorn Y&R, Victor is the archetype of evil, not of the Joseph Campbell variety exactly, But Victor does mangle, manipulate and manoeuver his kinfolk, especially his rival in Genoa City, Jack Abbott.

The others on Ipod radio show laughed, but all were quite aware of the name Victor Newman. I considered that if this high class group admits their awareness of the lowly soap opera, then who am I to demure, “Who?” and play innocent.

And just like being unable to eat one piece of chocolate cake, I opened the refrigerator door to other delicious and forbidden treats.

But I am not alone. Downton Abbey has been accepted as something people do and converse about, scurrying home from a family supper on Sunday nights, to ensure they discover what bon mot Maggie Smith will emit.

And that’s another validating point, MAGGIE SMITH, as in Dame Maggie Smith, British actress- and as we always take our theatrical leads from London who has legitimized base popular culture ( you baby boomers may remember her from “ all of them are Brodie girls”, especially hapless Mary MacGregor)– even in the privacy of our own homes.

So we pretend that fancy costumes, elegant abodes and the gift of the British actor elevates the lowly conflicts ( think of Lady Mary’s  bed indisgression with Mathew’s friend from the middle east in one of the early shows) of a higher class of television show. Truthfully, popular culture has been infused with some great acting and excellent stories.

Last year Treme exposed corruption in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. The performances were heartfelt and the jazz, especially the music by Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins the Marysalas and many other greats provided superior and entrancing viewing. The politics, the impact of the storm seen in various locales, the smell of the cooking, the buoyancy of the city and lesser environs to cope were all educational and riveting.

Of course, it is a show, not real life, but all the same, enough pieces are true enough to patch together a verisimilitude, a cross quilt of better understanding and exposure of issues and people.

And although Dexter was gory and double-edged as a serial murderer of only those who deserved death, there was a fascination with him as a character. Unlike the bang-bang way too much killing and violence on say, Boardwalk Empire where so much blood , bullets and babes become so de rigueur that the viewer becomes ( hideously) inured to the killing ( well, ho hum) as perhaps Bonnie and Clyde did along with  Reservoir Dogs, the complexity of character, the Jekyll and Hydeness of Dexter’s torment as a feeling  psychopath was, for me, intriguing.

My friend who gives the book talks hated Dexter and would not participate in watching the show.  Like the holocaust books that I sought out as a child, the pull of the shivers, the capacity of people to commit evil drew me in. Will we ever forget John Lithgow’s mesmerizing Trinity Killer and not tremble at his coldness? I was transfixed by the ghastly as I awaited his nemesis and the denouement to remake the world in smiley faces and inflated pink hearts.

Perhaps that is why I am always disappointed as I anticipate that evil / the bad in the world will be avenged by the good as the merciful angel slays all the wrongdoers and justice will be done.

And Charlotte Rampling, that once gorgeous film actress as Dexter’s haggard psychiatrist Dr. Vogel who had developed  Harry’s Code for good and evil? Even the once- so- sexy Charlootte Rampling reminded me again that time passes, and all things and people change and wither as they must. That baby boomers like  Rampling will be ravaged by time, and that even ironically the most beautiful icons we revered in our youth will succumb, but also-

that personal and professional are distinct;

that hate and love are interwoven;

and that too often bad things happen to people who want to bring or are good.

Silly me. I find comfort in the Y&R. With my cup of herbal tea, I visit ,am often bored with, but still  indulge my guilty pleasures.

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