Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Downton Debacle

(Warning - Episode 2 from 1/12/2014 air date spoilers)

Some of you don't watch Downton Abbey--hang with me, this is not a fan post that requires previous review. :) 

Anna Bates is the beloved--perhaps THE most beloved--character on Downton Abbey. She has grown into the position of ladies' maid, is married to a valet, Mr. Bates, and has an overwhelmingly sweet, giving, sacrificial personality. 

Two weeks ago, the Internet erupted into outrage over Episode 2 of Season 4. I'd already seen the episode several months prior when it aired in Britain, so I braced myself for the onslaught that was coming. Episode 2 featured (without visual) the assault of Anna by a visiting valet to the Abbey. It left her raped and emotionally shattered. It shocked viewers and created a backlash against the show.

I was a part of some online discussions surrounding this episode. First, people are VERY emotionally connected with the show, and that in itself stunned me a tad. While I get swept into entertainment, I rarely connect so emotionally as to feel violated myself. Regardless, having already seen it and knowing what is to come, it was quite interesting to sit back and watch the reactions. 

Here are a few of my observations--and for those of you who could care not one snippet for DA, hang in here, I have a question for you:

  1. It was interesting to hear viewers draw conclusions on the show's/writer's intentions before seeing the full season. The overwhelming majority concluded the writer had stooped to rape for shock value to drag in numbers, or to simply shock its viewers with misplaced entertainment. That rape should never be used as entertainment. 
  2. I was also surprised by how many swore they would never watch another episode and that DA had finally "crossed the line".
  3. There was enough outrage to make me feel that if I'd been raped, these folks, though goodhearted, might not be able to emotionally handle my confession--As if these people just simply wouldn't be able to deal with the horror of my circumstances. 
So my come back to all of this?

Oddly enough, the show brought into the light the horrors of rape and did a magnificent job, in episode 2, of doing anything remote to glorifying it as valued entertainment. My conclusion after the painful viewing of Episode 2 was how awful it was and I was truly curious to see how the writer would address the after-effects of a lip-zipped crime that women still feel embarrassed and wrong to admit. Now, I have the bonus in that, I watched the rest of Season 4, I know where the writers will take the rape of Anna Bates, and I applaud them for going somewhere no one seems to be willing to go. For all the women who have super glued their lips shut after the guilt of violation, I herald Downton Abbey. 

But think about this... have you ever seen this type of moral outrage over the sexually promiscuous scenes of other "favorited" movies. For example: The Notebook. It's rife with an adulterous affair, graphic love making, and an alcoholic lover chosen over a faithful, sacrificial war hero. Yet, this is heralded as an instant classic, a fine love story, a beautiful depiction of romance. Warm fuzzies. 

So we herald sinful, explicit lovemaking and adultery and scream in outrage when an assault occurs against a beloved character and sin is exposed in all of its ugliness?

Therein lies my question? When do we find ourselves outraged by entertainment? When tragedy strikes a favorite, or when a favorite finds themselves knee-deep in glorified and applauded sin? Have we by chance placed far more time and effort in skewering a writer you think used rape for entertainment when in fact, there was no glory in the depicting of it at all? And have we by chance, placed sin on our computer desktops as Ryan Gosling takes Rachel McAdams into his bed as she sneaks away from her faithful, betrothed war hero? 

Thoughts? Do I have it all wrong?


  1. I wasn't outraged over it and felt it was well done. My complaint was that I was tiring of old story lines and that characters who had supposedly grown, were back to the same stupidity. I watched it a second time before the latest episode and was a bit more forgiving. I knew the event was coming, so maybe that's why I wasn't outraged over it.It is certainly going to add a ton of conflict and tension to the season. I know that those who have seen it all say that it's a good season when all is said and done.I'm a bit disappointed with the writing so far. but I'll still watch it!

    1. I can hand you the writing issue. That can be a valid complaint. :)

  2. I totally agree with you. I didn't realize what episode it was that everyone was up in arms about.... I too watched it when it aired in Britain. I believe they did a great job covering the subject and you're right... how up in arms do they get over when it actually happens and it put in the news? or when other movies show such situations? No... you have it totally right.

    1. I should add a disclaimer, that the people up in arms are good people :) and obviously extremely passionate about the safety of others and caring for others. SO I didn't mean to blast those who are insulted by the show. My challenge is just, where DO we place our priorities of outrage when it comes to entertainment? :) Thx Ladette, glad you're another watch-it-when-it-airs-in-UK junkie ;)

  3. I am SO glad that you posted about this. I have been stewing over it for the past week or so. As a victim of abuse it hit way too close to home, they did a phenomenal job of capturing the horror. I am eager to see the rest of the season because I cannot imagine how the situation can be redeemed, but I am hopeful there will be some sort of resolution. Anna's comment about feeling soiled is just so heartbreakingly true. I hope she can find wholeness and love again.

  4. Amen, sister! I think sometimes we need to be shocked, to be horrified by what happens to a beloved character, in order to remember that horrible things happen in real life too. Downton Abbey made us feel it - violated, hurt, alone - and I applaud them for doing that without being graphic.

  5. Are we more outraged by tragedy than sin? Great question Jaime. Still chewing on this one.

  6. Ha. Hahaha....
    Sorry. Not laughing at the episode. Just at the irony: compared to all those who think they crossed the line or won't watch any more, I have not watched DA in over a season and I'm deeply compelled to watch this one.
    I applaud them. I absolutely agree with all that you said. How tragic to see such responses. And how wonderful to see rape addressed. It DOES happen. And it happens to our favorites--in real life.

  7. I'm not a Downton Abbey watcher, so my comments may not connect with your post. Like you, I don't understand why there should be more controversy over a rape incident on this show - than that of any other movie, or TV show, etc.. Rape is a tragedy that has occurred for thousands of years.

    The only other thought I have is that a lot of movies and TV shows have portrayed the English butlers, maids, and Abbey residents as stoic, reserved, individuals - might some viewers feel a rape scene is too emotional, violent, and out-of-place for this kind of TV show because of this? And again - I haven't seen the show, and am only expounding on the other English movies, TV shows I have seen.


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