Opinion: Downton Abbey has much to teach us about media identity

The audience of the British drama reveals a lot about how entertainment choices shape us.



The Crawley women: Laura Carmichael, from left, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery star in "Downton Abbey." [Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features]

Emily Creery, Columnist

During the week leading up to the premiere of Downton Abbey, I happily shared my excitement (with those who didn’t really ask) about seeing the Crawley family back together again. This exuberance was met with various versions of cocked heads and scrunched eyebrows: “Isn’t that a TV show?” or “My mom watches that.”

This lack of solidarity amongst my peers didn’t truly become evident, though, until I went to the theater and became surrounded by moviegoers at least three times my age. Some even needed canes to mount the steps.

To be honest, I never really gave a second thought about my love for Downton Abbey until now. But with our society saturated and our culture consumed by the media, it only seems natural to define oneself and others by what we watch. Lots of people find enjoyment in basic mainstream shows such as The Office, Gossip Girl, and Breaking Bad. But how much do our media habits define us and how much are we allowed to be individuals?

I watched the six glorious seasons of Downton Abbey while I was in high school because I loved the cinematic drama, the aristocratic affairs (both marital and otherwise) and the rollercoaster of a storyline fit for the royal-ish Crawley’s. As much as I adored the show during adolescence, I didn’t have anyone to share it with.

I experienced the rush of being thrown back into the elite world of 1927. However, I was acutely aware of when the crowd seemed to laugh at not-so-funny jokes, or the unnerving silence at the site of the only LGBTQ main character finally having a partner who likes him, too.

It was almost as if I needed to prove that it was me against those in the room who just might have lived during this era. Did I suddenly feel uncomfortable identifying with my fellow Downton Abbey fans now that we were out of our living rooms and proud?

Perhaps I was having a difficult time confronting the truth: I’m an 86-year-old woman trapped in a 22-year-old body. Although partially true — I have my cat and cardigans to prove it — I simply had a lapse in judgement and put too much power in the thoughts of others.

The fact of the matter is that we are drawn to media that we identify with, or at least feel represented by. But for the most part, we watch what we do simply because it brings us joy and comfort. It satisfies our desire for knowledge, romance, or the gaping hole in our lives that can only be filled with British accents.

As a society, we are always too quick to judge others, and our media-oriented culture makes it that much easier for our compartmentalized brains. But who we are as individual is much more important than who see on the screen.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.