Downton Abbey vs NCIS

Only Oscar Wilde could say it so tartly: “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization.” And yet most of today’s European literati enjoy agreeing with him. It has much to do with our raw New World lifestyle of frontier bravado. While most Americans savor their Yankee reputation for fun and flippancy, older foreign cultures find it comforting to belittle our success and swagger as the very ‘decadence’ Wilde was talking about.

Periodically we see for ourselves the remarkable contrast between our national styles. Specifically, the periodic flourish of British television programming that reaches our shores on the very same PBS stations some Yankee right-wingers would have the government stop funding. I refer to the popular Masterpiece Theatre series ‘Downton Abbey’ along with happy scads of classic productions featuring 19th C English authors and authoresses.

Glittering tales of aristocracy, country estates, upstairs/downstairs worlds, all rich in the costuming and language of more formal times. All enjoyed by a wide berth of modern viewers. I have no statistical evidence, only conversations with garrulous NFL fans to verify how these highly stylized dramas are a hit with more literature professors.

What’s going on here?

Could it be that our rock ‘n roll, fireball, violence-loving audiences actually welcome a break from the networks’ torrent of raucous vulgarity…? Could it be that our sex-and-guns fans actually prefer a little character and dialog to go with the patented stereotypes and grunts…? Could it be that the sounds of an Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Jackman can appeal just as much as the mumbles of a Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis? And could it just possibly be that if you feed the wolf prime ribs rather than hamburger that it can have a civilizing effect…?

I’m not sure about that fourth one, but I am the other three.

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