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The Superbowl Blackout and the Failed Masculinity of Downton Abbey

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of an exciting sporting event that around 100 million people were watching, or perhaps it was that, for the first time since Katrina, power went out in the Superdome.  Here are some highlights of twitter commentary (is that a thing?) from the blackout:

First, @mat: “This tribute to the victims of Katrina is remarkably thought provoking, even if I will admit to not getting it at first. Wow. Mind blown.”

Getting warmer: @daveweigel: “Luckily, the bar for “worst power outage at the Superdome” is set really high.”

Touchdown. @nealpollack: “This time, it’s the rich people trapped in the Superdome.”

Ah, yes.  Such fond memories of 2005.  Did I mention I grew up in New Orleans?

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Where was I?  Downton Abbey?  Right, so the episode was a bit predictable.  [SPOILERS NOW]  Bates is, after all, getting released from prison; Lady and Lord Grantham make up after Granny convinces the doctor to lie and say that Sybil wouldn’t have survived even if they’d done the surgery; everyone except for the two powerful white men (Lord Grantham and Carson the Head Butler) seem to commiserate with Ethel, the former prostitute turned bad cook; and the love interests in the servants’ quarters at Downton move in fairly obvious directions.

A few bits of excitement in the episode centered around Tom’s resolute decision to baptize his newborn baby Roman Catholic instead of Anglican, bucking a serious trend in the family of Downton.  As was quite predictable, everyone was ok with this except for the older white men: the two mentioned above plus the Anglican priest (who gave a paltry defense of Anglicanism, I might add).  As much as I appreciate Downton’s push for women’s rights and general democratic values, I found the women-vs-men dichotomy in this episode a bit ridiculous and stereotypical.  In fact, it reminded me a bit of age-old arguments for and against women as pastors, since “women have special gifts that men don’t have.”  I.e., “gender essentialism.”

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you might remember my post, Theologically Considering Stay-at-home Fatherhood, where I talk about the difficulties in finding community while being a stay-at-home dad, and the societal assumptions about women’s “normal roles” being frustrating.  Even though I’m working–via doctoral studies–now, and my wife is staying home during the day, it’s still difficult.  I have yet to see an image of maleness on TV, movies, most books that encapsulates how I see the world.

As men in movies and TV struggle with the “which has priority: work or home?” divide, I find it absurd.  I don’t like being away from my children and wife, and they are always my top priority.  No questions, no otherwise, they just are.  There’s none of this compartmentalization that “gender role” advocates claim that men inherently have.  “Men’s brains are like waffles, women’s are like spaghetti.”  (Google it.)  Are you kidding me?  My brain is and has always been like spaghetti.  My only efforts at compartmentalization–when I was in the military–caused me a lot of serious emotional issues.

I love my children and am pained when I have to leave them in the morning.  I have always loved rocking our newborn babies to sleep.  I love to cook, bake, and it de-stresses me to clean in the evenings.  Does that make me more of a woman or less of a man?  Or does that, in perfect American, just make me “a great husband”?  Don’t people realize how insulting that can be…in how such a comment assumes that I also must be fulfilling some male stereotypes of American culture?  How does that fit me into a theological scheme of “gender essentialism,” where specific gender-related traits define us not only to each other but to God?

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Sorry about the rant, but clearly this type of thing continues to get under my skin.  The game of football, epitomized by the Superbowl, is but a stark reinforcement of the nearly comic gender roles that even Dowton Abbey plays into.  In Downton, Tom, the chauffeur-turned-wealthy-widower, shows strong fatherly instincts, only to be accompanied by his penchant for violent rebellion and setting fire to the castles of nobility.  In the NFL, the “man’s game,” the gender roles are only accentuated by the scantily-clad cheerleaders in most teams.  (But, in fact, a full six teams don’t even have professional cheerleaders–maybe times are changing, albeit slowly.)

I was going to write about the Anglican-Catholic “discussions” in Downton last night, but they remained so thin and lifeless that I had to go elsewhere with this post.  The masculinity of Downton–e.g., Bates’ violent methods of persuasion in the prison system–is a harsh and often predictable place.  Unless the character is Thomas the Footman, the token gay person on the show, the male characters rarely show emotions other than anger or brutality.  Classy, Downton, classy.

Hurricane Katrina reminders, the ultimate of American football, gender assumptions within theology that get perpetuated in modern culture…nothing like a good evening of thought-provoking moments of modern society!

About John Slattery

John is a doctoral student in Systematic Theology and History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Superbowl Blackout and the Failed Masculinity of Downton Abbey

  1. I believe they call Sybil’s husband Tom, not Thomas (paragraph 2 after the break.) No quibble with your theological reflections : ) I’ve been really interested to see the reversal of Downton’s class fantasy in the past few episodes, the first time Lord Grantham’s ever been proven wrong about something. But I hadn’t thought much about the show’s portrayal of masculinity(ies). Thanks!

    Posted by Kate Ward | February 4, 2013, 10:56 am
    • Thanks for the catch in terms of Tom and Thomas–I’ll make the change! So glad you enjoyed reading the post and have found it helpful. I wonder if Lord Grantham will gain any ground in the future or if he’ll just continue to spiral downwards? Hopefully the show will surprise me! Should be interesting nonetheless :)

      Posted by John Slattery | February 4, 2013, 11:58 am

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