Last year in these pages, I made a painful confession for an avid TV watcher: I don’t watch Game of Thrones. It was part of larger discussion about my lifelong aversion to anything herded under the umbrella of “epic fantasy.” Well, here’s another admission: I hate British people. Not all British people, per se, but, you know, British people. Hoity-toity types with powdered wigs and wooden teeth, the scent of figgy pudding fresh on their breath. In other words, I hate old-timey British stereotypes. In even more specific terms, I hate Downton Abbey.
OK, I don’t really hate Downton Abbey. Like Game of Thrones, I’ve only seen a handful of scenes. And yes, I’m aware that no one on the show wears a powdered wig. (The wooden teeth I’m unsure about.) But the show — or at least, the idea of it — triggers another deeply held aversion I don’t have an obvious explanation for: period pieces.
Yeah, yeah. Typical male, right? That’s really not it, though. My masculinity does not feel threatened by chaste sexual tension and Victorian manners. And anyway, I just wrote about my love of The Bachelor, so forget that heteronormative stuff. Frankly, much like my distaste for wizards and orcs, I can’t say why I’m put off by opulent ballgowns and prewar estates. I wouldn’t try to argue that I’m somehow more advanced because of it, either — that I reject traditional values regarding class and race, which that kind of entertainment tends to uphold. In fact, unlike my lack of interest in Game of Thrones, in which I tend to believe I’m not really missing out on anything, I actually kind of feel bad that I can’t bring myself to watch a full episode of Downton Abbey. I think it means I’m woefully uncultured. And not in the modern sense that says PBS is somehow the height of culture. I think it means that I’m a self-absorbed, solipsistic asshole.
The truth is, I’m much more interested in depictions of the world I currently live in than in those that existed before I came into being. It’s not a conscious feeling. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to be truth. It’s not even the early and mid-20th century that turns me off. Although I made the commitment to watching Mad Men, and don’t regret it, it took quite a while to take. It eventually became entrancing, but I can’t say I’m as invested as I am in something like The Wire or even Walking Dead. The ’80s don’t particularly intrigue me, either, even though, technically, I lived through them. (Let’s just not bring up my feelings for John Hughes here, please.) I suppose the ’90s hold some novelty value, but really, it’s the here and now that grabs me.
Following Downton’s recent finale, a national conversation is taking place, and I’m outside of it. I’d like to say it’s because I prefer to look forward, not backward, but that’s not true. Mostly, I think I just like looking in the mirror.
i Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.