I just watched the third season of Downton Abbey. It is rather good, and I will have more to say about it from an entertainment angle. But first, there is a political matter that I need to get off my chest.
I imagine Michelle Obama watching Downton Abbey and feeling very superior that she would never destroy someone’s entire life for being gay or for having once been a prostitute. Meanwhile, her husband continues to allow cannabis users to have their entire lives destroyed by being labeled felons. This is the President of the United States who was paid millions of dollars to publicly admit that he repeatedly violated federal and state law by using cannabis and cocaine.
(I know: I have been very hard on the president recently. But I have come to believe that we are allowing the conservatives to win when we don’t hold liberals accountable. Take for example the Sequester. By defending Obama’s “balanced” approach, we yield all the liberal ground. Suddenly, there is no fight between left and right; there is a fight between center and right. And this only allows the conservatives to move the debate ever further to the right. We have reached a point now where Obama’s “balanced” approach—the supposed liberal position—is more conservative than anything supported by Eisenhower, Nixon, or Ford.)
This is the exasperating thing about Downton Abbey. It allows people of today to look down on people of a hundred years ago. Yet people today have prejudices that are every bit as pernicious; they simply have different prejudices.
I assure you of this: in 100 years, people will look back on us with horror that we threw junkies into jail for decades (when we didn’t just let them die from dirty needles and tainted drugs). And they will look very far down on a president and first lady who watched millions of young people’s lives destroyed while they patted themselves on the back for their liberal attitudes. Oh my! How very forward thinking the president was in coming out in favor of marriage equality in 2012! What cutting edge liberal thinking! Please. Let’s be clear: if it were 1952, Obama would (Regrettably, mind you!) be in favor of castrating Alan Turing.
Watching Downton Abbey breaks my heart for the society we live in today. But I fear my reaction is rare. Most people watch it and think, “How far we’ve come!” Unfortunately, that’s just not true. At the time portrayed when the series started, there was relatively little stigma and almost no law regarding drug use. So in some ways we have moved forward but in others we have moved backwards. All that has changed is who we oppress in the name of “community standards.” We have swapped homosexuals for drug users. We haven’t done a damned thing for prostitutes. And of course the poor matter as little as ever.
I would like to to think that watching Downton Abbey has made Michelle Obama bug her husband to stand up for liberal values and make a stand against the oppression of the weak. But I suspect it just makes her feel good that her husband is finally doing something about a terrible social injustice in England 100 years ago.
But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. At least Obama isn’t dropping bombs on the poor. At least not in this country. At least not yet.
As regular reads know: I am entirely behind the gay rights movement. What’s more: I know its history and I know that the LGBT community is oppressed to this day. But today in the United States, the oppression of drug users and prostitutes (often the very same people) is much worse than it is for the LGBT community. What’s more: this isn’t an “either or” situation. There is no reason we can’t deal with all these issues. And it is unconscionable to pretend that these issues don’t exist—that we are throwing drug users in jail for long periods of time for their own good.