When Chocano writes, then, that Downton Abbey is “a fantasy in which an enlightened overclass and a grateful underclass look deeply into each other’s eyes and realize that they need each other, that there’s a way for them to live together in perfect, symbiotic harmony,” she’s actually not all that far off the mark, even if she doesn’t realize it. She’s simply misunderstood whose fantasy it is, and who’s selling it, and why. It’s precisely because Grantham doesn’t need his servants very much (or doesn’t need to exploit them) that he can treat them like human beings; having buttered his bread so completely, his wife has made it unnecessary to be an evil bastard, so why should he? There’s no percentage in it. So he can let people go whenever they want, or let them stay longer than they can afford it. In fact, since it is precisely his job to pretend to have the class relation that his wife wanted to marry into – but whose reality was as irrelevent as a whether a supermodel in a Michael Bay movie can really do astrophysics – he only needs them to prop up his image of the idealized lord, the only version she (or we) are interested in. His relationship with his servants and tenants is not mediated by the forceful extraction of labor and taxes – only by his need to be a Potemkin Village for the aristocracy that never was – so one of the benefits of the job is that also he gets to be a nice guy.
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