Did the creators of Downton Abbey not anticipate the confusion they would cause? At least two people have asked me if I’ve watched the latest episode of Downtown Abbey. The drama is most certainly not set in a city. My husband, for one, was excited at the prospect of a “Downtown” abbey, imagining all kinds of sordid goings on in a bustling urban setting, albeit circa 1916. Instead, he was disappointed to discover that the abbey is set in the middle of the English countryside. The second tipoff that not much is going on here is the fact that an abbey is a residence for monks and nuns. All of the intrigue on this show is strictly for the chicks—banging Turkish diplomats to death, receiving upsetting letters, providing succor to sightless sexy soldiers. Hmmm, given these racy story lines, perhaps it doesn’t matter that the action takes place in the sleepy English countryside surrounded by farms and pubs. I still think that the producers should change the title to the aptly descriptive “Anxious British People.” Another question to ask oneself during pledge week: How is Downton Abbey different from Upstairs, Downstairs?
|"Please excuse me; I'm about to receive a most distressing letter and need time to prepare my disheartened-yet-unflappable face."|
|"Do you girls see any crumpets on the horizon?"|
Should English classes be divided by gender? I note that many boys just don’t relate to fiction unless something crashes or blows up. Do any “classics” fit this bill? Consider Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, in which a young boy finds himself stranded in the wilds of Alaska. The wilderness tales of Farley Mowat and the spare prose of Ernest Hemingway, whose characters fish, womanize, and bullfight—sometimes all at the same time. Come to think of it, the English teacher favorite The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) is a male-centered work: privileged adolescent male rebels against the stifling conformity he encounters at home and in prep school; embarks on a city adventure in which he pays for sex, drinks at a hopping jazz club with a Black piano player (hey, it’s the 1940s), and revisits his former New York City haunts. What’s not to like? However, I asked one of my students what he would read in English class if given a choice, and he said he prefers action novels like The Bourne Identity and books about sports. High school English departments, however, seem reluctant to stray too far from the standard reading fare that has changed little since I graduated. They are now including contemporary novels with increasingly adult themes (e.g. Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic, anti-corporate work Oryx & Crake) and language. I’m not sure children are ready to process such mature themes. Then again, maybe I am underestimating the sophistication levels of today’s older students. Perhaps Atwood’s finely wrought vision, however improbable I deem it to be, disturbs me more than it does a jaded high school senior.
|I won't bite.|
And now I leave you with faintly creepy pictures taken with the Hipstamatic photo phone app. If you ever wanted your family photos to resemble movie stills of The Ring, this is the app for you!