February 12 2014

Downton and Bluegrass: A Valentine’s Day Reflection

Connie Marshner

Valentine’s Day, with its annual excess of bawdy innuendo, approaches.  Usually I’m tempted to grimace at the corniness and tastelessness…even as I wait to see how my husband will observe the occasion.  But today I am smiling as February 14 approaches.

No, I haven’t been sampling any of that newly-legalized product in Colorado.  And it’s not a ruby tint in my glasses, either.   I’m feeling cheerful because by sheer serendipity I recently encountered – from separate, random sources—two actual anti-divorce messages!  Maybe such messages have been around a while, but to me, they’re a remarkable novelty.

The Wall Street Journal is pretty far removed from bluegrass legend Bill Emerson.  But they struck the same chord.

On New Year’s Eve, the Wall Street Journal interviewed “The Real Lord of Downton Abbey”, Julian Fellowes, the series’ creator. No, I’m not such a nerd that I was reading the WSJ on New Year’s Eve; it also ran in the January 3 paper edition.

While discussing differences between the Edwardian era and our own, Julian Fellowes noted astutely: “We think we can go from cradle to grave without any pain at all.  As a generation, we can be rather feeble about toughing it out….”  Good point.  And if you don’t tough things out you can’t be the subject of very interesting drama, can you? 

Fellowes went on to say:

“With marriage, our generation thinks that we should all be incredibly happy all the time.  The moment we are not incredibly happy, something’s wrong with the marriage. Well, nothing’s wrong with the marriage!”  Fellowes likes that the interwar generation would have laughed at that idea, saying, “You’ve signed up to live with someone for a half century and as long as you still have stuff in common…it’s fine.” 

Fellowes seems to leave open the possibility that if you don’t have stuff in common, maybe it’s OK to break the commitment.   But let’s don’t argue right now.  I just want to praise Fellowes for his admirable but rare public acknowledgement that in marriage you sign up to live with someone for the rest of your life.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.  Downton is highbrow television drama, after all, and it’s no secret that the upper classes have the highest levels of intact families (a not insignificant contributing reason why they are in the upper classes). If a Hollywood writer of mass market dramas were to articulate the same conviction, I’d be entitled to reach for my smelling salts. 

And such a writer would probably also be looking for a new job soon, since the permanence of marriage is not something you can advocate in those circles.  

Soon after finding that unexpected delight inside the WSJ, I slipped a recently-received Christmas gift into my car’s CD player and what should my wondering ears hear but a song with the same message!

 “If you want some good advice, don’t let her go,” the cut began, sounding like a typical “love and loss” number.  But the next lines make it clear this is about a marriage: “She’s the one who stood by you…. Words that were spoken, never to be broken…you walk as one for a lifetime….Don’t walk away, don’t run from yourself… don’t think love is one-sided”. 

Wow!  Man-to-man words of advice: tough it out, make your marriage work.   I’ve never heard that message before in a popular song.  I’m encouraged: if people are hearing this advice, are they also thinking about it? 

Thank you, Bill Emerson (and thank you also for some of the toe-tappingest banjo picking I’ve ever heard).  OK, so maybe I shouldn’t be too shocked here, either: after all, the band is called Sweet Dixie. 

But, hey, divorces are just as common in the South as anywhere else.  If good old boys are listening to a song called “Love Reunited” while they drive their pickups, and are internalizing its message, maybe there’s hope for Valentine’s Day –and for love-- after all.

 

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