Michele and I are now watching Downton Abby and I am struck by the sense of noblesse oblige that the the aristocratic Crawley family carry. They are responsible for the people working for them, for their well being, for their jobs. Because everybody’s place in the world of Downton, both high and low, are preserved in amber – in amber light, atleast – by their birth, all the change seems to come from the outside. Improvement is not judged in change but in the perfection of the accepted status quo. The aristocratic patriarchs are noble because, in a way, that is their job. As an aside, in a similar way, Kate Middleton’s only real job is to provide an heir.
As I remember it – and I might not be remembering correctly as it has been about 52 years since I read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America which I had a hard time reading, even then – Tocqueville, while thinking that democracy was the future and that the aristocrats would fade away, didn’t think it was all a plus. In general he thought that the drive for equality was a good thing, even if problematical, but that it reduced everybody to just grubbing for money. He was in America during the Andrew Jackson era and thought America had lost – or, maybe more accurately, never had – a sense of noblesse oblige.
As an Northern Californian, I was taught to think of Southern Californians – especially Hollywood people – as being superficial with no sense of the noblesse oblige that we superior Northern Californians had. All they cared about was making money and looking good – and that often involved boob implants – and they had no respect for the past or tradition (after all Los Angeles was just a collection of mud huts when San Francisco was having a World’s Fair). I think that there is some truth to this, but it neglects to cop to the otherside of that coin which is that Southern California, especially Hollywood, is probably the biggest meritocracy on earth.
Watching the Golden Globes and I am not struck by any sense of noblesse oblige but I am struck by the diversity of the party goers, nominees, and winners. I first met Ben Aflect – so to speak – as the townie in Good Will Hunting who urged Matt Damon to get out of town. I know that is not exactly who he is was? – sort of – but to see the change from that lost kid in Boston to best director at the Gold Globes is to see somebody who got there on merit. The same goes for Quentin Tarantino, a highschool dropout from Torrance, who won best screenplay for Django Unchained. Sure it helps if you are gorgeous, especially if you are a woman, and Hollywood – all of Southern California, really – is obsessed with beauty but, as shallow as it is, it is much better than being fixated on a person’s grandparents as a measure of worth as is the case in Downton Abbey and San Francisco when I was growing up.