Daring to Look at Dowton Abbey through the Eyes of the Walking Dead
I have often asked how Dowton Abbey and The Walking Dead can garner many of the same viewers. A friend of mine cleared up The Walking Dead part up for me a bit when she said she like TWD because it isn’t real while a show like Criminal Minds is. So walking zombie makes a little more sense but that coupled with aristocratic Edwardian England – not so much.
In the same way, it took a bit for me to understand the connection between a beloved children’s book and an essay on what I first believed to be about 9/11. Consider these experts by the author of both in Here is New York by E. B. White.
To a New Yorker the city is both changeless and changing. In many respects it neither looks nor feels the way it did twenty-five years ago. … New York has changed in tempo and in temper during the years I have known it. There is greater tension, increased irritability. You encounter it in many places, in many faces.
The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
Since E.B. White died in 1985, I quickly realized the essay could not be about 9/11. White is best known for his beloved children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Start Little. These remain classic tales read by the young and young at heart again and again. Less known to some is that, though White spent the majority of his adult life on a farm in Maine, he was also the chief contributing editor for the New Yorker Magazine for nearly six decades.
White wrote his essay about New York City in 1949 and in that year, the United Nations building was in its final stages of completion. To him, it was a symbol of the brightest of hopes amidst lingering black clouds of imminent destruction.
This race — this race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man — it sticks in all our heads. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.”
Just over fifty years later, what seemed an apocalypse came to a city and a nation. ‘Perverted dreamers’ targeted the twin towers and down they came. Up went American flags everywhere, Jack Bauer managed to save the world again and again in 24 hours, and everyone had to learn a new meaning to catching a plane. In the decade that followed Macey’s kept parading, the New York Giants played in New Jersey and won two Super Bowls, and New York City had its lowest crime rate in years.
And so, Charlotte’s Web, the aforementioned essay from 1949, and The Walking Dead become the strange bedfellows they are. It’s in the midst of impending doom that people tend to look to more innocent times. That’s why Hollywood enjoyed the musical extravaganza era as Hitler set his war machine into motion – we want a ray of sunshine in the midst of the darkness.
When asked why I tag my writing with the phrase, Dare to Look, the answer might be found in E.B. White’s essay. His hope that the newly formed United Nations held the answer proved well-intentioned but futile. Do I expect walking dead people to mindlessly look for who they can have for their next snack? Not really. Are exuberant joy and impending despair woven into the fabric of humanity? Without a doubt.
For me, I don’t look to philosophy, string theory, or the latest edition of TWZ for hope in the face of whatever the latest apocalypse real or imagined might be. Living under a despotic government and what could only be seen as apocalyptic times there was a group of people nearly 2,000 years ago who simply responded to such darkness with one word – Maranatha!
Look it up if you Dare.