Rank and vile: Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and the maid he nearly wronged (Clare Calbraith)
The editors at Standpoint are models all others should follow. Writers can damn their dearest principles or insult their closest friends, and not a murmur of protest will pass their lips. "We must let them say what they think," is their credo. "We are editors not censors." On one occasion only have I pushed their tolerance to its limits. A year ago, I committed an unforgivable solecism and criticised the first series of Downton Abbey.
They printed the piece, of course, but spluttered about a liberal-Left sensibility that denies that conservatives can be cultured, and allows political prejudice to blind them to artistic achievement that does not conform to their prejudices. For leftists, a country-house drama that does not portray aristocrats as monsters must be worthless by definition. Downton's creator Julian Fellowes talked in 2006 about a lazy cultural elite that took its small world to be the whole world. "The establishment of the Left needs to be challenged by the new avant-garde which should, logically, come from the Right," he said. Downton is his challenge made flesh.
One does not need to spend too long in the company of critics to realise that Fellowes has a point. The most successful left-wing intellectual of our day is Slavoj Žižek, an apologist for Marxism-Leninism who disguises himself in the bells and motley of a postmodern jester. He proved he had the soul of a secret policeman when he praised Avatar and denounced the film that beat it for the 2010 best picture Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. Avatar is a simplistic sci-fi blockbuster, which would not normally appeal to Marxisant academics. It is redeemed in Žižek's eyes because it is also a clumsy critique of the second Iraq war. In the 22nd century, grasping militarists (read George W. Bush and Tony Blair) decide to invade a moon belonging to a cute, eco-friendly, tree-worshipping species, the Na'vi (Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, I guess), and steal their precious reserves of something called "unobtanium". ("It's all about unobtanium!") The Hurt Locker by contrast is a tough, low-budget film which examines the pressures on the psyche of men in combat. It feels no need to debate the rights and wrongs of the war because it has other work to do.
Žižek attacked it for being imperialist propaganda that was all the more dastardly because the bias was so subtle the viewers did not realise that Bigelow was brainwashing them. "In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever: we are there, with our boys, identifying with their fear and anguish instead of questioning what they are doing there." The Hurt Locker does not toe the party line, and is therefore wicked. Avatar "clearly takes the side of those who oppose the global military-industrial complex" and is therefore good. That's all there is to it.