Tribune disses Downton Abbey

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The Earl, correctly attired
  • The Earl, correctly attired
The Tribune wagged a finger at Downton Abbey Tuesday in a page-three admonition signed "Tribune staff." But who actually thinks what supposedly everyone thinks?

"I look like a Chicago bootlegger," said the Earl of Grantham in Sunday night's episode when he found himself compelled to dress for dinner in black tie instead of white. I wondered about the line myself when I heard it, because in 1920, when the episode was set, Prohibition was weeks old in America and Chicago mob boss Johnny Torrio was just getting organized to profit from it. Torrio's protege, Al Capone, wasn't even a household name to Chicago headline writers.

That isn't the Tribune's problem. It beefs that the line is "a tired Chicago stereotype" that "underscored the frequent international image of Chicago as home to gangsters and thugs." But every tired stereotype was once new and frisky, and in the 20s Chicago went on to earn the image Downton Abbey prematurely gave it. Besides, Downton Abbey's third season finds England's stuffy aristocracy on its uppers, with no choice but to give way to American brashness and American money. (The Earl's mother-in-law, whom he barely abides, is American.) The Earl of Grantham was given a line that pretty neatly expresses his misery.

So I like the line even if it took liberties, and I doubt the staff of the Tribune collectively disapproves. The institutional rumble of dismay echoes Colonel McCormick, the Tribune's long-gone Brit-phobic publisher. It echoes William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, the mayor of Chicago in 1920 who let it be known he'd like to punch King George V in the snoot.

The Tribune might think it knows what time it is, but I think it fell under Downton Abbey's romantic spell and forgot.

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