Downton Abbey vs. the Super Bowl

Film Friday

This is a somewhat dated item but I finally recalled a literary allusion that has been escaping me. There was a conflict on Super Bowl Sunday between the football game and the season finale of Downton Abbey, the immensely popular PBS historical drama. I believe that, just as Eli Manning was driving the Giants down the field for the winning touchdown, Downton Abbey was wrapping up.  For some people, the conflict was excruciating.

As it is for certain characters in Tom Robbins’ 1990 comic novel Skinny Legs and All.

I can’t begin to do justice to this whacky, bawdy, and immensely enjoyable work. To set up the scene quickly, a remarkable middle eastern belly dancer is so moved by a painting that heroine Ellen Cherry Charles has done for the Israeli-Palestinian restaurant where they both work (a restaurant that is located across the street from the United Nations and that is always getting bombed) that she agrees to do the fabled dance of the seven veils.  The patrons of the restaurant are thrilled—the dancer has developed an immense fan base—only it turns out that there is a catch: she will be dancing exactly at the time of the Super Bowl.  She can’t do otherwise—the stars, not she herself, decide.

To make it even worse (but to make our parallel even better), a New York team has made it to the final game.

Here’s Robbins:

Conflicts flared almost instantaneously. On the one side, there were those for whom the legendary Dance of the Seven Veils had taken on the proportions of fabulous personal fantasy—romantic, erotic, opulent, mysterious, resonant with long-lost exotica, secrets of the Bible and secrets of the East: they would have crawled ten kilometers on a carpet of dog poop and razor blades to witness it, were it the genuine article; and with this devastating nymph who called herself Salome, there was no question of authenticy. On the other side were those for whom the Super Bowl was the most anticipated event of each and every year, the culmination of five months of thrills, endless statistics, ego boosts, and severe disappointments; a major holiday, not the major holiday, a day when routine and care were suspended; when they nation, the world, came together as one; a festival that cut cross national, racial and religious boundaries; a ritual during which no time existed except the artificial time on the game clock, a symbolic battle in which only token blood was shed and for the duration of which the grip of death on the human psyche was relaxed and put aside: Issac and Ishmael’s still had the biggest, sharpest television screen in midtown Manhattan, and this group had every intention of watching the game on it.

A few people think they’ll be able to move between both but they are wrong. It’s one or the other.

Those who see the dance have life-altering revelations. Which, given the fanaticism of Downton Abbey fans (four million of whom watched the finale in spite of the Super Bowl, only a 10 percent drop-off), might have been the case with them as well.

Robbins doesn’t report on the football results.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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