Homemaking: High- or low-brow, bro?

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Sunday night we faced a bit of a dilemma in our house. The English-drawing-room-cucumber-sandwich-and-Earl-Grey-tea-sipping drama "Downton Abbey" was scheduled to return for its third season, while at the same time, on another channel, the dirty, dumb hillbilly reality show "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo!" Halloween special was on. My wife was torn.

I did not have a dog in this hunt. My wife controls the remote, so for the most part, we watch TV shows in which women try on wedding dresses, couples go apartment shopping or housewives scream at each other. My wife also switches channels every time she gets bored, so sometimes I look up and wonder why the woman looking for an apartment is now getting married or why the housewives have stopped screaming and are now looking for an affordable house in the suburbs of Paris. I don't personally own a gun, but every once in a while, I wish I had one so I could shoot out the screen. Sunday night, though, the choice was between two extremes, and my wife wanted my opinion.

I thought about it. "Downton Abbey" is a show in which folks get all dressed up but nothing really happens. The downstairs women seem to spend all day getting ready for dinner, while the men spend their time trying to get spots out of suitcoats. Upstairs, rich people drink tea and stare at each other. Every once in a while someone gets a telegram, and says, "Oh dear!" but that's about it. It's like watching "Titanic" without Leo, Kate, the ship or the iceberg.

"Honey Boo Boo" is also a show in which nothing happens, but that's the only similarity. While the Crawleys of Downton Abbey can probably trace their lineage back to the days of Henry VIII, the Honey Boo Boo clan seems to be descended from one dust bowl brother and sister with too much time on their hands. When they talk, it sounds like they have mouths full of cornbread so you're not really sure what's happening. That's OK, as I'm pretty sure they're not either.

The real differences are in their respective audiences. "Downton Abbey" fans clearly watch the show because they're dissatisfied with their only slightly satisfying real lives and wish they could spend their days being waited on hand and foot by handmaidens and footmen. They long for someone to lay out their clothes, answer the doorbell when it rings and bring in ominous telegrams on silver trays. "Honey Boo Boo" fans, on the other hand, feel bad about their own lives, so they want to see someone worse off than they are. You may not be all that rich, smart or good-looking, and your house might need a new roof, but at least you're not getting your head stuck in a huge pumpkin or chasing piglets around the muddy yard. "Honey Boo Boo" fans, deep down, are convinced that they're just one stupid life mistake away from ending up on the pig farm, clipping coupons and buying toilet paper by the truckload.

You can usually tell which camp people fall into. "Downton Abbey" types buy their food in the organic section of the supermarket and swear by PBS. "Honey Boo Boo" lovers buy their food at 7-Eleven and hope they don't get PBS, because they think it's a disease where you have to go to the bathroom all the time. "Honey Boo Boo" fans may not have much culture, but they know how to have a good time.

It occurred to me that we had to decide whether we were going to try to be cultured, PBS-watching, sophisticated wannabes or low-class, cornbread-guzzling hillbillies. Then it hit me: The two main characters on "Downton Abbey," Lady Mary and Matthew, are both in love, and, awkwardly enough, cousins. "Downtown Abbey" is really just the first season of "Honey Boo Boo." If we picked that, we could watch the downfall of our civilization in chronological order. I was going to explain my complicated but brilliant rationale, but my wife made the decision for me.

"Never mind," she said, "I'll just flip back and forth between the two."

Don't blame me if I tell folks at work the next day that my favorite part of "Downton Abbey" was when the Countess of Grantham got that pumpkin stuck on her head and rolled around on the porch.


Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.


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