02/07/2014 11:39 am ET | Updated Apr 09, 2014

Those Slackers at Downton Abbey

They don't work for a living; they keep making babies; and they have a tremendous sense of entitlement. I'm talking about the Crawleys, of course, the fictional blue bloods who live at Downton Abbey.

Many times, we see that same list of criticisms aimed at low-income people as evidence that their situation is caused by their own shortcomings and that they are undeserving of help. Yet the Crawleys consistently do their level best to squander the family fortune (Yes, Sir Robert, I mean you.) and the idea that they could lose the castle and be forced to downsize to a mere mansion is regarded with horror -- not just by the Crawleys but by loyal viewers as well.

So many of the unfair slams against low-income people are spot on when it comes to the Crawleys, who put the idle in idle rich.

They do not work. In fact, when a member of the family does get a job, it's a source of shame. Recall Sir Robert's badgering of Lady Edith after she starts writing a magazine column and his eagerness that Matthew give up his law practice to be as shiftless as his wealthier cousins.

Not only do these people look down on paid work -- they can't even be bothered to take care of themselves, their homes, or their children. Lord and Lady Grantham each have a full-time staff member to help them dress. Married women have breakfast in bed every morning -- as if it is perpetually Mother's Day. Well, I suppose if you have a nanny 24/7, it is perpetually Mother's Day.

They are baby makers. The Crawleys can't afford the life they are living. But they keep making little Crawleys. The family is overjoyed when Mary produces a new heir; next Sybil has a child with her fugitive husband; and now Edith has one on the way. That's a baby on the way -- not a husband. The father is still maneuvering to divorce his current wife.

They squander the resources they've been given. First Sir Robert endangers the family fortune by sinking most of it in the securities equivalent of a handful of magic beans. After he is bailed out by Matthew, we learn that the agricultural business of the estate is badly mismanaged. His Lordship, however, refuses to even discuss modernizing to achieve profitability.

They are lawbreakers. Oh, where to start? The Crawley women have to actually exert themselves moving around a dead body in the middle of the night to cover up a tryst. They do have assistance from a maid, thank goodness. There is Tom's flirtation with terrorism in Ireland. This bit of arson is smoothed over by a visit from His Lordship to the Home Secretary. Lady Rose almost gets caught up in a police raid when she is slumming it with the farm boys at the dance hall. Fortunately, a maid and a footman are handy to spirit her away in time.

They squander money on luxuries. When it looks like the estate might need to be broken up to pay the taxes, how do the Crawleys respond? They throw an elaborate house party and bring an opera singer in from Australia to provide the entertainment. Because that's what people do.

Their situation is the result of their vices. Sir Robert gambles away money he can't afford to lose and then lies to his wife (whose money it really is) about it. Tom gets drunk and falls into bed with the conniving Edna, who plans to extort money from him. In each case, they are bailed out by a "social inferior," as is so often the case at Downton.

They have an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Downton is still running because of Cora's fortune, which became part of the estate when she married Robert, who managed to lose most of it. Next comes Matthew's turn to be the new relation who laid the golden egg. Mary is furious with her adored husband when he doesn't immediately give his entire inheritance to Papa, so that Sir Robert can fritter it away as well. In between those two money showers, the Dowager Countess and Mary appeal to Cora's mother to bail out Downton on the grounds that it is a cultural treasure. (Kind of like the Mona Lisa, if the Mona Lisa belonged to a single person and could be viewed by invitation only.)

What's amazing is that, not once but twice, Sir Robert is willing to take the entirety of another person's assets so that he can keep getting his newspapers ironed for him every morning.

The point of all this isn't to trash the Crawleys, who are after all fictional. The point is that the rich are allowed their shortcomings. Poor people are not. Many of the parents I've worked with are holding down multiple jobs and doing their very best to be responsible. But they are often judged harshly and unfairly.

I wish that real life people struggling against enormous odds inspired as much understanding as a bunch of aristocrats in a costume drama. Climbing out of poverty is difficult, sometimes bordering on impossible. The people attempting it are truly doing something noble, even if they don't have the titles to prove it.

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