Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hall Boys

I've finally stumbled on a "reality show" that I like. I don't wish to cast any aspersions on the genre's fans, it just doesn't appeal to me. It's not snobbery of any sort. I don't understand the appeal of abstract art, opera or caviar either, but there's nay shortage of people that are smarter than I that do. Incidentally, when I become king I'm going to order that henceforth aspersions will cast at, not on, not even upon, someone or something. But that has nothing to do with the reality show I recently stumbled upon so I'm not going to get into it. Did you know that upon and on can be used interchangeably without having to worry about the jack booted thugs of the grammar police kicking in your door at 3 AM? I...

[Cough, cough. Marie-Louise, my muse, can exactly duplicate the dry, fake cough of Sister Mary Eunice made when she would appear out of nowhere when my fellow unworthy sinners and I were pitching pennies or discussing the definitions of bad words.]

Sorry. Oh, before I forget, I mentioned last week that the subject of this week's column would be demonization. Due to technical difficulties...etc, it's been moved to next week. Anyway, the reality show in question is called, "Manor House," and ran back in 2002. It would seem I'm running a bit behind. Amazon, or rather one of its algorithms, recommended it to me after I recently binge watched "Downton Abbey." I told you I was running a bit behind.

The premise of the show is that it's a depiction of what life would have been like for a bunch of folks living in a huge manor house, in Scotland, at the turn of the last century. The lives of the (newly rich) masters, a family of five, and their (newly minted) slaves servants (14 of them) are offered up for our entertainment via a typical unreality show format. You may have noticed, or at least heard, that alleged reality shows are somewhat different from, and strive to be much more entertaining than, actual reality. This particular show is no exception.

When I'm king (I'm feeling rather monarchical this week), I'm going to order that all high school students, grade year to be determined, will be required to participate in a series of ungraded seminars. For lack of a better term (I've just come up with this idea so I'm little light on details) let's call them the Reality Check Series. The point/purpose is to give the students a realistic grounding in how life actually works/worked to prevent snowflake syndrome going forward, coupled with an appreciation of how crappy life actually was for almost everyone nay very long ago.

The reason Manor House got me to thinking about this is because although it contains all the required unreality elements of reality shows, it still offers much in the way of useful reality checks.

What I mean by the elements of unreality are simply all the stories/rumours/innuendo/etc. surrounding any given reality show. Poke the bear production tricks that have leaked and/or are leaked and designed to manipulate the participants/masses.

Manipulate the participants into providing entertainment for the masses and manipulate the masses for the enrichment of the industry behind the cameras. A new millennial version of Depression-era dance marathons.

As to useful reality checks, an example if you please. Downton Abbey includes "hall boys," but just barely and the term is never defined. Manor House, on the other hand, features a hall boy that literally lives in the hall. Nay, really. In the Scottish manor house where Manor House takes place, the hall boy literally lives in a hall. There's a tiny Murphy bed that folds out of one of the halls walls, and that's where he sleeps. His room is a Murphy bed in a room that's not a room. Yikes!

There's nay a lot of information available about hall boys, even using my usual method for conducting in-depth research -- google a word or phrase and see what happens. The life of a DAT (dilettante about town) requires vigilant prioritising and a ruthless devotion to moving on.

[Manor House is full of Scottish accents, which is why I've become mildly, and hopefully only temporarily, obsessed with using nay, instead of no or not. I'm resisting rolling my r's, so far, but only because I'm nay vera gooud very good at it.]

However, I did manage to ferret out a few facts beyond the appalling one mentioned above. Hall boys, along with their female counterparts, scullery maids, occupied the lowest positions in a rigid hierarchy that began with the master of the house and ended with them.

One of their many duties was to serve as servants to servants that were further up the food chain than they were, and often they were literally boys. They got up first, went to bed last, often worked 16 hour days and couldn't count on a day off. Two words: chamber pots.

This was all considered perfectly normal for centuries and didn't start changing till about a hundred years ago. While a century may seem like a long time to some of you, particularly to those fortunate enough to be slightly younger than I (62.75 chronologically, 39 spiritually), consider the fact that my father was born in 1911, and it was only a couple of years ago that I was being terrorised by Sister Mary Eunice.

Back to reality checks. What have we learned Dorothies? While nay one should have to live/have lived like this, more did than didn't, and nay that long ago. Many still do. I refer not only to the lives of slaves/servants. Till roughly 1800, when The Great Enrichment took off (the subject of this column the week after next), almost everyone on the planet lived short, drudgery-filled lives, and always had.

Manor House is worth a watch for one other reason in my semi-humble opinion. I made reference to the clearly defined and rigidly enforced hierarchy of the household, which mirrored the English class system that had begun to crumble but was still very much in place.

The people of the current era that were assembled for this elaborate game of pretend start going native in the very first episode. It's fascinating to watch how easily they assume the mores of their forebears, mostly I suspect, without being aware of it.

Have an OK day.

©Mark Mehlmauer 2016

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