What do you suppose the "fabulous" Aaron Schock is making of the horrific efforts of "Downton Abbey" under-butler Barrow to purge himself of Teh Gay?
Not looking so well lately is our Thomas (Rob James-Collier)?
Today I took some much-needed time off work, and took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on some matters blog- and non-blog-related. Among the non-blog-related matters, as irony would have it, was a rewatch of Sunday night's Downton Abbey episode, which, along with several other of my Sunday-night programs, I was at best half-watching Sunday night while trying to deal with, well, other matters. And as I rewatched the episode, it was hard not to think about the farce-melodrama played out in the new Rayburn House Office Building of Rep. Aaron "Pretty in Pink" Schock, which I wrote about last night ("No, don't even ask -- Aaron Schock doesn't want to talk about his manly new Downton Abbey-inspired office"). It was especially hard not to think of our Aaron in the bits of the episode devoted to the plotline of the visibly horrific self-medication program of the evil footman-turned-under-butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) to purge himself of his damnable homosexual urges.
The perpetually scheming Thomas (oops, it's Barrow now, since his ascension to under-butler), always gathering information about the doings at Downton, with an eye to find himself an angle to be played, was already one of the show's more riveting characters before we -- and later the rest of the below-stairs staff -- learned the dark secret of his sexual proclivity. In the special features accompanying the series' first depiction of a Downton visit by the American mother of the American-born Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), several participants recall the momentous day of Shirley MacLaine's arrival on location at Highclere Castle, where she was greeted by a receiving line of most of the cast. Rob James-Collier recalls the great lady looking up and down the line and then coming over to him and saying something like, "Ah, you're the evil one!" It's always nice to be remembered.
The plotline of Thomas's outing was handled with enormous sense and compassion. I'm not saying that the character's secretiveness and scheming and duplicity and general malice were "explained" by this revelation, but they were certainly consistent with a character whose whole life has been led ferociously hiding a secret that would make him repellent to others, and perhaps already does to himself as well. At the same time, in both the writing and the acting viewers were given a haunting glimpse of his tormented loneliness, of his desperate craving for personal contact -- a craving that came ever so close to destroying his life. A life in the closet, he and we learned, is better than no life at all.
This season we were introduced to a new source of mystery about Barrow -- secret absences from the Abbey, strange medical-looking paraphernalia smuggled into his quarters, a steady but precipitous and frightening decline in his physical appearance, and the horrible realization that he has committed himself to some ghastly quack-medical scheme to purge himself of these horrible, uncontrollable urges. It has even prompted expressions of concern from his miraculously escaped victim Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), Lady Grantham's personal maid. Naturally he is unable or unwilling to accept any act of simple human kindness.
Of course in Downton Abbey we're still in the 1920s, and both the duplicity and the horror of Barrow's life in the closet seem to me utterly believable and utterly wrenching. Now we don't know for sure that our Aaron actually watches Downton Abbey. Maybe he just likes having an office decorated à la mode de Downton. After all, didn't his besieged communications director, Benjamin Cole, tell the Washington Post's Ben Terris, as a final thought on the Great Office Renovation Uproar, that he doesn't know if his boss watches Downton Abbey, seeing as how he doesn't think he watches much TV?
Still, if it happens that our Aaron does watch Downton Abbey, and it further happens that he saw this week's episode, in which Thomas's appearance has declined to the point where all the upstairs gentry have been asking about it, I can't help wondering how he reacted.
IN OTHER SCHOCK-ING DEVELOPMENTS
In the comments to my post last night reader BrianG tipped us off to a wonderful column by our Aaron's hometown Peoria Journal Star's Phil Luciano (links onsite):
Luciano: Rep. Aaron Schock's boastful personality stops at his office door
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio administers a re-enactment of the House oath to Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., left, during a ceremonial re-enactment swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
By Phil Luciano of the Journal Star
Posted Feb. 3, 2015 at 12:34 PM
Updated Feb 3, 2015 at 1:02 PM
Deal with it, America: Peoria’s congressman is fabulous.
The one weird part: why, suddenly, isn’t Aaron Schock openly fabulous? Schock, usually never one to pass on preening like a peacock in public, has grown suddenly timid — throwing a wet blanket over his usual firecracker-like flamboyance.
The Washington Post tried to take a peek at his chichi new office, but his staff freaked out, as if Schock had left the nuclear launch codes on his desk or something. Later, Schock also demurred from allowing a tour of his uniquely splashy digs.
Huh? Aaron Schock, the shy guy on the Hill? Obviously, the real Peoria congressman has been abducted by aliens and replaced by a buttoned-down Republican android.
You’ll surely recall Schock as the six-pack cover boy for Men’s Health in 2011. But, compared to his latter-day flash, that shot looks as tame as if he’d donned a flannel shirt and overalls to appear on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.
Schock doesn’t spark sizzle. He blasts a blowtorch. And he pulls his own trigger.
Four months ago, on Instagram he posted shots of himself joining West Point cadets in their Combat Water Survival Lab. That’s no easy challenge, as Schock demonstrated by showing pictures of himself swimming shirtless and exercising shirtless. There’s also a shot of him in a military vest — but otherwise shirtless — while clutching a rifle. It’s like a gun show: Schock’s vs. the Army’s. With a cigar in his mouth, he’d look like a Hollywood stand-in for Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa 1983.
His other Instagram posts offer a beguiling mix of playfulness and politics. He is seen shaking hands with the pope, hugging G.W. Bush and (not sure why) staring at a penguin. You can see him para-sailing over Argentina, hiking over a South American glacier and dropping back stage at the American Music Awards with Ariana Grande (in the pic, she sports duck lips; he, unfortunately, does not).
Perhaps most dashing, he dons a suit and fedora to tango with a short-dress lass in Buenos Aires. Such shots generate plenty of adoring reaction. Tango-photo comments include, “I’d kill to be that woman right now — sigh” and “Idea for new ABC series: “Dancing With The Congressmen”.
Or, perhaps one day, “Dancing with the President”? That’s how some see Schock’s trajectory. Think that’s crazy? There’s no denying that he carries a remarkable sense of savoir faire — and pretty face — rare to politics. It worked for Kennedy.
Put that all together, and that’s why it’s odd to seem him suddenly recoil from the camera. It’s not every day the Washington Post’s Style section comes knocking on a congressional door.
Granted, his “Downton Abbey” look — bright-red walls, gold frames and (seriously) pheasant feathers — might not work for that slice of the electorate that leans heavily testosterone. But, lest he suddenly embrace the Busch-and-Doritos lifestyle, he likely would be unable to woo them anyway.
Back in the day, can you imagine Bob Michel or Ray LaHood getting this kind of attention? You half-expect the swashbuckling Schock to appear in a Johnny Depp pirate movie or Katy Perry halftime show.
It’s hard to generate that kind of buzz. As his website brags, “As the first member of Congress born in the 1980s, Schock has raised the profile of young leaders in the Republican Party.” Indeed, it’s harder to see the GOP as the stuffed-shirt party if its handsomest young turk sometimes bothers to wear no shirt at all.
So why the hush-hush over the office motif? Hard to say. But, as far as publicity goes, Schock & Co. couldn’t have played it better in shooing away prying eyes. Now everyone — from Washington to Walla Walla — wants to see what’s behind the curious door of the flashy, flirty congressman from Peoria, Ill.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano or (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter @LucianoPhil.