Friday, September 05, 2003

Monty Python in the Classroom

Classes started up in earnest for me this week (school began the week before Labor Day, but since I was off to the APSA convention in Philadelphia for a few days that week, I just set them to reading some material and planned to get down business after the holiday). I'm teaching Classical and Medieval Political Theory this semester, and once again I found the opportunity to do one of my favorite things: employ Monty Python sketches as part of my teaching. In this case, I used a scene from The Life of Brian to get my students thinking about how big a gap exists between their default modern individualist perspective (in terms of rights, dignity, identity, and so forth), and the decided absence of most any sort of individualist conception in the ancient world. You can probably guess the scene:

FOLLOWERS: Brian! Brian! Brian!...
BRIAN: Good morning.
FOLLOWERS: A blessing! A blessing! A blessing!...
BRIAN: No. No, please! Please! Please listen. I've got one or two things to say.
FOLLOWERS: Tell us. Tell us both of them.
BRIAN: Look. You've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves. You're all individuals!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we're all individuals!
BRIAN: You're all different!
FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!
DENNIS: I'm not.
(Look here for a bunch of Monty Python sound clips, including some of the above.)

It's good for a laugh, and it works pretty well. I've used other Monty Python bits in other classes. For instance, perhaps predictably, when I teach Modern Political Theory, and I need to show how massive a change it was in European history, when the individualist ethos finally began to emerge and truly challenge traditional, holistic hierarchies, I turn to:

ARTHUR: I am your king!
WOMAN: Well, I didn't vote for you.
ARTHUR: You don't vote for kings.
WOMAN: Well, how did you become King, then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king!
DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!
ARTHUR: Shut up, will you? Shut up!
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

I've experimented with other Monty Python bits besides these two, with a fair amount of success. It's perfectly reasonable, if you think about it. I mean, how much more appropriate to a class in political philosophy could a comedy troupe be, than the one which brought us The Philosopher's Drinking Song, or--my favorite--the International Philosophie Football Final?