Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The semester begins in earnest today, and with it, the audiovisual portion of my ritual opening lecture in Modern Political Theory:

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.

As I've said before, I think this little comedy bit works well in the classroom; it helps demonstrate "how massive a change it was in European history, when the individualist ethos finally began to emerge and truly challenge traditional, holistic hierarchies." But mostly, I just really like Monty Python.

When did I first begin to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus? I guess around my junior year in high school, which means 1985 or so. Somehow I'd managed to get an old television installed in my bedroom, and I got into the habit of staying up late, watching all sorts of programs that we'd never be able to stay up and watch on the family set. Actually, I think my primary aim was to stay up until 12:30am, when Late Night with David Letterman would come on, which I would watch through the opening monologue, Top Ten list, first guest and first sketch, after which I would hit the sack around 1:00am. So the goal was to find something to do or watch for an hour and a half after primetime ended and/or I finished my reading or homework. That's when I discovered that our local PBS station just happened to run, beginning at 11:00pm, an episode of SCTV followed by an episode of Flying Circus. I was hooked. SCTV was good, often great, but Python was from some other world. I laughed, I marveled, I was flabbergasted, my world changed. Like millions of others, the impossibly intelligent and yet brilliantly absurdist satire-slash-potty-humor of Monty Python turned me overnight into a comedy snob. In time, I saw all their movies (though Meaning of Life doesn't impress me much), and as the above indicates, I make frequent use of Holy Grail and Life of Brian in my classes to this very day. But my first love remains the television series.

Which made this Christmas one of the most rewarding in memory: The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Megaset is finally my own! The Cheese Shop. Alternate Endings. "Dimsdale!" Njorl's Journey to North Malden. It's all right at my fingertips, via space-age, cutting-edge DVD technology. We'd taped numerous television programs over the years, and some we've even kept around for ages, but I'd really never taken seriously the desire be a completist, to really take up a whole work of television as a possession or work of art (for reasons that I'll have to go into in another post), before now. But as soon as I unwrapped this collection and settled down in from of the TV for many a good, long laugh (shared with Melissa, frequently; she's quite unfamiliar with the original show), I couldn't imagine being without it, anymore than I could imagine being without a favorite book. Yes, it's that kind of relationship.

I can't think of another TV program with which I have or could possibly have such a relationship. Well, no, I guess I can think of a couple: the Sherlock Holmes productions with Jeremy Brett, which is finally entirely available in America and which I'm slowing working through. Star Trek, the original series--I have about 30 episodes of that which I recorded long ago off the Sci-Fi Channel; I suppose it'd be worth owning on DVD, except that I prefer to be selective, as so many TOS episodes were just terrible. Oh, and Melissa and I adored--and stayed up late recording old reruns of--Northern Exposure when we were first married; it's finally (slowly) becoming available on DVD, but again, I don't think I'd care for the whole package, just select episodes. Speaking of which, which season featured "The Election," when Holling was challenged to a mayoral contest and lost? I've shown that in U.S. government classes before, but it was recently accidentally recorded over, and I'd love to get a copy. Anyone got any old tapes of NE they're willing to sell?


Anonymous said...

Here I thought I'd get a post on traditional, holistic hierarchies. But no. 

Posted by Adam Greenwood

Anonymous said...

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, you should see the recent article on the mystery surrounding a Holmes' fanatic's death. There's a forum on the article here and a summary of the case here

Posted by Caleb

Anonymous said...

I once started a grad school paper with that scene from Holy Grail. It's one of my absolute favorites. "Help, help, I'm being oppressed!" 

Posted by Emma Goldman