If one were asked to specify statements made in Woody Allen’s “My Speech to the Graduates” with which one might disagree, it would be difficult to name any. This is because Allen’s piece is not a conventional essay that makes and defends an argument. Rather, it is a whimsical parody of standard graduate speeches. The purpose of Allen’s piece is not to make a serious argument but to have fun. Disagreeing with any part of Allen’s work would be like disagreeing with jokes told by a comedian. (In fact, one can easily eliminate the word “like” from the preceding sentence.)
Nevertheless, if one did want to get into an argument with Allen, one might argue that it is irresponsible of Allen to offer a parody of graduation speeches. One might assert that graduation speeches are among the most serious and important speeches any of us is ever likely to hear, and that therefore to burlesque such speeches is to fail to value such speeches appropriately. One might contend that Allen is being shallow and superficial and shockingly disrespectful in dealing with one of the most significant rites of passage in American culture.
If one did want to make this kind of argument, one might want to challenge a few of Allen’s specific statements. Those statements, for instance, might include the following:
- At one point Allen asks,
Am I my brother's keeper? Yes. Interestingly, in my case I share that honor with the Prospect Park Zoo.
One could argue that this statement is a flippant parody of one of the most important moral injunctions in Western culture. One could argue that this passage shows a scandalous disregard for genuine altruism and true social responsibility.
- Later, Allen writes the following:
My toaster has never once worked properly in four years. I follow the instructions and push two slices of bread down in the slots and seconds later they rifle upward. Once they broke the nose of a woman I loved very dearly.
One could argue that this passage makes a mockery of the very serious concerns we should all have about the ways in which technology has come to dominate our lives. Instead of showing that technology dehumanizes us and threatens our very existence, Allen makes a cheap joke about a toaster. (Or so one might argue.)
- Finally, Allen manages to be flippant about two very important matters when he writes as follows:
In a democracy . . . , civil liberties are upheld. No citizen can be wantonly tortured, imprisoned, or made to sit through certain Broadway shows.
One might argue that Allen is here making fun of two of the most important aspects of life – political freedom and freedom from torture. How, one might ask, could Allen write these sentences and possibly look someone in the eye who came from a totalitarian country? How could he sleep at night knowing that he had made light of torture? One could easily make these arguments.