Monty Python

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William F. Buckley, Jr.

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587

[Monty Python's TV episodes are] most easily described as a National Lampoon romp through history. The rule, in this sort of thing, is that nothing, nobody, should be taken seriously. Much humor is based on simple iconoclasm…. Which crawls over at the morbid end of the spectrum to gallows humor….

It is inevitable that performers will cross the line. It is inevitable that people will tell jokes about the suffering of others, or jokes that make fun of whole races or religions. It is not inevitable that mature critics will encourage that sort of thing.

The Monty Python people now come out with a movie [Life of Brian] in which the life of Christ is burlesqued. When Christ said that the meek would inherit the earth, the Monty Python people got this as "the Greek" shall inherit the earth, because they couldn't hear the words exactly. Blessed are the peacemakers is heard by Monty Python at the edge of the crowd as blessed are the cheesemakers. Easy stuff for a professional scriptwriter trained in inversion….

But Monty Python will not be stopped until he reaches Golgotha and is crucified. This scene becomes a great comic orgy….

Mr. Richard Schickel, the principal movie reviewer for Time magazine, has the strangest comments of the season on this grotesquerie [see excerpt above]. "Adolescents are flocking to [Monty Python] as if it were another Animal House. But it is a richer, funnier, more daring film—too good to be left solely to the kids. Maybe all the earnest protests"—Mr. Schickel is referring to the Catholics, Protestants, and Jews who have issued a solemn denunciation of this venture in blasphemy—"will attract those who need it most: adults who have not had their basic premises offended, and therefore have not examined them, in too long."…

We are told that all our basic premises need occasionally to be "offended." Well, one of our basic premises is that people ought not to be persecuted on account of their race or religion. Is Mr. Schickel saying that we should have an occasional holocaust? Or is he saying that if we go for a stretch of time without a holocaust, at least we ought to engage the Monty Python players to do a comedy based on Auschwitz? With the characters marching into the gas chamber dancing, say the mamba? Led by Anne Frank?

A basic premise of our society is tenderness toward, for instance, aging parents. We are enjoined by Mr. Schickel, if we read him right, to toss them out into the street from time to time; or if that is not feasible, either because we lack the courage or are lazy about it, Monty Python might do a comedy based on the frailties of the elderly….

The First Commandment, which enjoins us not to take in vain the name of the Lord, is unrelated to a carefree expletive when you stub your toe, or lose money in the stock market, or lose three straight sets at tennis. It is commandingly august as an injunction against an inversion of those few qualities that distinguish us from the beasts, and there is no period, not even the Fasching in Munich or the Carnival in Rio, or Monty Python, when we are relieved of the obligation to experience sorrow at man's inhumanity to man, let alone man's inhumanity to God.

William F. Buckley, Jr., "Didja Hear the One About …," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1979; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XXXI, No. 43, October 26, 1979, p. 1387.

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