Synopsis: Throughout their five seasons on British television (and well into the troop’s movie sequels and assorted solo projects), Monty Python became a worldwide symbol not only for taking serious subjects and making them silly, but also for treating silly subjects seriously. Monty Python provided a treasure trove of erudite “in” jokes, offering sly allusions to subjects as diverse as T.S. Elliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” (as part of a commercial for a weight loss product) and how to conjugate Latin properly (as explained by a Roman centurion to a Jewish zealot painting anti-Roman graffiti on a wall). It was this combination of the uniquely highbrow but silly humor that inspired countless followers (Saturday Night Live, to name one). This hilarious and helpful guide puts Python’s myriad references into context for the legion of fans, scholars, and pop culture aficionados that still strive to “get” Monty Python.
Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python, by Brian Cogan, P.h.D. and Jeff Massey, P.h.D. 7.5
‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python’ is a book: it is flat, quadrilateral, has a front and back cover, contains many print-covered pages, which can be read from left to right or right to left (albeit less coherently), and it is water absorbent. It is a fine book by any measure, and I am proud to hold it in my hands.
Since all books are flat, quadrilateral, have a front and back cover, contain many print-covered pages, which can be read from left to right or right to left (albeit less coherently), and are water absorbent, one might postulate (ahem… ahem… if not conclude, as I have) that all books are ‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python’.
That is my theory, it is mine, and it belongs to me, and I own it, and what it is, too.
‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python’ is more than a mere book. It is an analysis of Monty Python’s approach to myriad subjects, such as philosophy, linguistic theory, political theory (part one and two), media theory, humour, history, art, sports, love and many even sillier things including tits and bums.
(No, not really.)
The book starts off nicely with a trio of introductions (the “Trade” version, “Executive Edition” and “Real-as-it-Gets” version) which suggests a fine balance of humour and dryness. It then (re)introduces readers to the Pythons and their influence, The Goons, before serving up the requisite disclaimer about their intentions – a FIVE PAGE disclaimer.
And that’s part of the problem with “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python”: some sections seem to go on endlessly, nearly tediously, retreading the same paths more finely as they go on. Perhaps that’s totally typical of this type of analysis, but I simply don’t have the academic mind to lap up every single nuanced point and counterpoint.
For example, see how, on page 138 (Part III, “Python on Art’) the authors suggest that “Python looks at the idea of creation in the context of how competitive the art world is and in terms of how the dynamics of the creative process work and how subsequent movements in art helped to comment upon and shape culture”. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
And another and another and another…?
Thankfully, there are a number of diversions throughout, including factoid boxes, pictures, intermissions and a one-page chapter that reads rather breezily. This helps the reader navigate what would otherwise be a dense book on humour – something which should really be light and delightful, not cerebral and challenging. These breaks saved my bite-sized brain.
In light of this, for me the best part was chapter six, which is a pêle-mêle of all sorts of other subjects, most of which is not nearly as plodding as the previous chapters were. It was basically a place to stuff the things that didn’t fit in the previous chapters and that, as the authors themselves say, “had to go somewhere, and here it is at last!”
I found it interesting that, in the History chapter, there was lengthy analysis of the Spanish Inquisition, and in the Arts chapter a long part on ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘. And yet there were nothing except a few brief references here and there to ‘Life of Brian‘. Less than ‘The Meaning of Life’, even. And yet there was a whole chapter devoted to Sport. Sigh.
It was also unusual to me that each chapter ended with a short bit on Terry Gilliam. No other Python received such treatment and I wasn’t quite clear why this was. Is he merely their favourite Python for some reason, or is it ethnocentricity? Frankly, it was nice to see Gilliam rise above the others for once, but this bias puts much of their analyses in question.
In fact, although I’m no scholar, nor am I even well-educated, it seemed to me that, for all their in-depth analysis and intellectual pretenses, the authors tried to pull fast ones on us here and there. Or they screwed up, making connections that shouldn’t be made and coming to erroneous conclusions. Hard to say which it was, but this diminished their credibility.
For example, at the bottom of page 86, discussing the “Funniest Joke in the World” skit, they claim that Mr. Scribbler’s joke would be thirty times more devastating that the first atom bomb. But this is based on the false logic that Britain’s most powerful prewar joke was as powerful any prewar bomb. There is no evidence of this and it’s a weak assumption.
Similarly, on page 68 they incorrectly suggest that Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ unconformism was a counter-balance to regular TV fare, conveniently forgetting the fact that MPFC began to conform by the end of its run; the authors commit the same error that most people do, which is to lump all four series in the same boat, even though they’re radically different.
Then on page 144, they discuss how criticism of art is absurd because there is an obvious bias by the critics, treating art as a product, preventing one from truly experiencing the work. And yet, they make the same mistake with their book, dissecting the Pythons’ intentions, sourcing meaning in sketches that perhaps were only written because it was considered funny.
In the end, ‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ___* I Learned from Monty Python’ may be well intentioned and it certainly is well researched in many areas, but it failed to convince me that I’ve learned as much as the authors claim by watching/reading/listening to Monty Python. At best, some of it is inferred – but Python were satire, not a lecture.
Still, you may wish to takes notes as you read this anyway. Aside for its obvious quality of teaching you about many things that Python never did teach you (and thank you to the authors for filling in the blanks in our education), there is a quiz at the end the book. No joke. And I think you’re not allowed to return the book to the library until you take and pass the quiz.
So take notes. Learn everything you need to know about everything you ever needed to know. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with the late fees. Just sayin’.