Below are some ramblings wherein I wonder: Did being smart just simply never go out of fashion in Britain? But first: There’s even more Python than I mentioned before that you can “Watch Instantly” on your computer via Netflix:
- Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969) – Choose from a veritable buffet, skit by skit.
- And Now For Something Completely Different (1971) – Greatest hits, restaged and filmed.
- Before the Flying Circus (2000)- Great look at their early school days and how they got together.
- Monty Python Conquers America (2000)- with comments from Judd Apatow, Carl Reiner, the “South Park” guys, Luke Wilson, more.
Those latter two documentaries are chock full of goodness. As the Pythons talk about Britain emerging from the stolid postwar era into the “Goon Show” days, it struck me that the rise of television must have been the first time masses of people were exposed to the sight of adults acting silly. Sure, there had been comedy revues, but those were things you had to buy a ticket to see, not just flip a channel. (Similarly, “No Sense of Place” indicates, TV gave women, kids and minorities a window into the heretofore physically walled-off world of workaday white male behavior). I treasure irreverence, but wouldn’t be surprised if this broadening of comedy ties in with the growing infantilization of adults, also.
On a lighter note, I was proud that Dallas viewers latched on instantly when “Python” was first broadcast in America. A KERA manager in the doc says when the ratings came in, it was like, okay, there’s “Masterpiece Theater” at 1.5, then whoa – “Python” at 6? And then it went up to 8? Despite almost everyone’s assumptions that Americans, and particularly Dallasites, wouldn’t appreciate it. Yee-haw!
A clip of the Pythons taking part in one of KERA’s ubiquitous pledge drives (I worked at one – much later – in high school) shows some long-haired audience members asking them questions… in a Texas drawl that even I find dang near incomprehensible. More evidence that regional accents continue to erode, another process influenced by mass media.
Young comedians in the “America” documentary remember sneaking out of bedrooms late at night to watch “Monty Python” illicitly, which I and many others my age also did. They noted that this was a very geeky thing to do, which is perfectly true. But it started me thinking once again: At what point did being smart become a bad thing in America? Certainly lots of people have talked about this (Bill Cosby, Mike Judge and recent appeals to “make it cool to be a geek” come to mind). But in this context of Python history, I wondered: Did being smart just simply not go out of fashion in the UK? (Until recently, at least; cf. chav *language warning*.) Were the Pythons only funny to educated Brits (after all, five out of the six came from Oxford and Cambridge), or was their appeal mainstream?
Around the same time in my life as I was staying up late to watch “Python,” I stumbled across “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – I saw the title in the school library card catalog (does it get nerdier than that?) and thought it sounded intriguing. In Britain, “Hitchhiker’s” references permeate pop culture in the way that, say, Beach Boys songs do here, but in the U.S. they are a geek niche. Did British consumers just not label smart entertainment as geeky? (I use the past tense because it’s been widely acknowledged that Britain foisting “Big Brother” and “Pop Idol” on us and being repaid with “The X-Files,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” et al., has closed the gap.)
So. For anyone brave enough to have suffered through all that rambling, I offer an extra Netflix treat: John Cleese presents a sweet 2004 show wherein he tries to de-mystify and de-snobbify wine, titled “Wine for the Confused.” You have to like a program where he invites all his buddies over and then makes them look goofy by proving they can’t tell a $10 bottle from a $100 bottle. Yay!