Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, August 17, 2015

Introduction to comparative politics

One of the first posts to this blog back when I started it 2006, was about a scene from a movie that I used in class. It bears repeating because many of you were not reading this blog back then. I think the advice is still good.

When it first came out in 1975, I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I saw it again several years after I began teaching comparative. From that point on, one of the beginning scenes (you probably know which one) became a regular feature of the first day of class.

It's full of conceptual ideas that go a long way to proving that the Pythons paid attention to at least some of their tutors at Cambridge.

Once you and your students have enjoyed seeing this scene (more than once, perhaps), there are many opportunities to explore concepts that should become very common knowledge before the course ends. Here's my beginning list of things students should explore, research, and discuss: social class, social cleavages, executive, elections, legitimacy, mandate, exploitation, ethnic identity, autonomy, autocracy, and divine right.

(Be careful, your students will want you to show more of this movie, especially the "I"m not dead yet" scene that follows the "Peasants" scene.)

Here are excerpts from the script of the "peasants" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Arthur and his trusty servant Patsy "ride" into a field where peasants are working. They come up behind a cart which is being dragged by a hunched-over peasant in ragged clothing. Patsy slows as they near the cart...

ARTHUR: Old woman!


ARTHUR: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?

DENNIS: I'm thirty seven.


DENNIS: I'm thirty seven -- I'm not old!

ARTHUR: Well, I can't just call you `Man'.

DENNIS: Well, you could say `Dennis'.

ARTHUR: Well, I didn't know you were called `Dennis.'

DENNIS: Well, you didn't bother to find out, did you?

ARTHUR: I did say sorry about the `old woman,' but from the behind you looked--

DENNIS: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!

Arthur: Well I *am* king...

Man: Oh, king, eh, very nice. And 'ow'd you get that, eh? (he reaches his destination and stops, dropping the cart) By exploiting the workers! By 'angin' on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there's ever going to be any progress,--

Woman: Dennis! There's some lovely filth down 'ere! (noticing Arthur) Oh! 'Ow'd'ja do?

Arthur: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, king of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

Woman: King of the 'oo?

Arthur: King of the Britons.

Woman: 'Oo are the Britons?

Arthur: Well we all are! We are all Britons! And I am your king.

Woman: I didn't know we 'ad a king! I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Man: (mad) You're fooling yourself! We're living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--

Woman: There you go, bringing class into it again...

Man: That's what it's all about! If only people would--

Arthur: Please, *please*, good people, I am in haste! WHO lives in that castle?

Woman: No one lives there.

Arthur: Then who is your lord?

Woman: We don't have a lord!

Arthur: (surprised) What??...

Arthur: I am your king!

Woman: Well I didn't vote for you!

Arthur: You don't vote for kings!

Woman: Well 'ow'd you become king then? (holy music up)

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!

Man: (laughingly) 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: (yelling) BE QUIET!

Man: You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!!

Arthur: (coming forward and grabbing the man) Shut *UP*!

Man: I mean, if I went 'round, saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

Arthur: (throwing the man around) Shut up, will you, SHUT UP!  

And here's the video, all 3 minutes of it:

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 8:24 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Recently, someone added a comment to the YouTube video clip: "Rare footage of David Cameron visiting Scotland."

To which someone else added, "Rare footage of David Cameron visiting any where in the UK."

Ask your students to analyze the politics behind those comments.


Post a Comment

<< Home