I often like to say that I was born loving Monty Python. As superlative as this sounds, it is a claim based on a vivid childhood memory of my Dad flipping through channels one day and letting the screen rest on a clip involving an English narrator and exploding bushes. As any Python fan will know, this of course was the “How Not to Be Seen” sketch, but all I knew at the time was that I was rolling on the ground laughing uncontrollably and experiencing a joyous sensation of silliness unleashed and liberated. But then my Dad changed the channel and started watching NASCAR, and it wasn’t until a decade or so later, after half-watching Holy Grail during a German class (in English; don’t ask) that I caught myself wondering if this was the same group of people I encountered in that still fresh and delightful memory. So it is with all that affection in my heart that I started thinking about gender dynamics in Monty Python – and realizing, with some surprise, that there are elements in their work worth thinking about critically.
This occurred to me first on what must have been the 27th or 29th viewing of The Life of Brian, undoubtedly their best movie and in fact, one of the best movies ever made. I was watching one of my favorite scenes in the film, when Brian befriends the revolutionary Jewish cell the Judean People’s Front (or is it the People’s Front of Judea?). At one point, we meet the vulnerable push-over member of the group, Stan. Stan keeps interrupting the flow of declarative principles that the group leader, Reg, likes to harangue his followers with by correcting Reg’s gender-normative language to include women. The short exchange that follows involves Stan confessing to his desire to be a woman, and Reg eventually commenting of this, “it’s symbolic of his struggle against reality.”