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Thesis & Antithesis

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greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

25 October 2009

Brian the revolutionary

It is easy to see Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) as a satire on religion. The signs are there. The biblical setting. Talk of messiah. Blasphemy. Crucifixion. But as commentary on religion, it is not especially profound. Following false prophets, splitting among ludicrous divisions of creed (shoe versus gourd), seeing meaning in garble. These are its messages. Yet it is far deeper as a satire of the revolutionary. What endures is not Brian the prophet but Brian the revolutionary.

The parody of the revolutionary reverberates throughout. Brian hates the occupying Romans “as much as anybody,” but joins the People's Front of Judea as much to fight the Romans as for Judith. From all the in-fighting, Stan/Loretta does not even know the name of his group. “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front,” says Reg, the group's leader. When Brian suggests to his group and the “Campaign for Free Galilee” that “we should be united against the common enemy,” the unison answer is “The Judean People's Front?!”

Not all revolutionaries have the same task. Reg, the “glorious leader and founder of the P.F.J.,” will be coordinating the kidnapping of Pilate's wife, but “will not be taking part in any terrorist action, as he has a bad back.” Aren't you coming with us, asks Brian. “Solidarity, brother” is Reg's response. “Oh, yes. Solidarity, Reg.” A fanatic's vocabulary is full of symbols to stifle debate and dissent.

There is opportunism in revolution. The People's Front of Judea is secular. After listening to Jesus, Francis notes that, “Well, blessed is just about everyone with a vested interest in the status quo, as far as I can tell, Reg.” To which Reg replies, “Yeah. Well, what Jesus blatantly fails to appreciate is that it's the meek who are the problem.” But as Brian becomes the savior-designate, his revolutionary brothers coalesce around him. He becomes their leader. “Morning, Saviour,” is how Reg greets Brian.

Martyrdom gets some air too. The supremely useless “Judean People's Front Crack suicide squad” kills itself; “That showed 'em, huh” says its leader. Then come the People's Front of Judea to offer “sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom.” Brian replies “You sanctimonious bastards!”

More than anything Life of Brian shows the ambivalence of the revolutionary. This is partly revolution for revolution's sake. When Stan wants to become Loretta to have babies, Judith and Francis stand up for Stan's right to have babies. “What's the point?” says Reg. Francis replies, “It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.” “Symbolic of his struggle against reality,” says Reg.

The revolutionary cause is unclear. Reg complains of the Romans, “They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers' fathers... And what have they ever given us in return?!” Many answers. Frustrated, Reg tries to put an end to all this, “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Life of Brian caricatures rebellion and anti-imperialism better than it does religion. It is a satire of the 1960s and 1970s and its message carries through. It is a glimpse of that peculiar beast, the revolutionary, and what carries him forward. It is a satire of the first order.

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