Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Teaching sociology: Illustrating social conflict theory

Every once in awhile I'll use clips from feature films to illustrate ideas that come up in class. Here's my (and my classes!) favorite. The third scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail involves a long discussion of class conflict, and, ultimately, a demonstration of it. How can this not be shown in every intro sociology class? Here's a sample of the dialogue.

WOMAN : Well, how did you become king then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, [angels start singing] 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. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!
DENNIS: 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: Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: I mean, if I went around saying, "I was an emperor just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me" they'd put me away!
ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up!
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!
ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!
DENNIS: Oh, what a give away. Did you hear that, did you here that, eh? That's what I'm on about -- did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn't you?

(I turn on the subtitles so that my students can follow the dialogue.)

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Michael W. Kruse said...

Hmmm...Would this be African conflict theory or European conflict theory?


marc said...

Great clip- thanks for the tip, and even more for posting the script! Takes me back to our college Monty Python-athons.

Jay Livingston said...

I've often thought of using this bit in class but never did. It's not just that it illustrates some of Weber's types of legitimacy, but it shows how rarely we question assumptions about the sources of legitimacy.

Brad Wright said...

Very funny about the African-European conflict theory... References like that usually go over my students' heads. More than once I have threatened them with "double-secret probation", and they usually just have a blank look.

The only problem with showing this clip in class (and it does address questions of legitimacy--I hadn't thought about that) is that it highlights how much less clever & insightful the rest of class is.

Knumb said...

One of my younger clients was talking with nostalgia about old school... transformers.

Needless to say, cheese shop, argument clinic, dead parrot, nudge-nudge, grail, life of brian, and bruce references sail right on by.

By the way, if you ever want a great read, find the Holy Grail book that has the original script and all its revisions on through the final. There was this whole bit about the knights living in the modern ages (Lancelot was bald and sold shoes in a mall or something like that) and there was a bit about ants much like swallows.

There was also a bit cut out about King Bruce and his men, who go around killing people who sing in 5 part harmony (which is how Robin's Minstrels were to have bought it).

Brad Wright said...

The original script looks really funny. I wonder if they filmed any of the deleted scenes?