Political Animal


August 26, 2012 12:59 PM Paul Ryan, Monty Python, and the bogusity of the “self-made” myth

By Kathleen Geier

The Paul Ryan story I linked to earlier reminded me of this classic Monty Python sketch, which never fails to crack me up.

Whenever I hear a rich person — and particularly a rich conservative — oozing with smugness about how they are completely a “self-made” man or woman who rose from poverty or a working-class background and “made it” entirely on their own, I always think of the Four Yorkshiremen skit. The reason is that, most of the time, these so-called “self-made” individuals greatly exaggerate the hardships of their youth (albeit not nearly so hilariously as the dudes in the skit). They also use their current success as a club to beat the heads of the less successful, and to blame them, rather than bad luck or our unjust system, for their economic struggles. The implication, implicit or explicit, is always that nothing needs to change, that our free enterprise system is perfect and that if you ever have any economic problems it’s always totally your own damn fault, loser!

So whenever you hear a conservative like Paul Ryan attempting to establish his or her alleged working class cred, I suggest that you take it with a gigantic grain of salt, and remember this sketch. There’s a strong likelihood that, just like the fellows in the skit, these wingnuts are shamelessly BS-ing about the true extent of the privation they suffered. And along with exaggerating the hardships, they are also almost certainly downplaying the help they’ve received of every kind, whether it be from rich relatives like Paul Ryan had, or private charities, or the government. (Regarding the latter, let’s not forget that, among other things, Mr. Ryan collected survivors’ Social Security benefits following the death of his father).

Okay, on the sketch. Enjoy!

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 26, 2012 1:50 PM:

    Yes, but Paul Ryan is a deserving white person and that makes all the difference. It's not like he is one of the others (blacks, browns, elderly, poor, children) who are just parasites upon the 'job creators' of our country.

  • Ron Byers on August 26, 2012 2:06 PM:

    Funny I just watch Bill Moyers interview a Catholic apologist for the Republican budgetary attack on the poor and a nun from the nuns on the bus tour, and the pompous, arrogant, and very successful white man sounded just like one of the four Yorkshiremen. He pointed his finger at everybody but himself. He lifted himself up by the boot straps, by God, and all those others should do the same thing. The poor should be taken care of by the Churches. He made no suggestions intended to help anyone but the rich, by God, because they deserve it.

    The nun took him apart, in a very polite but effective way.

  • c u n d gulag on August 26, 2012 2:45 PM:

    Thank you, Kathleen!

    Can we start a new tradition?
    Every Sunday should have a Monty Python video that ties in with the subject of the post.

    "Ah, me oown fathah died when I was boot a poor young lad, leavin' me pennyless, and havin' ta depen' on his truss-foons, our rich relatives, and Sew-cial Security, in order to get me college degree.
    An' then I had to polish the jewels of me family and their frien's, 'n talcum their private parts, to work me way up to bein' a Congressman.
    Top that, Mr. Romney!"

    "Ah, that 'tis noothin' Mr. Ryan!
    Sure, me father was a Goovnah, but we had to do chores like the other poor lads had to do - like polish his family jewels.
    He had us mow his lawn like we was dusky Mexican laborer's or ebony neeegrows.
    An' I had to warm-up the car in the winter, 'n drive it out the Goovnah's mansion's garage - AN' ALL WITHOUT AN ELEVATOR!
    Tell me sons that, an' they'll never believe it!"

    "Aye! Me own children don' know nothin' aboot hardship like we do.
    Nor 'bout helpin' the poor, like you 'n me 'ave done, Mr. Mitt.
    Ask one of 'em to poot some money in the poor-box, an I see 'im poolin' money oot, instead of pootin' in.
    Now, I wonder, where did 'e learn soomthin' like that?"

    Yes, Mr. Romeny and Mr. Ryan, I wonder too...

  • DKDC on August 26, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Funny. When I think of the modern republican party, especially the likes of Bachmann and Akin, I think of another Monty Python invention: the Monster Raving Loony Party.


  • da_fishman on August 26, 2012 3:52 PM:

    If you start posting on a regular basis Python skits relevant to the current political state of affairs in this country, you should definitely put the Dennis Moore sketch on the list. I think
    "Romney Moore" would be a much more appropriate moniker for Mitt than Romney Hood. After all, Robin Hood actually had some brains, while Mr. Moore.... :)

  • exlibra on August 26, 2012 4:16 PM:

    It's easier to lift yourself by your bootstraps if those same bootstraps have gold buckles on them...

  • docdave on August 26, 2012 5:55 PM:

    Thank you, Kathleen--the Pythons nail it in one. Not saying that that Joe Biden hasn't occasionally veered toward this territory, mind you, but Our Friends in the GOP have worked it harder and longer than decency permits. Bless their hearts. And they're not as funny as Chapman, Palin & Co.

  • schtick on August 26, 2012 6:56 PM:

    Can you imagine a skit by Monty Python about Willard with his protesting for the Viet Nam War then prancing off to France when his turn came to the uniform and his hiding his tax records and his "work" at Bain and hiding those records and hiding his tax records and his "work" at the Olympics and his hiding and destroying those records and his hiding his tax records and his "work" as Mass Gov and hiding and destroying those records and hiding his tax records and his hiding his money offshore and hiding his tax records and his hiding what his policies are going to be until after the election because no one will vote for him otherwise and his hiding his tax records....

  • Anonymous on August 26, 2012 10:43 PM:


    Dennis Moore skit


  • Rick B on August 26, 2012 11:29 PM:

    Yeah, Ryan had it really tough when his father died. So he got social security for several years as a high school student and banked that money for college. He had enough money to live on without the social security, unlike most survivors of a deceased worker.

    Almost everyone I have ever known who got social security survivors benefits had to use them for current living expenses. Ryan could bank them for later. Tough? In a pig's eye. His family probably didn't even miss its regular vacation in the Rockies even after his father's death.

  • Blue Meme on August 27, 2012 12:52 AM:

    As much as I adore Monty Python, I feel I must point out that this skit slightly predates that landmark series: it was written for, and aired on, "At Last the 1948 Show" in 1967:


    Of course two of the writer-performers on that show were Cleese and Chapman, so it certainly is Monty Python-adjacent.

  • Jim Pharo on August 27, 2012 2:13 PM:

    Whenever I hear a rich person speak, I think of "Upper Class Twit of the Year." Can't help it...don't want to, either.