Paul Ryan, Monty Python, and the bogusity of the “self-made” myth

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

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