Just How Far Out of Context Can You Get?

I was out at a department store earlier today, and in passing by the cheesy furniture section, I noted (with great interest, as they say) this small three-drawer chest, emblazoned with the apparent New Age message “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

I just had to laugh.

Did the person who created this… or most of the people who see it… understand the origin of this saying?

In 1979, a film masterpiece was released: Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

I was never a Monty Python fan. My taste in what I find funny is pretty narrow and does not include silly, slapstick, or absurd. On the other hand, biting satire that skewers something, particularly something deserving of skewering, such as hypocritical institutions, gets my laugh, particularly when it is both clever and sustained.

And that is Monty Python’s Life of Brian in a nutshell. The only other thing that has ever come close is Book of Mormon.

Life of Brian starts with a simple and lovely premise. I wish I had been in the room when they thought of it: Brian Cohen is born in the stable neighboring the one where Jesus is born, and he is accidentally visited by the three wise men. Although they soon realize their error and take back their gifts, Mrs. Cohen is off to the races with her son, the Messiah. The movie is a satirical masterpiece.

At the end of the movie, Brian is sentenced to crucifixion along with over a hundred others. The prisoners, all hoisted onto their crosses, break into song in the grandest of Disney fashion to cheer each other up. The irony is sublime, as these victims all tap their toes and whistle to the song that closes with the credits: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Eric Idle, 1979

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing

And always look on the bright side of life
Come on!
Always look on the right side of life
For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it’s your last chance anyhow

So, always look on the bright side of death
A-just before you draw your terminal breath
Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life

C’mon Brian, cheer up!
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life

Worse things happen at sea, you know
Always look on the bright side of life
I mean, what have you got to lose

You know, you come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing
What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the right side of life…

Nothing will come from nothing, you know what they say?
Cheer up you old bugger, c’mon give us a grin!
There you are, see, it’s the end of the film

Incidentally, this record is available in the foyer
Some of us have to got live as well, you know
Who do you think pays for all this rubbish

They’re not gonna make their money back, you know

I told them, I said to them, Bernie, I said they’ll never make their money back

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