Parody plays a vital role in popular culture. It serves as a form of entertainment and critique, offering a lens through which to see the world differently.
But how do you judge the quality of a parody?
This article delves into the elements that make a parody resonate both as a form of entertainment and a tool for social critique.
What Makes Parody Different from Other Forms of Humor?
Parody is an artistic work that imitates another work, artist, or genre, often for comic effect or social commentary. It is distinct from other comedic forms like satire, irony, and mockery.
While satire aims to expose and criticize human vices, and irony employs language to suggest an incongruity between appearances and reality, parody specifically targets another work or style for its commentary.
Components of a Quality Parody
A high-quality parody is more than just imitation. It combines elements like accuracy, exaggeration, and insightful critique to elevate it beyond mere mimicry.
Close Reading and Subtext
The Basics: Imitation and Exaggeration
At its core, a parody begins with imitation. It takes a familiar song, movie, speech, or social phenomenon and recreates it with a twist. This twist often comes in the form of exaggeration.
For instance, the classic film “Airplane!” parodies disaster movies by mimicking their life-or-death scenarios, but with a comedic angle. Instead of a seasoned pilot navigating through a storm, we have an inflatable autopilot “manning” the cockpit.
The exaggeration comes into play when the autopilot starts to deflate and needs to be “re-inflated” using a manual pump. Here, the exaggeration serves to highlight the often melodramatic nature of disaster movies, making us question why we ever took them so seriously in the first place.
Uncovering Hidden Subtexts
A good parody doesn’t stop at imitation and exaggeration; it goes further by revealing hidden subtexts or unexamined assumptions in the original work. This is where a parody can become a form of social commentary.
Take, for example, “The Colbert Report,” a satirical television show hosted by Stephen Colbert. On the surface, it appeared to be a parody of conservative political TV shows, mimicking their style and tone.
But what set “The Colbert Report” apart was its ability to reveal the hidden subtexts of the political rhetoric often employed on such shows. When Colbert used phrases like “truthiness” to mock the disregard for factual information, he wasn’t just making a joke; he was highlighting a serious issue—the manipulation of truth in public discourse. In doing so, the show encouraged viewers to critically analyze what they see and hear on political shows.
Shining Light on Unexamined Assumptions
Unveiling overlooked assumptions is another powerful aspect of quality parody. The Onion, a well-known satirical news website, does this exceptionally well.
One of its articles, titled “Study Shows Majority of Americans Get Their News from Facebook,” isn’t just a parody of the way people consume news. It digs deeper to question the assumption that social media is a reliable source of news.
The Onion doesn’t just settle for surface-level humor. It adds depth by encouraging readers to reconsider their reliance on social media platforms for accurate information.
Nuanced Critique Over Derogatory Humor
It’s easy to confuse parody with mockery. However, what sets a quality parody apart is the nuanced critique it offers. A derogatory joke may make you laugh, but it won’t make you think.
For example, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise” isn’t just a funny reimagining of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” It’s a critique of both the glorification of gangster life and the romanticized view of Amish simplicity.
The song is hilarious, sure, but it also makes you ponder the extremities of two very different lifestyles, questioning the idealization of both.
When Parody Becomes Art
Some parodies achieve such depth and complexity that they become art forms in their own right. Consider “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” a play by Tom Stoppard that parodies Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
The original tragedy focuses on Prince Hamlet’s existential dilemmas, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters. Stoppard’s play turns the spotlight on these two, examining the existential absurdity from their perspective.
In doing so, the parody adds a layer of depth to the original, making audiences reconsider the significance of “minor” characters and the broader themes of fate and free will.
What to Look For in a Parody
When evaluating the quality of a parody, consider the following aspects:
Attention to Detail
A well-crafted parody often captures minute details that may go unnoticed in the original but become glaringly obvious when exaggerated.
A quality parody should offer more than just laughs; it should provide an insightful critique that goes beyond derogatory humor.
An effective parody will resonate with its audience, triggering both laughter and contemplation. It will spark discussions and perhaps even change perspectives.
Examples of High-Quality Parodies
“Not Another Teen Movie” — Parodying Teen Movie Tropes
This film dissects the clichés and stereotypes prevalent in teen movies. It captures the essence of the genre while exposing its ridiculousness.
“The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash” — A Mockumentary Parodying The Beatles
This film not only mimics The Beatles’ history and style but also critiques the extreme fandom and the commercial aspects that often overshadow the music itself.
“The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin — Parodying Adolf Hitler
Chaplin does more than just mimic Hitler; he offers a scathing critique of the dictator’s ideology and actions, offering a poignant commentary on the dangers of unchecked power.
“Robot Chicken” — Parodying Various Pop Culture Icons
The show’s skits tackle a wide range of subjects, from movies to politics. What makes these parodies impactful is the show’s ability to distill the essence of each subject into a humorous but biting critique.
“Airplane!” — Parodying Disaster Movies
The film captures the gravity with which disaster movies treat life-or-death scenarios and mocks them by inserting absurd and melodramatic elements.
Common Pitfalls in Creating Parody
Creating a quality parody is not without its challenges. Creators can lose sight of the original work’s nuance, resort to being overly offensive, or miss the mark in their critique.
Checklist for Evaluating a Parody
- Accuracy: Does it closely mimic the original work?
- Exaggeration: Does it exaggerate elements for comic effect?
- Critique: Does it offer an insightful critique?
- Attention to Detail: Does it capture small, yet significant, elements of the original?
- Audience Reaction: Does it resonate with the audience?
- Hutcheon, Linda. “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern.” University of Toronto, 1998.
- Dentith, Simon. “Parody.” Routledge, 2000.
- Gray, Jonathan, et al. “Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era.” NYU Press, 2009.