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Appreciating Parody

abstract:The Merriam-Webster dictionary says parody is "a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule". It is delicious when it's done well, and can be scathing without drawing litigation. Everyone remembers National Lampoon and now we have The Onion. Almost all successful comedians use it. Jon Stewart is a master at parodying the news anchor and the news. He does it so well that statistics show most young people prefer to watch him rather than the real thing. Parody is entertaining. It makes us laugh. You have to have a sense of wit, irony and of course "get" that the piece is being satiric in the first place. I think that most kids of this generation think in parody all the time. Cervantes got it when he wrote Don Quixote mocking the knights errant novels of his time. So well that his own work has outlasted the genre. A close relative of the parody is the "pastiche" in which writers take the example of a previous work and incorporate elements into it for their own usually not to make fun but more as an homage. James Joyce's Ulysses was a hats off to Homer's Odyssey. The first film parodies I recall were Mel Brooks creations, "Blazing Saddles" and "Spaceballs". Then of course there was the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" series of movies that parodied the Police Squad movies and disaster flicks. Who could forget the TPS reports of "Office Space", also made into a television series? Monty Python's "The Holy Grail" et al have been beacons in the genre. All bow down in prostration.

So what does it take to make a parody and are there any consequences (other than being completely misunderstood and possibly sued?) Ha ha, you laugh, nervously. You'd LOVE to write a parody of... you know, that person, that family saga scenario, that community debacle, that political insanity. Here is an article in The Guardian by Craig Brown who writes literary parodies and some of his key points: "Every child is a born parodist. The more accurate a parody is, the more it's likely to be confused with the real thing. To appreciate parody, you must be capable of holding two contradictory ideas in your head simultaneously. Parody represents a collaboration, however unwilling, between the parodist and his victim." And last but not least, of course there is The Oxford Book of Parodies to keep us all up to date. Those good Oxford people. What would we do without them?


October 03, 2010



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