Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Parody: Parasite or Art Form?

We've all encountered them.  Many of us have laughed, some have frowned with disapproval.  Some of us have even fashioned a few of them ourselves.  What are they? Parodies, also known as satires.  Each parody or satire mimics, often in a mocking fashion, an existing work or theme.  But, one may argue, is this not simply a form of plagiarism? Are not satirists merely mocking the genius of others, feeding parasitically upon the essence of the original? Or perhaps is there something truly brilliant about parodies? Might there be a special vision by which the satirist grasps the essence of that original and is able to cleverly play upon it? Is the parody a parasite, or an art?

Parodies are indeed somewhat parasitical by nature, in a sense.  Every parody necessarily requires some work of art to be the subject of its satire.  It would thus seem that parodies could not exist without another work from which to draw life.  Pope's Dunciad built off of many conventions of the epic poem, and Weird Al based his songs upon a multitude of musical styles.  But by taking these themes and conventions, essences even, of other works, does not the parody demean the original? After encountering a parody of a song for instance, can anyone take the original as seriously as they once did? The parody seems to steal something away from the original, something that can never be regained. 

On the other hand, why do we tend to find parodies so funny? Is it because they crack amusing jokes, or have some witty banter? Sometimes, perhaps.  But there is a broader aspect to it.  Parodies are amusing because they grasp something essential about the original.  A truly brilliant satirist sees the essence of that original work, and fashions it in a humorous way.  It is the contrast, that more light-hearted view, between the two that makes us laugh.  It is how the satirist incorporates the original themes into his mimicry that we find so amusing. 

A true parody must grasp the essential themes of the original work, but yet give them a clever and humorous twist.  The How It Should Have Ended videos are an excellent example of just this.  Each video takes the viewer through various scenes of the movie, poking fun at various plot holes and the like.  Although sometimes the clips fail to truly capture the essence of the plot, the artists do an excellent job of caricaturing the characters.  Parodies are like caricatures; there must be some recognizable identity between that which is being satirized and that which is the satire itself. 

Now granted, parodies do take away a sense of seriousness from the original, and rarely can the latter be seen in its former glory.  But sometimes a satire can breathe new life into an something which is dying.  The great radio comedian, Stan Freberg, (the Tim Hawkins of the Age of Radio) wrote a spoof of a song, fairly common in that time, and later the artist whom he had lampooned told Stan that he thought his career lasted longer because of that spoof. 

So parodies could be considered as parasitical insofar as they require an original work upon which to draw inspiration, and even life.  But for a parody to be truly brilliant, the author or artist must grasp the essential characteristics of that which he is satirizing.  The parody requires that recognizable identity between the original and itself in order to achieve its proper end.  Parody is, in fact, an art form.