ParodyPARODY IN CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD FILM
PARODY IN THE AGE OF TELEVISION
PARODY AND THE POSTMODERN
Parody is a comic technique that imitates a previous text for the purposes of ridicule. For instance, in the film The Great Escape (1963) the character played by Steve McQueen is repeatedly thrown into solitary confinement ("the cooler") where he bounces a baseball against the wall to pass the time until his release. In the parody film Chicken Run (2000) the chicken Ginger gets sentenced to solitary confinement in a coal bin and bounces a rock against one wall to pass the time. The camera angle, the character's posture, and the sound of the ball bouncing off the wall all replicate the familiar scenes in The Great Escape. In order for this moment to function as parody for the audience, the spectator must be aware of the cinematic precedent, and able to connect it to the imitation (for the many young children who enjoyed Chicken Run, a coal bin is just a coal bin). There also must be a twist or element of comic difference to the imitation—in this case, the fact that the prisoner is a chicken and not a soldier.
The word "parody" comes from ancient Greek theater, and it translates as "beside" (para) "song" (ode) —that is, roughly, "this song must be understood beside that one." It describes a mode of address, rather than a genre per se. The term can be used to define an entire film, such as Airplane! (1980), which is a parody of the disaster movie. But the word can also be used to describe any technique by which one film references another for humorous effect. Though Monsters, Inc. (2001) is not itself a parody, it does include a slow-motion shot of the monsters entering the factory floor, which parodies a similar shot of astronauts exiting the mission control building in The Right Stuff (1983).
Film parodies can spoof specific films: for instance, Buster Keaton's The Three Ages (1923) is a parody of D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916). They can focus on individual filmmakers, like High Anxiety (1977) does with Alfred Hitchcock. Or they can take on the films of an entire era, style, or mode of filmmaking, as in Silent Movie (1976). But by far the most popular targets of film parodies are genres: Lust in the Dust (1985) spoofs the western; Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988), the police drama; This Is Spinal Tap (1984), the documentary; Love and Death (1975), the historical drama; Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), film noir; and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999), the Hollywood musical, among many others. Genres are a rich source of parodic inspiration because they tend to offer both a rigid set of conventions that can be easily reproduced and ridiculed and a wide range of original films from which to draw iconic scenes and characters.
Parody is frequently connected to satire, a form of comedy that emphasizes social criticism. While the target of parody is a text or set of texts, the target of satire is the society that produced those texts. Because genres, stars, and cinematic conventions express social values, these two forms of comedy intersect in significant ways. For instance, in the sports-film parody Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), the dodgeball finals are televised on ESPN8, and the announcer provides this introduction to the tournament in Las Vegas: "A city home to a sporting event that is bigger than the World Cup, World Series, and World War II combined." The language parodies television's broadcast conventions, often reproduced in the sports movie, which tend to oversell the importance of a single sporting event. So the genre convention (dramatic intro) expresses a social value (the importance of sport). By parodying the excessive language of the dramatic intro, the film also offers a satiric perspective on the American obsession with athletic competition.
Literature, song, and the stage all boasted a well-developed tradition of parody long before cinema was invented, so it is no surprise that as soon as recognizable film traditions had been developed, they were subject to caricature. Cecil B. DeMille's feature Carmen was released in October 1915, and by December of that same year, Charles Chaplin's Burlesque on Carmen was in theaters. Through the 1910s and 1920s, parody emerged as a staple format for comic shorts. Ben Turpin used his peculiar cross-eyed appearance as the source of humor in his short The Shriek of Araby (1923), a parody of heartthrob Rudolf Valentino's popular romantic drama, The Sheik (1921). Stan Laurel used parody very effectively in his solo efforts such as Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride (1925) and the western spoof West of Hot Dog (1924), which anticipated the Laurel and Hardy western parodies of the 1930s such as Them Thar Hills (1934) and Way Out West (1937).
Among the most accomplished of silent parodists was Buster Keaton (1895–1966), whose films tended to use the source text as a general structure, while the comedy itself was drawn from Keaton's inventive physical humor, often in tension with the narrative frame. Keaton's western spoof Go West (1925) describes a city slicker's assimilation into ranch life and his affection for a young cow, "Brown Eyes," which he saves from the slaughterhouse. In the film there is a scene in which the cowboys enact the western cliché of the bunkhouse poker game, and one of them points a gun at Keaton and snarls a famous line from The Virginian (1923), "When you call me that, SMILE." Because Keaton ("the great stoneface") is famous precisely for not smiling, or indeed expressing any emotion at all, he responds by slowly lifting the corners of his mouth with two fingers, a gesture that mimics Lillian Gish's character trying to force a smile for her abusive father in D. W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1919). The multiple layers of parody and self-referentiality in this moment point to Keaton's use of cinematic history and conventions to add richness to his comedy through parodic reinterpretation.
The sound era provided new conventions for parody, and again the short film tended to lead the way with Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and especially Abbott and Costello spoofing popular films in their short comedies. Abbott and Costello went on to develop a series of feature-length parodies in which they meet Frankenstein in 1948, the Invisible Man in 1951, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953, and the Mummy in 1955. Animated films also made generous use of parody, as when Dave Fleischer's Betty Boop took on Mae West in She Wronged Him Right (1934) and Tex Avery took on the gangster picture with Thugs with Dirty Mugs (1939). Chuck Jones (1912–2002) had a particular flair for animated parody, directing Rabbit Hood (1949), The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), and Transylvania 6–5000 (1963), among many others.
The conventional approach to parody in the studio era was to drop an outsider or innocent into a film in which the other characters are playing their parts more or less straight, making the source text simply a context for the comic's gags. Bob Hope's (1903–2003) parody films, including the noir spoof My Favorite Brunette (1947) and the western spoofs The Paleface (1948) and Son of Paleface (1952), cast the comic as a hapless coward caught up in genre-based plots. In The Paleface, for instance, Hope plays a dentist named Painless Peter Potter who against his better judgment is drawn into gun battles with outlaws and Indians. The film's comedy emerges from the contrast between the conventional western hero—brave, strong, resourceful—and the nervous, wisecracking Potter, who says of his guns, "I hope they're loaded. I wish I was, too." In this way, genre conventions remain essentially intact, while the character who cannot comply with those conventions is the principal source of comedy.
Given how parody thrived in the short films of the studio era, it is unsurprising that television sketch comedy has also specialized in creating short, pithy burlesques of popular films. Early examples include Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (1950–1954) and, later, The Carol Burnett Show, (1967–1978) which produced brilliant parodies of familiar Hollywood films, with titles like "Went with the Wind," "Sunnyset Boulevard," and "Mildred Fierce." These were followed by Saturday Night Live (1975–), Second City Television (1976–1981), and In Living Color (1990–1994), among others. A training ground for comic writers and actors, sketch shows continue to employ parody as a staple element of their formats, often using guest stars to mock their own well-known work. This trend has helped speed up the process by which popular forms are broken down and ridiculed through imitation, and it has contributed to the increasingly widespread use of parody in recent film comedies, which nearly always cannibalize one or more other texts in creating their comic effects.
Former stand-up comic and television writer Mel Brooks (b. 1926) reinvented parody for a new era when Blazing Saddles (cowritten with Richard Pryor, among others) and Young Frankenstein were released, both in 1974. Brooks and his contemporaries abandoned the previous generation's tactic of dropping a comic figure into a conventional generic frame. Brooks essentially inverted the structure of Hope's The Paleface in his western spoof Blazing Saddles. The two protagonists of the latter film, Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid, are the film's most heroic, competent, and indeed sane characters in the midst of a western town populated by caricatures of western types (a lecherous and stupid governor, racist townsfolk, a monstrous thug, a lisping saloon singer). Brooks thereby rendered the western itself ridiculous in ways that previous parodies rarely aspired to or achieved.
After Mel Brooks's breakthrough films, a number of other filmmakers began turning out popular and significant parody features in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The team of Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker wrote the cult classic Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), followed by the breakaway hit Airplane!, which layered on the gags at a breakneck speed, often punctuating a pseudoserious conversation in the foreground with a ludicrous sight gag in the background. The team of Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner followed up in 1984 with the pioneering mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, which combined realistic cinéma vérité film technique with the outrageous story of an aging British rock band. These devastatingly funny films together helped reinvigorate American film comedy and established new traditions that would be highly influential in the years to come.
Commercial parody films from since the 1980s have been defined most clearly by a sense of anarchy—that anything may happen, or any object may enter the frame at any time. Genre still provides a general frame for most contemporary parodies, but lines, scenes, and sequences will notably abandon the source text in order to reference another film, or even an unrelated aspect of popular culture. For instance, in Scary Movie 2 (2001), one character tries to calm another by assuring her "Cindy, this is just some bones. Would you run from Calista Flockhart?" The information the spectator needs to make sense of this reference comes not from the horror genre the film spoofs, but rather from a television series. In Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993), a succession of paratroopers jumps out of a plane, each yelling "Geronimo!" as he begins his fall. Suddenly, an Indian chief leaps out of the plane, yelling "Me!" Contemporary parody has developed a kind of randomness, a narrative and stylistic spirit of anarchy. It is not uncommon for the source text to provide only the broadest outlines of a narrative, while the gags are drawn from other sources throughout popular culture.
b. Melvin Kaminsky, Brooklyn, New York, 28 June 1926
Mel Brooks began his career doing stand-up in the Catskills, in upstate New York, where he befriended Sid Caesar, host of the TV series Your Show of Shows (1950–1954). The talented Brooks quickly moved into television writing, where he often worked on skits for Caesar that parodied popular genres of the day. Brooks first became famous for his "Two Thousand-Year-Old Man in the Year 2000" routine, a mock interview which he performed with Carl Reiner onstage, on a bestselling record, and on television. In 1964 he went on to cocreate (with Buck Henry) the popular television series Get Smart (1965–1970), a parody of the spy film genre filled with outrageous James Bond-style gadgets such as the famous "shoe phone."
After this distinguished television career, Brooks wrote and directed his first feature, The Producers, in 1968. The film toys outrageously with the limits of parody when the title characters stage a grotesque Broadway musical, Springtime for Hitler, hoping it will flop. The fictional show, which features swelling music and an earnest young chorus singing about the joys of the Third Reich, unexpectedly succeeds when audiences interpret it as a brilliant parody rather than a lousy romance. His later films drew from this pleasure in the grotesque and the absurd, relying on the juxtaposition between the earnest clichés of a source text and the juvenile irreverence of Brooks's humor. In Young Frankenstein (1974), the stuffy young Dr. Frankenstein sings "Puttin' on the Ritz" with his marginally articulate monster, while dancing a soft shoe. In History of the World: Part I (1981), the character Oedipus is greeted with the words "Hey Motherfucker!" The only line in Silent Movie (1976) is spoken by the famous mime Marcel Marceau. In Spaceballs (1987) the guru Yogurt takes time out from his mystical mission to explain how the film's real money is made through merchandising:" Spaceballs the lunch box, Spaceballs the breakfast cereal, Spaceballs the flamethrower."
Such moments have earned Brooks both avid fans and equally fierce detractors, particularly as his jokes became more repetitive and broader over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. He made several commercially unsuccessful attempts to branch out, notably in a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1983) in which he costarred with wife Anne Bancroft, and in the social problem comedy Life Stinks (1991). Though he hasn't directed a film since the moderately successful Dracula: Dead and Loving It in 1995, Brooks has found phenomenal new success with a 2001 Broadway musical version of The Producers, for which he wrote the lyrics, music, and book. The recipient of a screenwriting Oscar® for The Producers, as well as several Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys, Brooks is indisputably one of the most versatile and influential comic minds of his generation.
The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), Silent Movie (1976), High Anxiety (1977), History of the World: Part I (1981), To Be or Not to Be (1983), Spaceballs (1987), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
Brooks, Mel, with Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, and Barry Levinson. Silent Movie. New York: Ballantine Books, 1976.
Yacowar, Maurice. Method In Madness: The Comic Art of Mel Brooks. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981.
Parody films have become popular and conventional enough to spawn sequels: two Hot Shots films, three Naked Guns, three Austin Powers films, and four Scary
Movie s. In a kind of apt reversal of TV's tendency to spoof classic films, films are now parodying old television shows, with The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Scooby Doo (2002), Starsky and Hutch (2004), and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) in recent years. These films are mostly reviled by critics, and the predominance of parody in contemporary comedy has been received as evidence that filmmakers have run out of ideas or that studios find such films a safe investment.
A notable exception to this trend has been the many carefully crafted and often subtle mockumentaries that have found modest success in American theaters. Woody Allen (b. 1935) used the form quite broadly in his 1969 film Take the Money and Run, using a deep-voiced narrator to contrast the zaniness of his character's crime spree. But the versatile Allen then brought a new precision to the documentary parody with the very different Zelig (1983), a portrait of a mentally disturbed man in the roaring 1920s. This film recreates the look of old film clips and newsreels with remarkable technical precision. The film never blinks in its pretense that Leonard Zelig was a real historical figure, even recruiting noted real-life writers such as Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow to give straight-faced commentary on Zelig's cultural import. A notable heir to this tradition is Christopher Guest, whose recent mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003) lovingly recreate the look of cinéma vérité documentary. Handheld cameras and improvisational acting from a talented ensemble cast create the impression of candor, a slice-of-life documentary. But the films profile characters involved in a peculiar undertaking (amateur talent shows, dog shows, and folk singing, respectively) who take their avocation far too seriously, revealing the outrageous idiosyncrasies of seemingly ordinary people.
Though parody has ancient roots, it has taken on a particularly central role in the comic forms of the irony-soaked postmodern present because it foregrounds quotation and self-referentiality. Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson has argued that postmodernity has replaced conventional parody with a process that should rightly be defined as pastiche. While parody implies a norm against which the imitation must be read, pastiche is a form of imitation that is detached from an authoritative precedent, and thus lacks a satiric impulse. By treating the original as a style only, devoid of history and context, pastiche is a uniquely postmodern play of pure discourse. For instance, there have been dozens of films over the years that have parodied the scene in From Here to Eternity (1953) where a couple lies on the beach as the waves wash over them—so many that it is no longer necessary to have seen the original to understand the reference. In fact, none of Airplane!'s three directors had seen the film when they spoofed it in their movie. In a postmodern context, pastiche reduces the past to a set of empty icons, increasingly lacking a real sense of history.
Drawing on the work of Jameson, among others, critic Dan Harries argues that the large number of increasingly standardized commercial parody films of the last few decades have helped take the bite out of parody, rendering it a more sterile and complacent mode of comedy than it has been in the past. Harries has devised a useful list of six techniques through which contemporary parody achieves its effects, and he argues that these techniques have ultimately drained parody of much of its transgressive function, making predictable and toothless what was once original and subversive. These six techniques are:
- Reiteration is the process by which the parody establishes its connection to the source text, using, for example, horses to evoke the western, handheld cameras to evoke the documentary, and so on. Many parodies take great care in reproducing the iconic elements of the source genre.
- Inversion is a way of using an element of the source text in an ironic way, so that it means the opposite of its intended meaning. Cannibal: The Musical (1996) evokes one convention of the Hollywood folk musical by having the whole community come together for a lively production number at the end, but inverts the intended meaning of that finale with the lyrics, "Hang the bastard, hang him high," creating an ironic juxtaposition of cheerful harmony and grotesque bloodlust.
- Misdirection is the process by which the conventions of the source text are used to create a set of expectations in the spectator which are then reversed or transformed by the parody. In Scary Movie 3 (2003) the character played by George Carlin explains his sad history in conventional melodramatic terms, "My wife and I wanted a child, but she couldn't get pregnant," then when the spectator has been misdirected to expect a sentimental story, instead he offers the punchline, "Neither could I."
- Literalization is a technique that takes a naïve approach to the source text, as though it were readable only literally and not through the lens of convention. This process can be applied to narrative elements, as in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) when Robin cries out to the crowd "Lend me your ears," at which point the crowd starts throwing actual ears at him. Literalization can also parody a conventional film technique; for instance, there is a shot in Scary Movie when the camera tracks toward the screaming heroine into such a tight close-up that the lens strikes the actress on the head and she exclaims "Ouch!," making the camera's presence in the film suddenly literal.
- Extraneous inclusion uses elements that do not belong in a conventional generic image in order to render it strange. For instance, in Hot Shots, the hero has taken refuge on an Indian reservation, which is presented through conventional cinematic images such as buffalo, beads, and buckskins. That image is then made strange through the extraneous inclusion of a doorbell on the teepee and pink bunny slippers on the protagonist.
- Exaggeration takes an aspect of the source text and renders it absurd through excessive emphasis. This technique can apply to simple objects, like the enormous helmet worn by the character Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) in Spaceballs (1987). It can also apply to narrative or stylistic conventions, as in The Naked Gun, which references the discreet Hollywood practice of cutting away from sex scenes to symbolic images of curtains blowing in the breeze or fireworks exploding. The montage of images in this love scene (flowers opening, a train entering a tunnel, an atom bomb exploding into a mushroom cloud) is both more suggestive and more extensive than the convention permits.
Parody has often been interpreted as a tool which helped audiences see through the frozen conventions and ideological agendas of different genres. Harries argues that the growing conventionality of parody has reduced much of its power to free the spectator from the ideological traps of genre: as he rhetorically asks, "do we really become 'liberated' after watching an hour and a half of Spaceballs ?" On this question, the jury is still out.
Gehring, Wes D. Parody as Film Genre: "Never Give a Saga an Even Break." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Harries, Dan. Film Parody. London: British Film Institute, 2000.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.
Rose, Margaret. Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-Modern. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Parodic practices carry implications for the study of social institutions and cultural frameworks because, especially when allied with satiric critique, they can lead to the clearing away of older modes of thought, and the opening up of alternate paradigms of cultural understanding. Not all forms of parody accomplish this skeptical questioning, emptying out, or overturning of an official perspective; normative parodies attack dissidents and divergences from the dominant cultural ideology and enforce established values. But parodies that reverse accepted hierarchies of value can serve as indicators of or even contributors to cultural change.
Parody—from the Greek para, “beside,” and odos, “song” or “derived from another poem”—involves both the repetition and inversion of some elements of an established work or genre, usually so as to lower what has been elevated or respected. Aristophanes, the first great parodist in the tradition, implies conservative cultural allegiances in his comedies (written between 427 and 385 BCE), which parody the style and thought of Euripides, the last of the great Athenian tragedians, the philosopher Socrates, and the Sophists, the new, professional teachers of rhetoric.
The Satyricon of Petronius (early 60s CE) probably constitutes the best example from the ancient world of the use of satiric parody to empty out established canons of value. The longest surviving episode of this novel, “Trimalchio’s Feast,” satirizes the vulgar pretensions and mangled learning of the immensely rich former slave Trimalchio. But the dinner conversation of Trimalchio’s guests, who are obsessed with money, mortality, and the passing of the good old days, also parodies the dinner conversation of the aristocratic Athenians in Plato’s dialogue, the Symposium. Contrasting the honest vulgarity and materialism of Trimalchio and his guests with the corruption and hypocrisy of the educated narrator and his friends, Petronius achieves a portrayal of the lowborn, newly rich class that is neither caricatural nor condescending, and implicitly places them on a level with Plato’s high-minded Greeks.
In Gargantua and Pantagruel (first two books, 1532 and 1534), François Rabelais satirically parodies as illogical, ungainly, and repetitive the scholastic learning of the medieval universities that was authorized by the Catholic Church, and proposes by contrast the graceful, thoughtful, and persuasive eloquence of students trained in the new humanistic model of education. Where Rabelais criticizes a system buttressed by religious authority, Miguel de Cervantes, like Petronius, achieves in Don Quixote (Part 1, 1605; Part 2, 1615) a satiric critique of a previously dominant aristocratic culture, through parody of the romance epics of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Cervantes adopts the episodic structure of such works and their concerns with love and adventure; however, by making Don Quixote, the reader who believes in the literal truthfulness of these romances, repeatedly collide with contemporary social reality, he suggests the inadequacy of this narrative form in the more commercial world of his own time. He thus opens up a cultural space for the development of the new genre of the modern novel. In Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Jonathan Swift parodies travelers’ tales in general and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) in particular to satirize the arrogance of Englishmen and of Europeans in relation to the inhabitants of other parts of the world they were encountering through their voyages of discovery, commerce, and empire. In a similar way, Ubu Roi (1896), Alfred Jarry’s parody of the high genre of tragedy, and particularly of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, produces an acidic critique of middle-class intellectual and artistic culture that opened the way to such twentieth-century movements as dadaism and absurdism. Finally, to take a contemporary example, Thomas Pynchon’s novels from V. (1963) to Mason & Dixon (1997) consist almost entirely of parodic reworkings of established genres and discourses—from travel guides and spy novels to captivity narratives—to suggest a radical skepticism toward received understandings of history, technology, and power in the modern world.
Satiric parody has also affected cultures through popular media such as comics and television in the last halfcentury. MAD magazine made a mark in American culture during the 1950s and 1960s, puncturing pretensions by means of its irreverent parody of hit films and television shows. It was joined in doing so by a new form, the weekly satiric television news program, first with That Was The Week That Was (U.K., 1963; U.S., 1964–1965), then with “Weekend Update” (beginning in 1975 as a regular feature of Saturday Night Live ). The latter lasted longer, but was more limited formally, consisting largely of comic anchors reading items based on stories in the news. The next most significant instances of parodic satire of politics and journalism in America consist of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, followed by The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, which appear back-to-back four nights a week on Comedy Central. Stewart usually maintains a smile as he reports, often verbatim, the statements of newsmakers, spokesmen, journalists, and commentators; only occasionally does he let outrage show. By contrast, Colbert’s adoption of the persona of a hard-right cable talk-show host enables him to say what others find impossible to express: by zealously criticizing even the most well-grounded skepticism of government officials, their policies, and their bullying manipulation of mainstream media, he makes clear what the authorities believe but do not say, and allows the commonsense criticism to be expressed along the way.
In a famously controversial argument first published in 1984, Fredric Jameson maintained that in the postmodern period parody had become divorced from satiric critique. For Jameson, all that remained of parody was pastiche, a toothless, complacently unhistorical mixing of incongruous fragments from earlier styles. A year after Jameson’s essay, Linda Hutcheon by contrast argued that twentieth-century parodic forms do not possess a fixed and unfluctuating ideological persuasion: parody can be conservative or transgressive, or can even combine the two in an authorized transgression. Although, as Hutcheon and others have pointed out, the thought of Mikhail Bakhtin could be utopian in its emphasis on the possibilities for inversion and renewal through parody, most critics would agree that Bakhtin’s works (written from the 1930s through the 1960s) constitute the essential and seminal reflections on the renovating cultural work performed by satiric parody from the ancient world to the present.
SEE ALSO Satire
Bakhtin, Mikhail. [1934–1935] 1981. Discourse in the Novel. In The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, 259–422. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hutcheon, Linda. 1985. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. New York: Methuen.
Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
A form of speech protected by thefirst amendmentas a "distorted imitation" of an original work for the purpose of commenting on it.
The use of parody as a means to express political and social views has a long history in the United States. Every president of the United States, including george washington, has been the subject of satire and parody, often in the form of political cartoons. The cartoons, caricatures, and other forms of parody and satire typically distort and overly emphasize certain aspects of the subject's physical characteristics, such as abraham lincoln's lanky posture, franklin d. roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder, ronald reagan's long face and slick, black hair, and bill clinton's large nose and red cheeks. Although often comical, political cartoons and other forms of satire and parody have often immortalized the individuals portrayed.
Parody and satire can be used for purposes beyond lighthearted comic intent. Many political cartoons, for example, have influenced the course of national debate. For instance, Thomas Nast, the famous nineteenth-century political cartoonist, published a series of post–Civil War cartoons in Harper's Weekly characterizing the activities of William M. "Boss" Tweed and other corrupt politicians in New York City's tammany hall political machine. More recently, countless political cartoonists drew caricatures of Clinton with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom Clinton had an affair. Clinton's dishonesty regarding the affair eventually led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1998.
Some forms of parody and satire are difficult to distinguish from truthful publications. Moreover, many forms of parody and satire can be particularly offensive to the subject of the parody. As a result, publication of various types of parody often involves litigation over libel, slander, and other types of defamation.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the most famous case involving the use of parody in Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 108 S. Ct. 816, 99 L. Ed. 2d 41 (1988). In 1983, the adult magazine Hustler published a parody of an advertisement for Campari Liqueur, which featured Jerry Falwell, a nationally recognized evangelist who is well known for his conservative commentary on political and social issues. The original advertisements contained interviews with celebrities discussing the "first time" they had consumed Campari. Hustler's parody used a layout similar to the original advertisement, but included a fictitious interview with Falwell where he stated that his "first time" occurred with his mother in an outhouse.
Falwell brought suit, alleging libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court found in favor of Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, on the libel claim because the court found that no reasonable person would have believed the advertisement to be true. However, the court found Hustler and Flynt liable for intentional infliction for emotional distress. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling.
The Supreme Court, per Justice william rehnquist, reversed the Fourth Circuit. The Court has held in a line of cases regarding defamation that the First Amendment requires a plaintiff who is a public official or a public figure to demonstrate "actual malice," meaning it must be proven that the person being accused showed a reckless disregard as to whether a statement was true or false. These cases generally apply to claims of libel and slander brought by public officials or public figures.
After reviewing a brief history of the use of parody in the United States, the Court found that the actual malice standard applies to cases involving intentional infliction of emotional distress as well. Since Falwell was unquestionably a public figure under the Court's analysis, he had to prove actual malice on the part of Hustler. The Court also rejected a claim by Falwell that this particular form of parody was so outrageous that it should not be the subject of First Amendment protection. This case establishes that the First Amendment protects forms of parody and satire involving public figures or public officials against a variety of claims, including libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Parody also involves the application of other laws. Because many parodies mimic or copy other publications, the parodies may implicate copyright and other intellectual property laws. In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 114 S. Ct. 1164, 127 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1994), the Court reviewed whether a parody of Roy Orbison's song,"Oh, Pretty Woman," by the rap group 2 Live Crew violated the Copyright Act of 1976. The court of appeals held that the parody did not constitute fair use under copyright law, primarily due to its commercial character. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the commercial character of the song did not create a presumption that the parody violated fair use.
Beck, Joseph M. 2003. "Copyright and the First Amendment after The Wind Done Gone." Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment Law and Practice 5 (spring).
Post, Robert C. 1990."The Constitutional Concept of Public Discourse: Outrageous Opinion, Democratic Deliberation, and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell." Harvard Law Review 103 (January).
par·o·dy / ˈparədē/ • n. (pl. -dies) an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect: the movie is a parody of the horror genre | his provocative use of parody. ∎ an imitation or a version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty: he seems like a parody of an educated Englishman. • v. (-dies, -died) [tr.] produce a humorously exaggerated imitation of (a writer, artist, or genre): his specialty was parodying schoolgirl fiction. ∎ mimic humorously: he parodied his friend's voice. DERIVATIVES: pa·rod·ic / pəˈrädik/ adj. par·o·dist / -dist/ n.