Saturday, 18 October 2008


Parody, notoriously, can have a corrosive effect on an original work in a way that more abstract forms of criticism don't. R. P. Blackmur really disliked Emily Dickinson and subjected her poetry to a fairly swingeing critique, but having read Blackmur doesn't spoil my enjoyment of reading Dickinson: I can simply disagree with the good critic and put him to one side. But a really effective parody will bleed mentally into the thing parodied, so that one can never afterwards encounter the original without the parody being evoked simultaneously, undermining it.

Here's a classic example. Shakespears Sister's 'Stay' is the first song I remember distinctly (it was No 1 for eight weeks in 1992), and it was rapidly parodied by French and Saunders ('Dickens Daughter'). I now cannot watch the original without it, in itself, seeming parodic: the skit has permanently punctured the fragile membrane marked 'suspension of disbelief' around the original song and video. Siobhan Fahey's glittery, black-catsuited Goth space-witch, looking like the brood-mother of the Mediaeval Baebes,* is now irreversibly blended in my mind with Dawn French galumphing around singing: 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...' The parody exposes that in the original which was contingent, making it seem more provisional and slapdash than it actually was. For instance, the characteristic, deliberate 'breaks' in Marcella Detroit's delivery are imitated by Saunders, but exaggeratedly and at random - she sings in this over-cur-rowded puh-lace...' for example, and inserts brief, half-hearted little 'oohs!' at odd moments, as Detroit does.

Once the parody has been seen, it cannot be unseen; thus it ultimately ends up leaching all the meaning from the original song by making us laugh, and thus being almost a kind of defacement.

The original:

The French and Saunders parody:

* but nice to see that Ishtar/Inanna archetype still vital.


Will P. said...

See also Excalibur and Monty Python's Holy Grail.

Not sure that the latter was a parody of the former, or just a bit of fun at the expence of the whole Arthurian genre.

Either way, I can no longer watch John Boorman's excellent film without the lingering suspicion that the "Knights of Nih!" could turn up at any moment..

G R Grove said...

see also "filk" for the same effect in some fandoms.

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