The penetrating parody

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift. Funny how he’s such a serious-looking guy but he could write such a great parody, isn’t it? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few weeks ago, I watched Kevin Allocca,  YouTube’s trends manager, explain why videos go viral to a group of young TEDYouth conference attendees. Basically, a video goes viral for three reasons: a) a tastemaker discovers it and spreads it to a community via Twitter or some other source, b) a community of participation grows up around the video and c) the video spreads further due to some unexpected feature (such as humor or cuteness) so that viewers feel the need to share it with other viewers.

The “community of participation” reason interested me the most because so many video parodies were involved in the way the video became viral. The Nyan Cat and Rebecca Black’s videos, for example, underwent quite a few parodies which further helped to spread the video to a wider audience.

But I’m not surprised. Parodies have been used in literature for a long time, often to make a point about human society or attitudes. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal,” mocked the lack of sympathy for the poor in his society. Jane Austen in Pride & Prejudice and William Makepeace Thackeray in Vanity Fair were also mocking the behavior of men and women in the times they lived in, where arranged marriages were common and society had strict rules of behavior.

Even Stella Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm got into the act. She parodies the romantic, doom-laden rural life novels that were popular during her era.

I like parodies not only because they’re funny and entertaining but also because they hold up a mirror to society and make society take a thorough, penetrating look at itself. They make me laugh and reinforce the talent of an actor, stand-up comedian, writer or songsmith.

I even get to enjoy them in multiple formats now (stories, poems, plays, books, blogs, YouTube videos, etc.). I wonder what comes next with our current advances in technology. Parodies in a hologram format? Maybe.

And for the social media buffs reading this post, enjoy the original TEDYouth video with Kevin Allocca.


Filed under Writing

4 responses to “The penetrating parody

  1. Optional title: Jonathon, Swift to Satire
    When teaching Swift’s classic satire essay, I cringe because there will be at least one shocked student who exclaims, “Eat babies!?!” They didn’t get it. Satire and parody is not for everyone. Although my students do get Galaxy Quest–their reward after reading Swift.

  2. I love satire and parody–my kind of humor. Cerebral and not for everyone. Many people feel like it’s an inside joke. Only, unlike a truly inside joke, anyone who cares to can “get” the parody if they just take the time to get informed.

  3. I don’t know if I’m afraid or intrigued by the idea of reality television parody. The idea of someone letting cameras follow them around all day to mock people being followed by cameras all day. A sort of Truman Show/Christopher Guest mashup.


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