A Response to Robert Harimon’s “Political Parody and Public Culture”

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For my blog post this week, instead of analyzing and reviewing Robert Harimon’s article, “Political Parody and Public Culture,” I decided to choose specific quotes from the text that I feel will be relevant and beneficial to use in our Mediating Theory Project. The quotes listed below are examples of what parody is, how it is used in rhetorical context, and how different people respond to it. Parody is used in many different contexts across several different genres, so it is important to look at it both holistically and in specific situations.

“Parodic techniques involve various combinations of imitation and alteration: direct quotation, alternation of words, textual rearrangement, substitution of subjects or characters, shifts in diction, shifts in class, shifts in magnitude, etc” (Harimon 250).

“Parodic artistry crafts a productive articulation of public identity and agency through at least four operations: doubling, carnivalesque spectatorship, leveling, and transforming the world of speech into an agonistic field of proliferating voices” (Harimon 253).

“The parody replicates some prior form and thereby makes that form an object of one’s attention rather than a transparent vehicle for some other message… Comic doubling also introduces a profound ambiguity into the direct address” (Harimon 253-54).

“Parody does not stop with ambiguity. What begins as a binary reversal (father/daughter, science/morality) ultimately can put the binary under erasure. The full significance of the parodic function is evident when placing a parody and its target discourse side by side. Before being parodied, any discourse could potentially become all-encompassing (such is the dream of totalitarianism). Once set beside itself, not only that discourse but the entire system is destabilized. As the act of replication replicates, everything is potentially both where it is and beside itself. Now there are two possible responses to any discourse: that which it intends and the laughter of those who see it through the lens of its parodic double” (Harimon 254).

“Everything left as it was, because the original discourse is not itself subject to any change and the comic recasting is patently ritualized; this is the conservative fact of parodic transformation. And yet everything is changed, for what was capable of becoming an all-encompassing worldview has been cut down to size, corrected against ‘the backdrop of a contradictory reality,’ positioned to be set aside or otherwise not obeyed, and challenged to adapt toward the critique in order to continue to hold an audience; this is the radical fact of parodic transformation” (Bakhtin 56). “Needless to say, parody is neither radical nor conservative, but both at once” (Harimon 254).

“By remaking the direct discourse into an image of itself, parody creates a virtual world in which one may play with what has been said and so think about it without direct consequences of reprimand, censorship, or punishment” (Harimon 255).

“By doubling discourse into a self-consciously comic image of itself, and then casting that image before the most democratic, undisciplined, and irreverent conception of a public audience, parodic performance recasts the hermeneutics of public discourse in terms of a ‘’fundamentally new attitude toward language and toward the word'” (Bahktin 21).

“In sum, the long-term effect of a public culture alive with parody is an irreverent democratization of the conventions of public discourse, which in turn keeps public speech closer to its audiences and their experiences of the public world” (Harimon 258).

Like the novel, public culture is defined not by the creation of a new, distinctively modern discourse of representation, but rather by the historical struggles that Bakhtin describes as the constant tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces, that is, those forces that would ‘unify and centralize the verbal-ideological world,’ and those, such as parody, that would disrupt that process” (Bahktin 270).

“Parody and other forms of political humor are workhorses in this regard, as they can take any other discourse outside of its given context of assertion and assent to show how things could be otherwise” (Harimon 260).

Robert Hariman is Professor of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Hariman, R.  “Political Parody and Public Culture.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 94, (2008) 247–272.

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