Amy Araiza
Paige Babilla
Anissa Vasquez
Emily Walker
Writ 303
George Boone
14 May 2014

The Theory of Parody and Techniques Used to Explain Its Theorem

Some believe that parody is a newly introduced concept, but the media theory behind parody actually dates all the way back to Classical Athens with speeches that Plato would give to the public, mocking the government for its failings (Hariman 251). But first, the real question is, what exactly is parody? There are several working definitions for parody that have been developed by researchers in academic fields such as communication, history, and media studies, particularly in terms of application. English literature researcher and professor Simon Dentith, for example, argues that parody is a “range of related cultural practices, all of which are imitative of other cultural forms, with varying degrees of mockery or humour” (Dentith 193). In this literature review, we will examine parody’s theory from the viewpoint of several scholars of different academic backgrounds in order to gain a better understanding of the term and how it relates to media. There are many common themes among researchers in regards to parody, with slight differences resulting from the different academic approaches taken by each researcher. Among these scholarly arguments, one of the most significant and recognized idea is that parody has two parts: the original voice and the parodic imitation voice (Peifer 158). The contrast between these two voices gives parody its humorous tone, while at the same time conveying a significant message that draws attention to discrepancies and flaws in the original piece. (Hutcheon 101).

Before exploring the researchers’ views on the concept of parody, a brief history of the term must be considered. As previously mentioned, the media theory of parody dates back to Classical Athens when Plato used parody to mock the orator. In Plato’s parodic piece, he uses ironic praise of their art, while demonstrating that he can outdo them at their own game. Then, Plato simultaneously proves his mastery of the conventions of the genre through parody, while also slipping in fragments of eloquence and several Platonic prescriptions about the best city (Hariman 251). Mikhail Bakhtina—Russian philosopher and literary critic—argues that the language of parody is not only arranged by linguistic dialectics, but also socio-ideologically. Meaning, the context of what is being said, who is saying it, and how that person is saying it are all contributing factors to how people interpret the language, which are considered when conveying a message through parody (Bahktin 271-272). Additionally, Bahktin argues that Fabliaux and Schwanke, comedic tales that began in France during the twelfth century, exemplify parody, as they controversially mocked the official languages of the time (Bahktin 273).                                        

Over time, the concept of parody continued to consider the importance of language when parodying. However, the concept was not widely recognized or thoroughly studied until the early twentieth century.  In David Bennett’s article, “Parody, Postmodernism, and the Politics of Reading”, Bennett describes how early parody was used to mock texts. He discusses the early form of parody—the parodic poem—that emerged in 1923, which was found in a hybrid volume of verse and discursive prose by a little-known American author. According to Bennett, the parodic poem was served to “mock the implicit claim to significance, which Imagism makes for the self-consciously spare or ‘insignificant’ images it so fastidiously ‘evokes’” (Bennett 27).  Furthermore, he claims that during the nineteen-twenties, parodying was commonly used to criticize authorial claims, while also enriching the art of reading by bringing a new form to the institution of criticism.

Initially, parody was thought as a tool for merely mocking political figures that isolated and exaggerated traits of the parodied individual. However, as parody continued to materialize throughout the twentieth century, the concept grew in popularity and gained complexity. Parody became a practice that not only mocked authorial claims; but also ridiculed the claims of politics, media, and famous figures.  At that time, mid-1950s satirists discovered that to mock Dwight Eisenhower, it was sufficient to quote him verbatim (Bennett 27). During the nineteen-fifties, early parodist discovered that “quotation as parody puts into question traditional, ‘intrinsic’ definitions of parody as a function of rhetorical inflation or of manifest fault-lines, incongruities, within a text” (Bennet 27). Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century, parody continued to build upon itself, where researchers today are able to manifest detailed definitions of the term, and draw conclusions on the functions that parody holds in society.  

Robert Hariman—a distinguished  rhetoric professor of at Northwestern University—writes an essay titled “Political Parody and Public Culture” in which he draws conclusions on the concept of parody and the function it serves in public culture today. In his article, Hariman asserts that one of the main components of parody is the duplication of vocal performance. He believes that several techniques are involved in the performance of the parodic vocal performance including: the imitation and alteration of quotes, body language, and dictation (Hariman 250). In doing so, the original message is altered to form a new message that addresses the original, and this comic doubling allows for ambiguity and individualized responses. Dr. Alastair Renfrew—a Reader in the Department of English Studies at Durham University with research specialization in literary and critical theory—claims that “parody possesses a transformative power that is able to expose the genetic makeup of its object, to demand a renewed perception of the later work as it related to the new context in which it is produced” (Renfrew 305). Directly tying to Hariman’s argument, Renfrew’s claim solidifies the ideas among researchers, where parody calls for new attention of the original source. However, even with all these definitions of parody defined throughout history, there still seems to be confusion about the difference between parody and satire.

Many believe that both parody and satire are one in the same, due to their same usage of the humorous tone, but researchers that study this exact debate say otherwise. The understood meaning of satire is that it is both aggressive and critical. Parody, on the other hand, is not necessarily critical. Instead, parody is a mockery that is designed to offer a sort of commentary, which could be either positive or negative, in order to contrast the original piece with the parodic form (Peifer 158). For example, a Saturday Night Live sketch might implicitly endorse, rather than critique a political figure (Caufield 10). Jason Peifer, who writes an article titled “Humiliate my Friends or Mock my Enemies, asserts that it is difficult to disentangle the satire and parody of political involvement. However, he notes “the satire that characterizes the humor of, say, Jon Stewart typically operates differently from a parody of a politician on SNL” (Peifer 158). Accordingly, parody of political figures deserves consideration on its own terms as an aesthetic force, not merely as a feeble, watered-down form of satire” (Peifer 158). With regards to this type of parody, a closer examination of the features and methods used in the making of political parody is essential.

Political parody is a subgenre of parody that many researchers have focused on to gain more knowledge about parody as a whole, and how different audiences perceive and react to it. Political parody became recognized as a significant form of parody with the arrival of reelection campaigns, in which voters and ad makers alike began making parodies of well-known works in order to promote or demote candidates (Lim 711). Baym and Jones are scholars that “focus on parodies of narrative conventions and genres” (Peifer 158). They assert that news parody is committed to “deconstructing the artifice of news – the naturalistic illusion that news is (or could be) an unmediated window on the world” (Baym 5). It could be argued that typical news broadcasts offer only a small look at big, complex issues, while leaving out details that could be important or controversial. Parody, on the other hand, highlights and brings attention to these overlooked elements (Bahktin 75). This framing method is a key element of parody, and particularly of political parody, because it allows the parodying author to identify what they think is of importance. Parody is perceived in a different way than most other genres, making parodist able to communicate effectively, due to the lack of consequences or repercussions over what is said within these political parodies (Hariman 255).

Political parodies have many forms, including fake newspapers, fake news broadcasts, and fake speeches, all of which utilize different aspects of parody (Hariman 248). The choice of which different parodic aspects are used depends on the medium in which it is delivered, the purpose of the message, and the parody’s intended audience. Peifer elaborates on this with examples, saying that “comedy sketches are valuable for exemplifying the potentially unique reverberations of the parodic form of humor,” and “televised political parody might help guide people’s engagement with and understanding of political personalities and/or issues” (Peifer 156). With these ideas in mind, it is recognized that parody can take any form as long as follows the formula of mocking someone or something with  regards to them original work.

Essentially, parody is the comedic and humorous replication of an original work that is meant to make the audience draw on both the original work and the imitative in a comparative manner. In doing so, a deeper understanding of both the original and the imitative is obtained, allowing for reflection, analysis, and debate of the connection between the two pieces. For this reason, parody is utilized to expose truths and issues that may otherwise be overlooked, not addressed, or under-analyzed. While parody has maintained a generally stable definition over time, the changes in society and culture have affected, and will continue to affect the term’s true meaning and understanding.

Today, parodies are often utilized in the classroom to employ greater understanding and spark debate among students.  Our team is enrolled in a media course that required us to teach the concept of parody, and to do so, our team decided to film a political parody that also explains parody. Our film serves two main purposes. First and foremost, our film serves as a way in which the concept of parody is explained to our audience. To do this, we incorporated several common motifs addressed by researchers into our fake newscast to explain these themes. Second, our film acts as a parody itself, serving as an interface that contrasts the original piece with a parodic form. In particular, we used parody to point out discrepancies between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Institution, and the opinions of the student body. On top of that, our newscast acting as a parody itself; we imitate real newscasters by exaggerating the enthusiasm of newscasters as well as several cinematic effects in newscasts. By using various tools such as: audio, visual, and film, our film portrays the dual purpose of describing the concept of parody to our audience, while being a parody itself.

The visual aspect of our film was found an essential element to creating our parodic film. We used visuals in our film to further frame our movie as a newscast and continue to explain the concept of parody to our audience. Anne Frances Wyosocki writes an essay titled “The Multiple Media of Texts: How Onscreen and Paper Texts Incorporate Words, Images, and Other Media” in which she examines how different aspects of visual presentation aid in making arguments. Wyosocki asserts that the visual elements, and way they are arranged, perform persuasive work (Wyosocki 124). We used visual elements in order to help our audience to perceive the film as a newscast. The iMovie frame we used featured visual elements that mirrored those of a news broadcast. In particular, the frame around the shot, as well as the transition from scene to scene, exemplified those of a newscast to make the fake newscast seem real.

Furthermore, we used photographs to compliment the audio of our newscast. The portion still visuals were incorporated in was in the news segment that explained The Yes Men. When news anchors highlight a story, often still images appear across the screen that relate to the story. We chose to replicate original newscasts by doing the same thing. Our news anchor, Paige, highlights a parodic group calledThe Yes Men. Paige uses The Yes Men to explain how parody can be used to poke fun at an organization, while simultaneously pointing out discrepancies and injustices in the organization’s policies.

While Paige explains who The Yes Men are, images of The Yes Men appear on the screen. The first image featured was a photograph of Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin, The Yes Men. The color in the photographs is bright, and the men display looks of playful suspicion on their faces. This photograph is clearly staged- as Wyosacki denotes, “photographs have never been caught moments of reality; they have allows been the result of a photographer’s choice of framing, and technological knowledge” (Wyosacki 133). Here, the photographer’s worked to capture a look of playful suspicicion in the men’s faces; a trait representative of The Yes Men as a parodic group. Additonally,  Wyosocki explains photographs are often used to bring a sense of “immediacy,” and reality to a piece. The next still image shown is a photograph of the documentary The Yes Men produced. Seeing a photograph of the documentary as Paige explained it, allowed the audience to further connect with what the content of the newscast. This brought a sense of reality to the segment, while also teaching the audience the theory behind parody.

In order to further inform our audience, and frame our film as a newscast, we used language. Joanna Drucker writes an essay titled “Language in the Landscape” in which she explains the many functions of language in our visual world. In the context of our video, language serves as a way in which to inform the audience and provide identity. Language was added in our film to inform the audience that one, this was a newscast and two, these were reporters. We used titles that mirrored a news broadcast, to inform our audience our audience of the name of our newscast, and the name of each reporter. As Drucker claims that nearly all language is informative. “Motives and intentions are so integrated into the character of  language that it difficult to find any written language that is purely informational” (Drucker 91). Drawing on this, the language in our film also acted as a way to identify. The title “Women Across Media, WAM” identifies the originality of our newscast, while also parodying the name of our WAM course to show how elements of parody can be employed. Similar to a newspaper, our titles exemplifies a particular location (class) in which we represent. In addition, the acronym “WAM News” sounds like the name of a TV channel, such as “WGN News.”  “WAM News” therefore identifies our film as a newscast. By informing and identifying, language acts as a visual form that performs persuasive work.

Along with visuals, sound was also an essential element to give the full effect of a parody, and thought that exaggerating the traits of typical newscasters would be a more effective example of parody to convey to the class. In Heidi McKee’s essay, she states, “Often when listening to people speak (whether in person or via electronic technologies), we explicitly attend to the words that are stated, but we also implicitly adhere to how those words are said. Thus, meaning is carried not solely by the verbal content but, as oral performers and oral readers continually show, also the vocal qualities” (Mckee 340). With the parody theory that this project exemplifies, the message the video conveys is the idea that the University of Illinois avoids answering questions to major and minor disputable issues on campus by using a sarcastic and parodic voice. Thus, the reporters, especially the head news anchor in the “studio”, used vocal inflections to communicate the sarcasm and jokes in the script. For instance, after the interview with Alma, the news anchorwoman questioned how much her “facelift” had cost with the vocal tone of sarcasm. Using these specific tones and facial expressions is key in parody to properly communicate the intended message. Although sound was a key element to this project, there were other essential elements as well.

While visuals and audio are important to the teaching of our theory on parody, the film-making and editing techniques employed were essential to create a film that is logical and informative, while embodying the art of parodying itself.  The principles behind cinematography and missense both played important roles in the creation of our film.  In Timothy Corrigan’s article, “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing,” he describes mise-en-scene as  “what is put into the scene”, which includes the element of setting, and how setting can convey a message itself (Corrigan 49). With importance of mise-en-scene emphasized by Corrigan, setting became one of the biggest considerations in the creation of our film.  Setting has the ability to set the stage for the audience and allow a sense of realism to be established. In our film, setting was used to convey this sense of a real newscast show with the film taking place in a newscast-like setting, and speaking with the actually statues on-location. The news-casting segment opens with Paige—the head reporter—in front of a table with a white backdrop to create the appearance of a real newscast room.  Another setting that was used to create realism was being right next to the interviewees—the statues.  By filming in the same location as the statues, the sense of real news reporting was established. Creating a sense of realism was important for teaching of the concept of parody as it allowed the news reporters to effectively mock the roles they were playing, while in turn embodying the concept of parodying itself.

Corrigan discusses many terms regarding cinematic techniques to create a logical film.  One of the elements he discusses in his article is the “establishing shot,” which is defined as “a sequence of shots as a way of locating a scene clearly in a certain place before dividing that sequence in more detailed shots” (Corrigan 65). For our film, every time an interview was taking place, a panning shot was taken of the area to establish to the audience where the statues are located on campus. With Grainger Bob, a shot was taken of the engineering quad to establish that Grainger Bob could be found there.  With Red, a shot was taken of the university’s football stadium to establish that Red could be found in front of the stadium.  Lastly, a shot was taken of the corner of Green St. and Wright St. to establish that this is where Alma can be found. According to Corrigan, showing these establishing shots to the audience offers them a logical explanation as to where the interview is taking place by immediately establishing the location prior to the interviews, while also parodying and embodying a real new cast perspective.

With the methodology behind visuals, sound, and film and the research done for the theory of parody, a political parody—a subgenre of parody— was created.  By employing these methods discussed in class; this film addressed and mocked how the issues that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faces are handled, while depicting the dual purpose of describing the concept of parody to our audience and parodying a news segment.

Word Count: 3226

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M. M., & Holquist, M. “The dialogic imagination: Four essays”. Austin: University of Texas Press. (1981)

Baumgartner, J.C. & Morris, J.S.  (Eds.), “Laughing matters: humor and American politics in the media age” (pp. 3–20).

Baym, G., & Jones, J. P. “News parody in global perspective: Politics, power, and resistance.” Popular Communication. 10. (2012) 2-13

Bennett, D. “Parody, Postmodernism, and the Politics of Reading.” Critical Quarterly 27.4 : (1985) 27-43.

Caufield, R. P. The Influence of “Infoenterpropagainment”: Exploring Distinctions Within. (2008).

Corrigan, Timothy. “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing,” A Short Guide to Writing About Film (2012): 36-81

Dentith, S. “Parody”. (2000).

Drucker, Johanna. “Language in the Landscape.” Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing, and Visual Poetics (1984): 91-99

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

Hutcheon, L. A theory of parody: The teachings of twentieth-century art forms.” (1985)

Lim, J. S., & Golan, G. J. “Social Media Activism in Response to the Influence of Political”. (2011)

McKee, Heidi. “Sound matters: Notes toward the analysis and design of sound in multimodal webtexts.” ScienceDirect. (2006): 340

Peifer, J. T. Palin. “Saturday Night Live, and Framing: Examining the Dynamics of Political Parody”. The Communication Review, 16:3, (2013) 155-177

Renfrew, A.“The Dialectics of Parody. Poetics Today” 33:3-4, (2013) 301-328.

Wysocki, Anne F. “The multiple media of texts: How onscreen and paper texts incorporate words, images, and other media.” What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (2004): 123-163.


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