Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From the sublime to the banal

One often under-rated art is that of the parodyist. To get it right you need not just a good set of jokes, but an instinctive ability to get under the skin of the subject; to adopt the tones and mannerisms.

Music offers some exceptional examples – such as Dudley Moore doing Beethoven (via George Szirtes) or this parody of Serge Gainsbourg. I know nothing about the lot doing it (except they were apparently a popular comic troupe on French TV in the Seventies, which doesn't necessarily inspire much confidence). Still they've got the vocal mannerisms and musical style down to a tee (they're helped by the fact that this was the height of the dirty old man phase which saw Serge produce such classics as Vu de l'Extérieur and Variations sur Marilou, surely the finest song ever written about spying on a teenage girl masturbating in her bedroom before bursting in and beating here to death with a fire extinguisher).

At its finest, capturing the tone and essence of a subject can lead the unwary to miss the irony and mistake the parody for the real thing. I'm worried that I might have fallen into the trap myself and am misreading a particularly brilliant parody of the sort of humourless, fanatical Green activist who who gives buffoons like Jeremy Clarkson way too much consideration; who wishes to punish him and his ilk for their thought crimes and fails to realise that they are the sort of people who make oil companies rub their paws in glee at the prospect of more people who might otherwise be eager to save the planet getting pissed off and alienated by this peculiarly irritating brand of self righteousness.

A worse thought occurs: that the author was trying to be satirical (which is not the same as parody) and fails badly by being the sort of humourless, intolerant etc etc.

There are some things, after all, which should not be parodied. The truely banal, idiotic or facile defy attempts to extract any more comedic value than their own innate badness already confers and the danger is that you will simply replicate the clunking banality and idiocy of that which you are trying to mock. When confronted by something like William McGonagall the only sensible thing to do is to celebrate it for this innate badness.

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Blogger Glamourpuss said...

On the subject of bad poetry, there's an Andrew Motion verse on a dog turd that definitely deserves 'celebrating'. It is also beyond parody - a far worse crime in my book.


9:21 pm  
Blogger Quink said...

It's fine to replicate the clunking banality and idiocy if you distort the message: it then becomes parody and satire in one.

11:03 pm  
Blogger Political Umpire said...

Hello Bill, am enjoying your blog after following the link you left on mine. Suspect you might be a fan of Tom Lehrer. Of the 'folk song army' he once said that it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up in a coffee shop or college auditorium and come out in favour of all the things the people in the audience are against, like peace, justice and brotherhood ... Damn fine pianist too. In the 1970s he was banned in New Zealand (my home country), which can only speak volumes in his favour.

12:25 pm  

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