The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Parody: From the Greek for “a song beside,” a form of high burlesque popular since ancient times that comically imitates a specific, generally serious work or the style of an author or genre. The literary counterpart to caricature, which is designed to ridicule through an exaggerated depiction of an individual’s features or characteristics, parody is often used to make a satiric (and even a political) point. Light parodies are often called spoofs.

EXAMPLES: J. K. Stephen parodied Walt Whitman’s style in his poem “Of W. W. (Americanus)” (1891):

The clear cool note of the cuckoo which has ousted the legitimate nest-holder,

The whistle of the railway guard dispatching the train to the inevitable collision,

The maiden’s monosyllabic reply to a polysyllabic proposal,

The fundamental note of the last trumpet, which is presumably D natural;

All these are sounds to rejoice in, yea to let your very ribs re-echo with:

But better than them all is the absolutely last chord of the apparently inexhaustible pianoforte player.

Other verse examples include Lewis Carroll’s “Aged, Aged Man” (1871), which parodies William Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” (1807), especially the figure of the old leech-gatherer, and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Nephelida” (1880), a good-humored self-parody of his ultrasensuous, alliterative, anapestic poems.

Genres are often the subject of parody. Stephen Crane parodied the “Western” in his short story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” (1897), as did the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles (1974). Likewise, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) parodied hard-boiled detective fiction, the Scary Movie series (2000—06) horror flicks, and the Austin Powers trilogy (1997—2002) spy films.

Parodies may also have both general and specific targets. Woody Allen parodied the Russian realistic novel, and Leo Tolstoi’s War and Peace (1869) in particular, in his movie Love and Death (1975). Airplane! (1980) parodied disaster works and, more specifically, the television drama Zero Hour (1957), a remake of Arthur Hailey’s play Flight into Danger (1956), as well as the four Airport movies produced during the 1970s and based on Hailey’s 1968 novel of the same name. Hot Shots! (1991) parodied the movie Top Gun (1986), Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993) action movies, particularly Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). The animated sitcom The Simpsons (1989— ; adapted to film 2007) regularly sends up Middle America and often focuses on more specific targets in particular episodes, such as the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978) in “Bart after Dark” (1996), Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s Left Behind series (1995—2007) in “Thank God It’s Doomsday” (2005), and the television drama Lost (2004—10) and viewers’ obsession with it in “Beware My Cheating Bart” (2012).

Other contemporary examples of parody include Alice Randall’s “unauthorized” novel The Wind Done Gone (2001), which takes off on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936) by exploring life at Tara and in the Old South more generally from an illegitimate mulatto slave’s point of view; the parodic newspaper The Onion (1988— ); and The Colbert Report (2005—14), which parodied TV news broadcasting and punditry, especially cable shows such as The O’Reilly Factor (1996—2017).