Parody is a lot harder than you think.
It’s actually very hard to parody any movie, book, genre etc. in a consistently clever and interesting way. Films like ‘epic movie’ and ‘Scary Movie 1,000’ often beat the same jokes into the ground, throw in some gross humor and call it smart satire.
Often, poorly written parody can invoke eye rolls, especially if it doesn’t have a solid story of its own. If its just parody without a well written plot and characters, then it’s a house built on sand. One of the reasons I’m not that big a fan of the first Shrek movie is that at the base of its parody of fairytales is a plot that is predictable and old as time. Which makes it kinda boring.
But there’s another reason I’m not as big a fan of Shrek, and that’s the point about parody I really want to emphasize today. There are two types of parody. The most common, and often the easier to write, is hateful parody. This satire is biting and vicious to its original source material. It hates it. Many of the jokes are intensely mean spirited because of the deep seeded hatred on the part of the authors. In the case of Shrek? Well maybe Dreamworks wanted to crush Disney down to size after Jeffery Katzenberg broke ties with them. Maybe. Shrek 2 actually improves upon the first by being less intensely bitter.
But while hateful parody would seem the most likely, there is another form of parody that is just much harder to pull off. And that is the loving parody. Loving parody truly adores the genre or movie it is parodying. But that doesn’t keep it from making fun of its target at every turn. And at the end of the day, rather than trying to take the subject down a peg, they’re celebrating it for its tropes and its good qualities.
Ouran High school Host Club is one such satire of reverse harem and shojo manga, about a poor honor student who accidentally breaks an expensive vase and falls in debt to her school host club. Thinking she’s a guy because of her appearance, the host club promises to forgive her debt if she becomes a host herself and gets one hundred girls to ask for her. And of course half the guys end up falling for her, though especially Tamaki.
The main male love interest, Tamaki is obsessed with the role of being the main love interest but is cripplingly insecure about it. The rest of the guys are also embodiments of various tropes, but they manage to break out of them at various points for both comedy and drama. And the lead, Haruhi, has no interest in the guy’s vying for her attention and is the most down to earth of everyone.
This show has a great understanding of its trope but it’s not trying to break its characters down. It loves them. And at the heart of the anime is a lot of emotional sincerity. Melodramatic? Oh god yes, but that’s the fun of it. Its melodrama with enough fourth wall jokes and loving pokes to make it quality parody.
Then there’s Assassination Classroom which is a stellar parody of the ‘Teacher goes to a dead end class and inspires them to believe in themselves and go for their dreams’ narrative. Except for in this case, the teacher is a mutant balloon looking creature that blew up the moon and is going to blow up the earth in a year. And in between inspirational lessons, the students are trying to kill their teacher, honing their skills as assassins and trying to raise their grades.
And it’s just…its hilarious. The situation is treated rather casually and despite being constantly under fire, the teacher never stops believing in his students. At every episode he helps at least one of them step out of their shell and realize their strengths. It’s amusing to hear the lesson coming from a yellow, tentacle balloon monster, but also oddly emotionally heartwarming. The show isn’t condemning the subject of its parody. Its embracing it but flooding it with humor at the same time. And the show concludes with one of the most cry worthy scenes I’ve seen in any show.
Loving parody is just as funny as hateful parody (in my opinion more so) but it also manages to remain sincere. Because it cares about its characters, we care about them too when they’re in trouble. We don’t laugh at their pain we feel it with them. And then we laugh at them in the very next scene. It’s certainly a harder method to pull off, but it’s worth it and ultimately so much more rewarding.