The Parody Cycle Consumes Itself


What happened to parody? Or the brontosaur?
One thing about parody. It's a good idea for at least some people to have a clue about whatever it is you are parodying. Otherwise, the alleged humor of your effort may be lost on them, which it may be anyway if you kind of suck at parody or humor or just in general.

The web of course has utterly redefined the idea of a creative and referential cycle, so that something, like the image of a police officer pepper-spraying kids in the face, explodes after 24 hours or so of the original image and video going viral, with uncounted parodies of the cop spraying everything in the universe. But the point is, it took a day or so for the copying to really take off, and for enough people to have seen and understood the original's culture and kitsch, to make a parody work.

Yesterday, we saw evidence this parody cycle has become almost instantaneous, and to the point that the impulse to imitate has overtaken the ability of people to form any thoughtful impression of the original material.

First, in the New York Times, we had some Wall Street executive take advantage of his power and position to make a hi-profile public attack on his soon-to-be ex-firm, Goldman Sachs. As Greg Smith told us "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs", he pouted and postured about how evil things had gotten there. Better, he authoritatively did this, for as he told us, after twelve years of making bank(s), he figured he could knowledgeably and disloyally speak out about his company's "culture", which Smith was shocked to learn, after all those years, had something to do with predatory capitalism.

Hmm...don't these Wall Street clowns all grow up masturbating to Gordon Gekko posters? You know in the same way that gangsta rappers and rhyme-less thugs get inspired by posters of (and more to the point, the stupid story of) Tony Montana?

How could you really be so surprised to learn that a Wall Street firm is interested in the satisfaction of its own greed, and not that of the customers?

Here's an example of Smith's silly whining, where he describes one of the firm's leadership principles: "“Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients—some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t—to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them."

Yeah, I'd say you're old-fashioned Greg. And arrogant to boot. How the hell do you know what's wrong or right for somebody else? You're employed, or were employed, to make Goldman Sachs MONEY—the old-fashioned way—with somebody else's money.

Anyway, you get the picture. Smith's public resignation and denunciation letter got some people talking, both about the issues Smith discusses, and also about his self-righteous blither-blather. Mainly, a question is raised: does it really take a dozen years to figure out you're working for Satan?

Within hours, or maybe minutes, of this letter being consumed and blogged about, parodies started appearing everywhere. The most promising-sounding and linked-to was this one—wherein an aggrieved Darth Vader publicly resigns from the Empire, on account of its current policy of abandoning the personal and telepathic touch when it comes to murdering people. Unfortunately, the parody does little more than make the sledgehammer point, that Wall Street guys are comic-book E-VILLLL, just like Darth Vader, and so them complaining about evil is stupid.

Well OK. We actually got that point reading the original—which if the author would now admit it as a hoax, would be a brilliant parody of the cognitive dissonance afflicting most people, as the demands of their predatory reality make a joke of whatever ideals or principles they brought in the door.

Anyway, that does bring up a point about parodies. Unlike graphic images, whose significance and consensus meaning, can be apprehended pretty quickly, the cultural and kitschy appeal and offense of something like a self-righteous insider denunciation needs to be brewed a bit, and contemplated as per its real significance and real crimes against taste.

Was Smith's tua culpa really at the Darth Vader level? Or maybe he was more like Grand Moff Tarkin. Godzilla? The Creature from the Black Lagoon?...or maybe the latter's monkey-brother, Nicholas Cage? ("Why I am Leaving Las Vegas")

These days, with so many people processing, 24-7, in nano-moments of minutiae-munching, the race to the outer limits of formulaic obligatory first response, trumps the notion of there being any value whatsoever in patience and reflection—two ideas that are not merely rapidly becoming rare and odd-sounding, but pretty much electronically bred out of the species. We shall not see their kind again, sitting on their porches, smoking, slowly and amiably assigning meaning.

The kids can only hear a brontosaurus in full death throe when they read a critique like this, which of course they never do, as they would not trouble themselves to plow through more than a line or so of something SO LONG!—there's a new parody someplace to giggle over (mainly because it says parody and that means "LAUGH"), or a new Youtube vid of a snake playing the piano on a woman's crazily tattooed toes. Good stuff! that cannot be missed on account of another sensibility dinosaur falling down the well.

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