[DigCult] The Implicit Submissiveness of Parody

by Thom Kiraly

This weeks reading for our Digital Cultures and Practices class was the intro and any one of the essays in the 2008 joint research project YouTube: Broadcast yourself, an academic journal written by students at the Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology program at Maastricht University. These are some brief comments about the essay It’s a small world after all: Metafictional fan videos on YouTube by Nicolle Lamerichs (if you only want to read that essay, it’s available here)

There are really two things that stood out for me in this essay. First, I reacted to the use of the word “tight” to describe the YouTube community. Lamerichs writes, in discussing the banning of the user LittleKuriboh:

Similarly other internet celebrities have been suspended from YouTube for reasons unknown, like Perez Hilton. The reactions of their fans, responding with many videos to discourage the YouTube policy, form an example of how tight these communities within YouTube can be.

I think that it is a bit more complicated than that. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in his New Yorker article Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, the optimism evident in people looking at web 2.0 sometimes goes a bit too far. Yes, people may seem tight and post videos or tweets like crazy, but that’s because not much is actually needed for that sort of engagement. You’re not putting yourself on the line or risking much of anything. It may be tight, but if that is the case, it is also thin.

The most interesting thing in Lamerichs’ essay, though, is the discussion about the implicit submissive stance a parody always takes towards what spawned it. In the very act of parodying, the parody must accept and acknowledge the power and/or importance of the object of the parody. It reminds me of a quote by good old dubbya giving his reactions to the Anti-War protests surrounding the invasion of Iraq.

‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’

This is not to say that protests are always doomed to serve the purposes of the state, nor that a protest is the same as a parody, but it is interesting to see this rhetoric return in Egypt where Mubarak recently claimed that the protests there could take place thanks to him providing space for free expression through reforms.