Laughing on the Outside
TV—a clever contraction derived from the words Terrible Vaudeville ...
It is our latest medium—we call it a medium because nothing is well done.
Goodman Ace, letter (to Groucho Marx, 1953)
The press release for Teleparody: Predicting/Preventing the TV Discourse of Tomorrow says that this book of collected essays in “the tradition of Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, and The Onion... exposes the true nakedness of our supposed emperors of postmodern criticism.” While I’m not sure the book quite lives up to those high standards, it definitely is humorous and yet frightening at the same time—according to the forward, some scholars actually believed certain of these satirical articles were genuine.
People familiar with the snobbery so prevalent in today’s academic environment, and who don’t like it, will enjoy this book. Folks who feel all pedagogues should have to register with the local police and believe epistemology is a fancy name for certain bathroom functions might not fully appreciate the humor. On the other side, those who like to go to conferences and present papers to other people who are working on papers to present at the next conference, who sit around and talk about postmodernism and neoclassicism and tell each other how smart they are, probably won’t be spraying Faygo pop out of their noses either.
The book has a couple of indices, as well as fake and genuine bibliographies. Hague and Lavery have organized the reviews into generic category sections (“The Sitcom,” “Drama,” “Children’s TV,” etc.) and by comprehension levels (“Lite,” “Medium,” and “Heavy”). I, of course, skipped right to the “Lite” section. Angela Hague’s send-up of Simon and Simon (a discussion of the fictional Boys Will Be Boys: Critical Approaches to Simon and Simon) is a good place to start, particularly since it’s at the beginning. Among some of the sub-texts found in the show: As a child, A. J. Simon’s older brother Rick sexually abused him, and the dominant-submissive relationship is explored in depth Simon and Simon in a way only an academician could understand.
The collection of faux scholarly reviews at times even references itself. For instance, Charles Goldthwaite Jr. writes a review of Foreign Objects in the Ring: Professional Wrestling and the Politics of Engagement and refers to the ideas discussed by Rhonda Wilcox concerning Visual Pleasure and Nasal Elevation: A Television Teleology. Basically, various television characters express their dominance by positioning their nostrils in relation to other characters. In discussing a television interview given by announcer Tony Schiavone to wrestler Jimmy Valiant, Goldthwaite muses that the “. . . nose says it all when Schiavone, after introducing Valiant by simply noting that, ‘Uh-oh—It looks like he’s headed this way,’ retracts his head as far as possible from his outstretched microphone.” Goldthwaite also compares the various interview techniques of pro wrestlers to dramatic monologue and Shakespearean soliloquy (with Ric Flair substituting “his left shoe for Yorick’s skull”).
There are more than twenty-five of these essays, covering such diverse topics as the socio-economic discussions of the Beverly Hillbilly’s and the homoerotic subtexts of Captain Kangaroo and Spock’s relationship with Captain Kirk on Star Trek. This isn’t really the kind of book you read straight through from cover to cover, as the pseudo-intellectualism soon becomes annoying—it’s more one you open from time to time when you’re sick of dealing with all the bourgeoisie bull crap and want to get some private pleasure from someone poking fun at the academic establishment. (It’s also a great resource for research papers.)
The humor of Teleparody: Predicting/Preventing the TV Discourse of Tomorrow is also the source of its impact: these things sound like real scholarly papers. For example, when Uncle Tim started drinking the gravy straight from the tureen at Thanksgiving dinner and Aunt Hollie (a college music teacher) begged somebody to raise the intellectual level of conversation, I opened a discussion based on Jeremy Brown’s review of The Piano and the Trolley: The Rhizomatic Mister Rogers concerning the power struggles and oppression endemic to our society as reflected in the popular PBS children’s show. My relatives hailed me as a genius. Aunt Hollie said I was “erudite,” and asked me to present a paper at her next symposium. This book should frighten us in the same way the original War of the Worlds broadcast frightened so many people—not because it’s real, but because it could be.