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March 3, 2007

A seriousness that fails
Posted by Avram Grumer at 07:55 PM *

Irony is a slippery thing.

Everyone who’s looked at Conservapedia has noticed how hard it is to tell whether the posts there are really written by dim-bulb right-wing nutjobs, or are ironic parodies of dim-bulb right-wing nutjob writing by bright non-nutjobs. You just can’t tell. It’s a risk you run parodying a stupid person. The usual way of signaling to the reader that you’re being ironic is to include idiotic or monstrous statements (as Swift did with baby-eating), but when the actual targets of your parody are themselves idiotic, the signal gets lost.

For example, take Dennis Madalone’s “America We Stand As One”, though Madalone’s sin here is not stupidity, but bathos. Madalone (musician and former Star Trek stunt coordinator) looks a little like Stephen Colbert in a wig, so you’ll be reminded of Colbert, and think that maybe you’re watching something along those lines. But as the video goes on, and you count the mawkish clichés — walking on the beach, the pounding surf, angels, flags, tearful wife at a grave, dream-firemen projected on clouds — waiting for some kind of parody signal or expression of satiric norm, a wink or a punchline, you’ll will slowly realize that no, he really means it.

At that point, you’ll want this mashup with the Team America theme to wash the taste out of your brain. Or maybe this rap video about George Washington.

Comments on A seriousness that fails:
#1 ::: SAP ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 08:15 PM:

OK, seriously, stop posting that video. I swear I lose 15 IQ points every time I click on that link, thinking "Haven't I seen this already?"

Pretty soon, I'll only be as smart as a neocon.

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 08:55 PM:

If you've seen it already, don't bother clicking. Why do you think I put in the title and described the thing?

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 09:01 PM:

There's a perfectly logical, and from some viewpoints necessary for this video to be as bad as it is.

They want the End Times to happen real soon, and they figure if God sees this he'll start turning the Apocalypse crank to take the Internet out so people stop playing it.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 09:34 PM:

#2: Avram, you're forgetting the Amnesia Effect.

I didn't realize that I'd already seen that celluoihhdic garnet until the bit with the firefighters in the clouds showed up.

I suspect my brain put a protective shroud around the trauma so I could get on with my life.

So, when I read the description up above, I clicked on the link, thinking "Huh, how could it be that bad?"

Something similar happens when I eat food at Long John Silver.

#5 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 10:27 PM:

I LOVE that video. It's so....bad. (My favourite part is the preternaturally creepy baby hidden behind the tomb.)

BTW, my friend had a hard time telling if the Clinton entry in Conservapaedia was satire or somebody serious....I lean towards satire myself, but I admit the signal is a bit tangled.

#6 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 11:11 PM:

My favorite part of the Bill Clinton article history is -- all of Willy on Wheels' edits were reverted, on the theory he was a vandal, including this one where he removed some over-the-top language.

The article's been edited several more times without the "devil incarnate" bit being removed, including at least once by Aschlafly.

#7 ::: Richard Crawford ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2007, 11:35 PM:

I was quickly banned from Conservapedia myself (partially for my article about the famous home schooled Christian H. P. Lovecraft, whose novel "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" was an allegory of a Christian journey of discovery). What surprises me is that many of the edits I made are still there; like the one about Bill Clinton (the "devil incarnate" comment isn't mine, but everything in that paragraph after that is). Shocking!

But that video... Oh, dear God, it burns us!

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 12:18 AM:

Just saw the video (first time for me). Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the word pronounced Amer-i-ca (with an I in the middle), rather than Amer-a-ca (sort of a shortish A in the middle)?

#9 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 12:44 AM:

I find myself wondering how he got Pat Tallman into it. Are they in a relationship?

#10 ::: perianwyr ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 01:29 AM:


You'd have to strap me into a Poetry Appreciation Chair to make me watch that crap again, thanks.

#11 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 01:35 AM:

The usual way of signaling to the reader that you’re being ironic is to include idiotic or monstrous statements (as Swift did with baby-eating), but when the actual targets of your parody are themselves idiotic, the signal gets lost.

As anybody who's ever taught Freshman Lit can tell you, not even Swiftian irony comes across 100 per cent of the time. There's always somebody in the class who has to have the irony in "A Modest Proposal" gently explained to him or her.

#12 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 01:55 AM:

James #8: Maybe he's not singing about the America we're familiar with? Maybe there's some other country somewhere named Ameraca that we've never heard of?

Although to me Ameraca sounds more like a bank or a prescription drug than a country.

#13 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:01 AM:

On the subject of that rap video... The fellow who did it, Brad Neely, is also the person who did Wizard People, Dear Readers.

If you haven't seen it, try the first chapter.

#14 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:09 AM:

I think someone should explain to him that wiping your face with the flag is often taken amiss by the hyperpatriots that he's so obviously satirising.

....isn't he?

#15 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:14 AM:

I think in hell they play that over and over to Leni Riefenstahl.

#16 ::: Mary Frances Zambreno ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:28 AM:

#8, James D. Mcdonald: You're not wrong, Jim, but if it's "Amer-uh-ca," with basically a schwa in the middle, then that's a fairly common Midwestern pronunciation. In fact, the OED lists it is the "American" (opposed to British) pronunciation, but I don't think it's as universal as all that. Maybe he's trying to create echoes of the Heartland, for some reason?

And I'm not going to watch the video to listen for myself. Sorry, but these days I'm being careful not to destroy too many braincells all at once . . .

Mary Frances

#17 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:38 AM:

ethan @12: "Side effects may include bathos, a false sense of superiority, and painful urination. If you have an already functioning democracy, you should not take Ameraca. Ask your doctor if Ameraca is right for you."

#18 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 03:06 AM:

Mary Z, #16: As you get further south in the middle of America, the schwa kind of gets swallowed, and what comes out is more like "Amer'ca". Sometimes with a short U in the second syllable, "Amur'ca". It should be noted that the people who pronounce it the latter way are also highly likely to slur "Mexican" into "Meskin".

#19 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 04:54 AM:

It occurs to me that a major part of how we recognize satire as satire is how it is presented. The only difference between really dead-on satire and the real thing is our understanding of the creator's motives. When I hear Dubya speak, I want to beat my head against a wall. If I heard the same words read by a comedic impersonator, I'd probably laugh out loud. Half of The Daily Show is just press conferences with John Stewart's reaction shots thrown in to let us know that we're supposed to laugh.

#20 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 06:47 AM:

Debra @ #11:
As anybody who's ever taught Freshman Lit can tell you, not even Swiftian irony comes across 100 per cent of the time.

It doesn't even have to be a freshman lit class. A 40-something friend recently sent me an email entitled "A Modest Proposal", with an entirely serious proposal in it. I thought it was ironic (it wasn't something I'd want to do), but, um, it wasn't.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 08:24 AM:

In these days where press releases from the White Housesound like a satire from the Onion, it's hard to tell when something is irony.

I have before me the March/April 2007 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer, which has a review of her book Godless, titled "The Coulter Hoax: How Ann Coulter Exposed the Intelligent Design Movement".

It is irony.

#22 ::: Comesleep ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 08:48 AM:

Serge, just above:

The Large Chain Bookstore I work at is run by someone who can't stand That Woman, so our Coulter endcap was amusing. On one half of it was Godless, on the other half was Ageless, Suzanne Somers' latest diet book.

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 09:08 AM:

Comesleep... Good way of dealing with She-who-must-not-be-named. Must be tough having to look at her and at O'Really's smirk mug when she comes in to work.

#24 ::: Mur ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 09:17 AM:

#9 Kate - As a huge B5 fan, it breaks my heart to see her in that video. I know her husband through podcasting and I'm always itching to ask him, "What was she thinking?"

#25 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 09:57 AM:

Stefan Jones:

#2: Avram, you're forgetting the Amnesia Effect.

I didn't realize that I'd already seen that celluoihhdic garnet until the bit with the firefighters in the clouds showed up.

Sounds like my experiences with spy novels by John le Carre. My dad picked up one and he read it and when he was done I read it and--well, let's just say it did not successfully achieve liftoff. (Sorry, leCarre fans!) The only interesting point was in the last 25 pages when Smiley showed up for a walk-on. So I sold it off and some years later figured it wasn't fair to judge a successful author from just one book so I picked up a paperback and tried his stuff again. It was a slow slog, but it wasn't until Smiley showed up for his walk-on that I realized I'd bought the same damned book again because it was so lame the title had scraped off the surface of my mind like pancake splatters on Teflon. I'll try him again someday--but I'm going to get one of his fans to suggest which one I start with first.

#26 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 10:25 AM:

Is it possible that while Dennis Madalone is completely sincere about this that the video's director is being subversive? (Keep in mind that I couldn't make it through the entire video. I only lasted two minutes. So even if there was any subversion, it didn't do much for me.)

Then again, the first time I heard Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" I thought it was parody. Then I realized that I had my car radio on scan. I was listening to a country music station. Given the whole Dixie Chicks fracas, I figured the song had to be for real. So what do I know?

(Of course, this makes me wonder if people takes Mitch Benn's "This Ain't Your Country Anymore" seriously rather than as parody.)

#27 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 10:28 AM:

The video...aieeee! It burnsssss us, precious, it burnssss ussssss!

Bad lyrics, check. Bad music, check. Painfully bad singing, check. Supremely over-the-top imagery...errr....checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck.

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 11:14 AM:

What I can't imagine: "America, We Stand as One" being made by FDNY personnel who were there on the day, or by veterans of the Iraq war, or by the next of kin of our dead. Who knew that "support our troops" meant "objectify them as a vehicle for self-congratulation and cheap sentiment"?

In every previous war, we brought our dead home to public honors, and acknowledged the wounded in the tallies of our casualties. In this war the dead come home in secret, forbidden to even be photographed. Tallies of our losses don't include eyes or limbs or spines. And the site where the FDNY lost 345 people and the NYPD lost 23 got turned into an inspirational background for George Bush to film commercials for himself. "America, We Stand as One" is a faithful reflection of the spirit of this war.

And one more thing:

That scene in the graveyard? Totally bogus. When did you last see anyone laid to rest under a headstone that tall, made to that shape? That may be the young lady's great-grandfather's headstone, but it's not her husband's.

#29 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 11:59 AM:

Here's /a//u/s/e/f/u/l/ an antidote for brain burn bought on by watching the wrong George W. video:

Meet The Press for Idiots -- 59 seconds of idiocy. Hooo-weeee!

#30 ::: Glaurung_quena ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 12:26 PM:

According to I think the third comment on this post:,
the core group of Conservapedia owners/sysops all go by usernames in the pattern of either first initial, last name (like Aschlafley), or first name, last initial (like PhilipB). Most of the first name, last initial people are homeschooled teenagers from a special class run by Andrew Schlafley. With a few exceptions, the people with more creative user names are all satirists.

#31 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 01:07 PM:

Bruce at 25: About Le Carre, I am not really a fan (I find his later books unreadable) but I recommend Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. In my opinion, it's a very fine novel. I also like A Small Town in Germany.

#32 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:19 PM:

#9, #24: After spending the last season or so thinking "What was her character thinking?!", I don't think it would really be that new to me.

Also, successfully playing an intelligent and interesting character (assuming for the moment that those are accurate descriptions of said character) does not necessarily entail being intelligent and interesting in real life. For one thing, your "spontaneous wit" can be the product of half a dozen people collaborating for a week.

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 02:43 PM:

#28: "That scene in the graveyard? Totally bogus. When did you last see anyone laid to rest under a headstone that tall, made to that shape?"

If it were a real headstone, Mrs. Mourner couldn't have hidden that babe-in-arms behind it.

That's the only justification required.

#34 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 04:43 PM:

For whatever reason, I haven't read a Le Carre novel since The Little Drummer Girl, but I certainly liked a number of the ones before that. The Looking Glass War has especially stuck with me.

#35 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2007, 08:56 PM:

The problem with parodying dunces has been recognized at least since someone took Pope's "To Augustus" seriously as praise of George II. And as for Swift ... the Tale of a Tub does the whole thing doubled, redoubled, and in spades, since both the (purported) author and the purported author's targets are targets of Swift's satire. (It's also an illustration of how to parody dunces: show one in the process of having a total breakdown of form and structure of what he's trying to say.)

#36 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2007, 06:55 AM:

The thing to know about LeCarre is that he has had several distinctive phases as a writer.

His first two Smiley novels, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality are almost straight detective novels rather than spy thrillers, set in an England that was just starting to slough off its grey postwar miasma and antiquated class structure.

These were followed by the classic Smiley novels, the ones people mean when they talk about LeCarre: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (little Smiley there), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. These are the ones to read if you want to know what LeCarre got his reputation for.

LeCarre continued writing straigt spy thrillers until the end of the Cold War, after which he broke out of his template of English spies playing games with their Russian or Chinese counterparts; The Constant Gardener is a good example, with western medical conglomerates playing games in Africa.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2007, 08:07 AM:

It's true that Le Carre has gone through several phases. But you're skipping over a whole decade between The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974). In between there are two quite good non-Smiley espionage novels, The Looking Glass War (1965) and A Small Town in Germany (1968), along with a forgettable mainstream novel.

#38 ::: sabotabby ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2007, 12:13 PM:

I'll see you one Madalone and raise you a Manowar.

#39 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2007, 04:32 PM:

A good palate cleanser for that video is Young Chuck Norris.

#40 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2007, 09:05 PM:

Avram: Madalone does not look like Colbert. I have a massive geek crush on Colbert. Madalone is just icky.

And you are still bad, bad, bad for linking to that Washington video, which has eaten my brain. Bad, bad, bad.

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