Pastiche is a term for an art form that is reflective of, or a parody of, another art form. Typically, pastiche is invoked in the form of comedy or witticism. Hence why I chose to study the works of “Weird Al” Yankovic for this entry.
“Weird Al” is a musical artist whose life work has been spent almost exclusively parodying other music artists. Growing to prominence in the 1980s, Weird Al became well known for his accessible, zany, pop-humor. Opting to work with whatever was popular at the time, Weird Al became a fixture of the music scene.
Musical parody acts have existed before, after, and during Weird Al’s career. However, what sets them apart from Weird Al himself is the effort taken to re-create the source materials. Weird Al and his musical cohorts take as great as an effort to remain true to the original songs as possible. Even when it comes down to the promotional materials, Weird Al spares nothing to create the “picture perfect” replica.
Shown above are two album covers, one is a cover of pop-star Michael Jackson’s album “Bad.” Weird Al’s pastiche take on this album is “Even Worse”, mirroring virtually every detail from Jackson’s original image. In the music videos filmed for the promotion of Weird Al’s “Even Worse”, Weird Al parodies Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video in his own rendition, titled “Fat.”
While Weird Al’s work often parodies music that is currently popular, he often releases his works just soon enough after their immediate popularity to capitalize on the “You remember this, right?” factor. As well, the works often have little to do with the original topics of the source materials. “Fat” shoehorns fat humor into Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, a song about rebelliousness. On his “polka” collections, Weird Al rhapsodizes a number of songs that are currently popular in a polka style, effectively summarizing entire genres or musical movements. Interestingly, Weird Al does not change any of the lyrics for these “collection” pieces, opting to sing the original song’s lyrics in a zanier, upbeat style.
To me, Weird Al’s “polka” pieces are more faithful to their source materials in terms of content, and as a result embody a stronger connection to the pieces themselves. This work of pastiche is best revisited after their “heydey”, and seeing what Weird Al managed to concentrate into a single song. This effectively grants the songs a second lifetime, once while they are popular, and then some time later, being revisited and re-examined through a new lens.
In the second half of this entry, I will discuss this meme image, taken from “GraphJam,” a website dedicated to cataloging pop humor and internet humor.
In order to understand this graph, you need to understand the humor that lies within its references. The graph references “Marty McFly”, a character from the “Back to the Future” film series. In the original film, the DeLorean sports car functions as a time machine, and is a major plot point. The car was only produced for three years or so, before the company shut its production down.
The DeLorean is commonly known as “The Back to the Future Car.” This popularity is reflected in the graph above. The joke will be lost on people who haven’t watched the film or lack experience with the pop culture icons that the film series has spawned. If you didn’t know who “Marty McFly” was, or what a DeLorean was, this graph would mean nothing to you.
As a work of pastiche, this graph references two key components of the original Back to the Future series, without using a visual medium. This is a critical aspect of this graph. Pastiche exists beyond the realms of sight, Weird Al managed to make that evident in his nearly one-to-one reproductions of his music source materials. This graph makes it evident that pastiche does not rely solely on image, but also on culture, humor, common sense, and a wealth of other factors that a viewer must possess in order to best understand these works.
This statement echoes various cultural and media scholar’s ideas about the mediums in which we experience media. Marshall McLuhan, who I wrote about in my last entry, argued once that “The medium is the message.” I agree, in these works of pastiche, both Weird Al’s and the GraphJam image, the medium is responsible for how we experience the humor.
If we understand the joke about the DeLorean and Marty McFly, then we don’t need to see either to understand the significance between them. The graph refers to both in text alone, with no other visuals besides its pie chart, and yet we still “get” it. When Weird Al’s music comes on the radio, we hear the humorous takes on hit songs that we once experienced, we don’t need to see Weird Al’s music video to understand the humor there, either.