Internet Satirists Feast On Cultural Icons

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, February 5, 2006

The Internet rage of the last days of '05 was the viral success of "Lazy Sunday," a digital short film produced by "Saturday Night Live's" Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg. "SNL" broadcast the film during the Dec. 17 show, and the thing caught fire on the Internet, becoming a must-see around office cubicles. (If you're one of the dozen or so people who haven't seen "Lazy Sunday," a rap about two New Yorkers going to see "The Chronicles of Narnia," go to http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live . It's in the site's "videos" section.)

The short inspired at least one knockoff, "Lazy Monday," a shot-for-shot remake of the original film but done by two 11-year-olds, which is somehow pretty funny, too.

"Lazy Monday" and a number of other parody films can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/ , a video-sharing site founded one year ago this month and launched in May 2005 by Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, two early PayPal employees armed with $3.5 million in start-up money. The site has a little advertising and some of the video clips are television commercials, but the majority of the films are shot and posted by viewers. The site claims more than 6 million videos.

YouTube provides another viewport into the Mind of the Internet User.

The Web is well known for its ability to take content from unknowns and, if it's good enough, take it global and even turn its authors into stars, or at least cult figures. Cyberpunk author William Gibson's 2003 novel, "Pattern Recognition," rotates on this point when he writes that somewhere in the Web ether, an unknown and hidden auteur is posting a series of fleeting and wildly popular video images that seem to tell a story. An ad guru launches a global hunt for the filmmaker in an effort to monetize the clips and the phenomenon.

In this space, we've written about short movie sites, such as Atom Films, that provide vehicles for aspiring filmmakers who lack distribution.

But the Internet is really terrific at parody, produced by people (such as your Web Watch staff) for whom life is nothing but one big straight line. The Web lets anyone with cleverness and a friend who knows HTML (heck, you hardly need that anymore) to produce his own version of the Onion and become a modern-day Swift or Pope.

The urge to take something and change it -- or to take seemingly incompatible somethings and put them together to create an utterly new thing -- is an ancient artistic impulse made simple by digital technology. Consider club deejays who make "mashups," or combinations of disparate songs, such as the 2001 fave "A Stroke of Genie-us," which mashed a Christina Aguilera dance track with the sparse guitars of The Strokes.

Taken another step to video, the Web combines content with simple desktop editing tools to allow anyone to mangle, distort and twist stuff.

For instance, look at the daily video blog of Amanda Congdon ( http://www.rocketboom.com ), who takes bits from the hilarious http://www.askaninja.com/ video site (don't ask me to explain it, just look at it) to create her own parody/fan video.

The satire target of the moment seems to be Oscar favorite "Brokeback Mountain."

Search for "brokeback to the future" on YouTube. There, you'll find a fake movie trailer that grabs (some would say "steals") scenes from the "Back to the Future" trilogy that, well-edited, imply that the characters played by Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox are gay lovers in the Old West.

For instance, the creators -- http://www.chocolatecakecity.com/ -- choose a scene where Fox's character fights off the romantic advances of a girl: "Have you ever, uh, been in a situation where you know you had to act a certain way but when you got there, you didn't know if you could go through with it?"

One Web Watch contributor has cleverly referred to such movie trailer mashups as "trailer trashing."

Thursday's Rocket Boom installment ended with a segment called "Broke Mac Mountain," which opens with a bearded guy sitting in front of a Macintosh desktop computer drawling, "I wish I knew how to quit you," a variation of the signature line from "Brokeback." A buddy rolls up in a chair, tells him what keys to hit, and lovingly guides his friend's hands on the keyboard as the romantic music swells.

Now, that's moviemaking.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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