When I first watched the Lonely Island’s new “Spring Break Anthem” video, I suspected that there was more to the juxtaposition of stereotypical college spring break behaviors and images of same-sex weddings than the former SNL group’s typical parodic music videos. It wasn’t until after watching the video several times and googling audience reactions that I realized the piece was meant as a pro-marriage-equality statement. To paraphrase the Lonely Island’s Reddit interview with fans, the contrasting narratives suggest that there is something laughably wrong when society condones reckless drinking and sexual behaviors on spring break, yet continues to (largely) systematically stigmatize same-sex marriage, and male-male love especially. This is the reasoning embedded in this video necessary to make it a visual argument rather than simply visual rhetoric or persuasion.
Yet, as my and others’ first impressions demonstrate (see youtube comments), viewers may miss this intended argument and its reasons. And this seems to be the problem with parodic visual arguments as attempts at activism. Since parody relies on twisting the grammar of a discourse or genre to achieve an oppositional end, there is always the risk that viewers will get hung up on the original and miss the oppositional. Since visual arguments are uniquely evocative they do have some advantage over non-visual arguments. I found the beauty in the images of the wedding surprisingly moving (put differently by another viewer, “The line ‘Two Kings walking hand in hand’ made me want to be gay a bit”). What’s more, comedy has the power to sugar coat the often bitter pill of social critique. So if attitude is incipient action, then maybe this video is a kind of activism regardless of being produced by otherwise largely a-political (seeming) comedians unaffiliated with any particular organization or cause.
However, while the video clearly argues that our attitude towards same-sex marriage is, literally, laughable when held against more ridiculous but condoned behaviors, I’m left wondering whether laughing is, ultimately, the only action we are called upon to produce with parody, and if so, whether that is enough to constitute activism?