Displacing Meaning: Parodic Ads “Without texts”

Curator's Note

This parodic trailer is a “paratext without a text.” It has no actual film that it is advertising. Instead it is an aggregation of tropes and clichés of independent films that have succeeded at the Sundance festival. The producers, who are part of a media collective in LA, Tastesfunny, explicitly designed the trailer for a perceptive LA audience of “jealous and bitter filmmakers” well versed in these tropes.

Through parody, the paratext invites viewers to unpack various layers of meaning so they can be “in on the joke.” By not focusing on a single film, the trailer ridicules the Sundance institute’s overarching tendency to define quality films as those with content which is “other” to the privileged, white, liberal, heterosexual and normative subject position of many of the presumed judges. Yet, even though it is not focusing on a single “text,” the paratext is calling on viewers to engage with its intertextuality, which as Jonathan Gray defines is the “the fundamental and inescapable interdependence of all textual meaning upon the structures of meaning proposed by other texts.” The trailer mentions by name Sundance films like Precious and actors well known for starting in films that premiered at the festival, including Michael Cera and Anna Paquin. Visually the trailer draws on imagery from Beasts of the Southern Wild and Brokeback Mountain and more subtly evokes that of other independent films.

This trailer illustrates that despite the interesting provocation of this theme week, there are really no “paratexts without texts.” All media draws on, references, and interacts with texts of some sort. Yet, I’m interested in exploring the role that a parodic paratext, which doesn’t lay claim to a specific text, can play in displacing the meaning and understanding of that which it is ridiculing.

I discovered this trailer while researching the gendered discourses in paratexts for independent films. And, I found that even though the intended object of ridicule in this trailer is the Sundance Institute, through the parody’s explicit intertexuality that ridicule is extended to the films it draws on. Specifically, I am troubled by how easily images of race, class, and gender diversity can become the unintended, but nevertheless salient targets of ridicule in a parody such as this. I wonder whether the function of a paratext without an intended text is to encourage readers to easily displace meaning from one subject onto another?



Great post, Taylor. I'm also intrigued by the other intertext for this trailer -- as the imagined film's title suggests, it's also engaging somehow with "Not Another Teen Movie," the mashup-esque 2001 parody of (surprise!) the teen movie genre. There's a wonderful play with rejection suggested by this shared naming -- we're clearly meant to hear and empathize with an imagined exasperated moviegoer groaning each film's title -- as well as some more complex kind of intergeneric negation going on. How exactly are these films not in their respective genres? Because they're parodies? Because (at least in the case of your example) they don't actually exist? Perhaps something else altogether. There's also a play with genre intertextuality, high/low culture, and imagined audience here as well. In addition to "Not Another Teen Movie," this trailer's string of cliches also seems a parody of parodies, specifically the "[Genre] Movie" trend of the last decade or so: "Scary Movie," "Epic Movie," "Date Movie," and so on. I haven't seen most of these, but my sense is that as time has progressed, they've become less genre-fixed and more about parodying what's popular -- at my local Redbox I recently noticed "The Hungover Games," which seems to parody "The Hunger Games," "The Hangover," and "Ted," of all things. Nevertheless, though, your example seems to register so differently, parodying not the mass popular but the cultural and social elite, with all the questions of mode of production, industry, class, race, etc., that that entails -- really interesting.

Thanks for your comment Paul. I really appreciate you bringing up genre here and how this example doesn't quite fit with the genre parody films that it is referencing with its title. I think what I found troubling about the trailer is exactly that it ridicules and seems exasperated by the fact that Sundance has in someway created its own "genre." And, while I can sympathize with its critique of pretension and elitism of the institute, I don't agree with its exasperation of the festival as place for alternative representations of race, class, and gender; the festival continues to be one of the only places championing films exploring race, gender, class, and LGBTQ issues and representations. Yet, through this parody like many of the parodies you mention above, it tends to undermine the support for these types of representations, while distancing itself from the pushback of a direct critique by "not having a text." I see this as a functioning of parodic paratexts without texts in general.

Hi Taylor, Great post! I think you are on to something here. After reading your insights, I decided to head over to YouTube and check out some of the user comments to see how viewers are reacting to the video. Almost immediately, I came across this exchange: derfanddarf1 1 month ago Uhhh no. This is incredibly unappreciative of great indie movies. Plus, Beasts of the Southern Wild is flippin' awesome. Wunderphil 1 month ago +derfanddarf1 Yeah, this was such a disgrace and insulting(sarcasm). I watched some of these sundance films some terrible but some good also, and this is poking some fun isn't specifically attacking a single film and calling it shit. Don't take things to seriously. It is interesting to note how Wunderphil's defense of the clip articulates precisely the kind of logic that gives rise to your concerns. Because the clip does not spoof any one specific text, viewers like derfanddarf1 (where do people get these screen names???) and others who might want to "push back" by offering a critique of the clip are derided for taking things "to [sic] seriously."

Thanks for your comments Erik and for finding these gems as examples of my point! With this analysis, I'm building off of the work of Angela McRobbie who has described a tendency towards "post-feminist irony" in contemporary advertisements as a form of preemptive critique that forestalls any negative "feminist" reaction. As she suggests, ads do this by, in a way, winking and saying, "we know its sexist, but that's the point." As a result, in order to feel "in on the joke" girls are encouraged to "laugh it off" in order not to seem stodgy or humorless. I see these parodic ads "without texts" as both preempting critique "because there's nothing really to critique", but also displacing or distracting from the often troubling targets of ridicule. I appreciate you bringing up the concept of "perpetual liminality" in response to Johannes's post yesterday. I think it is important to keep interrogating what's happening in these moments of ambiguity or uncertainty and where meaning may be getting displaced in that liminality, particularly when the goal of a paratext is to ridicule or undermine.

Taylor, while perhaps my comment here is less about paratexts than about parody, following your comment that "I am troubled by how easily images of race, class, and gender diversity can become the unintended, but nevertheless salient targets of ridicule in a parody such as this," I thought of another funny but troubling trailer parody "for every Oscar winning movie ever" (if we add disability and sexuality to the list of targets of ridicule): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbhrz1-4hN4

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