The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Referential treatment

The dumbing down of comedy

Comedy is dead. Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But you wouldn’t think so if you looked at the recent success of, well, mindless drivel. Lately, it seems that jokes have been replaced with references.

Take for example, “Meet the Spartans,” the recent film that essentially “parodies” last year’s Spartan epic, “300.” But this film, which is just one in a long series of the exact same film (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” etc.), doesn’t simply stick with “300.” That might have made it a decent parody. No, it references every famous or infamous moment in pop culture since the last stupid movie they made. (Why they give their films confining genre titles is a mystery because they never stick to the one genre). If an event or person was worthy of notice over the course of the last year, it is mentioned. Not made fun of, per se, but mentioned.

Why, for instance, is Britney Spears in “Meet the Spartans?” Why are “Ugly Betty,” the judges from basically any reality television show or Tom Cruise there? Because they were in the news the past year, and the filmmakers think referencing them passes for comedy. These filmmakers, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, are under the impression that simply making a pop culture reference makes people laugh. Recognizing that something happened is not a joke.

However, “Meet the Spartans” was number one at the box office in its first weekend and has grossed almost $30 million to date. Apparently, the teenage boys who this movie is aimed at came out in droves.

Although Friedberg and Seltzer are the most dastardly culprits, there are many similar killers of comedy out there. Television shows like VH1’s “Web Junk” simply recap what was funny about popular YouTube clips. Guess what? We know they’re funny because we watched them and kind of laughed. We don’t need commentary. Even a number of comedians nowadays rely on referential humor instead of observational humor, depending on other material rather than their own.

Maybe they are all inspired by the success of “Family Guy,” a show that uses referential humor and tries to build on it, usually by inserting the show’s main character, Peter Griffin, into pop culture references. In this way, “Family Guy” at least attempts to be creative.

But there is no excuse for anything like “Meet the Spartans.” Referential humor can work when you’re sitting around with your friends and you’re all quoting “Napoleon Dynamite” or “Superbad.” That’s always fun. However, you wouldn’t pay to watch a group of people quote movies. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you go to see worthless trash like “Meet the Spartans.”

Real parodies are movies that take genre conventions and lovingly mock them or place them in an unusual setting, like “Hot Fuzz” did with the action movie genre. Real comedy is when a creative and humorous observation, statement, or situation is made – if you need an example, watch “South Park” or any of the Judd Apatow films.

We’re allowing people like Friedberg and Seltzer to do away with comedy by continuing to watch their films. A reference is not funny. A reference is simply a reference.

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