July 11, 2012 by jamesessj
I am, slowly, working my through the entire oeuvre of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have already seen, first-run and re-, probably 60-70% of the episodes — but one of the show’s great joys is that episodes are more or less infinitely repeatable, since the number of jokes per minute is so high that inevitably there’s always something new to see/hear…and even if it’s a joke you have heard, or a bit you’ve seen, the chances are pretty darn good that you’re going to laugh just as hard the second time.
Not that the show isn’t an acquired taste. I’ve had several friends scrunch up their faces at the mention of it…and I also have to say that, like roleplaying games and many other of my geekish interests, a large number of those people who are interested in the show tend to make me cringe. They’re such nerds. I’m not, you see. I’m…normal.
Moving on. To relate this back to the previous “Art, Capitalized” post, you’ll recall that I was debating the question of Art…and denigrating, though I ought not have, the efforts (some of them my own) of those who merely mock, as opposed to create, Art. The MST3K crew fits solidly into that first category — sure, in their “host segments” (the bits outside the film) they’re “creating” art, but even these bits are, for the most part, derived from the films they’re riffing. And riffing is about as pure a form of “mockery” as could be. It is, to use a freighted word, exploitative in the extreme. For without the exertions of the cast & crew who made the original films, what would Joel, Mike, Kevin, Trace, and Bill have to make fun of? Without all those horrible films, there’d be no MST3K. Their entire premise relies on the creative acts of others.
And yet I don’t deride Joel, Mike, Kevin, Trace, Bill, et al, for their particular brand of comedy. In fact I find it friggin’ hilarious. MST3K — and its follow-ups, Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic — are about as dependable a source of laughter as exists, in the comedy world. Hilarity will ensue.
So why the hell am I deriding myself for wanting to do a send-up of Citizen Kane, instead of writing my own Citizen Kane? Why do I think less of myself for having an idea to parody Vertigo, instead of writing my own Vertigo? Is this really any different than, say, Shakespeare stealing his plots from other playwrights? Or James Joyce pilfering Homer’s structure for Ulysses? In both cases the artist — excuse me, the Artist — took a previously-extant piece of work and tweaked it to their own creative purposes. Isn’t what matters here the end result? Isn’t what matters, in my specific case, whether the parody is artfully — excuse me, Artfully — done? Does this not require as much creativity as writing an original novel, screenplay, play, whatever?
I know, I’m not convinced, either. Something in me rebels against this…but it’s foolishness, for what work of Art isn’t the cleverly-coagulated massing of everything an Artist’s ever experienced, including the works of other writers, musicians, sculptors, painters — whatever his field of expertise, he’s followed the work of others, and he is on some level guilty of regurgitation. Parodists — riffers among them — are simply guilty of making no bones of the fact that they are, in fact, guilty. Their inspiration is right out in the open. Everyone else gets to hide theirs. Though some are, obviously, more Artful about this than others.
Thus you may yet see Citizen Cain. Or the Vertigo parody. What I’ll get around to is anybody’s guess, including mine. Art should not, should never, be the goal. Heart, on the other hand…