Travesty is a powerful form of storytelling not despite, but because we know what’s going to happen. We’re already on the lookout for what’s different.
In November 2008, California citizens voted for the infamous Prop 8, a constitutional amendment to protect the right of the people to remain bigoted and racist.
It was heavily supported, financially and otherwise, by a wide range of institutionalized superstitions, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Focus on the Patriarchy (of course), plus, shame on them, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Most other Jewish religious and ethnic groups voted against Prop 8, and so did the Unitarian Universalists.
As humans, we are not only a storytelling animal but, if you follow Aristoteles, also a ζῷον πολιτικόν—a social, and consequently political, one as well. For me, brand fiction/adverfiction often isn’t enough, and I crave for a marketing/advertising project with a purpose.
Like this one, from Saatchi & Saatchi, who do a lot of non-profit & pro bono work, which I admire. It’s for www.makehomosexualsmarry.org, an initiative to overturn Prop 8, starring Justin Long and Mike White:
Devin & Glenn: Overturn Prop 8 and Make Homosexuals Marry!
Update 1: The clip has been yanked from YouTube.
Update 2: It’s back, two weeks later. With surfboard and all.
If you disagree with the homosexual lifestyle, support overturning Prop 8 and make them get married—like the rest of us.
The extended tagline:
To the 44% of Californians who think homosexuals should not be allowed to marry. Why would you support prop8 and spare them from a long, unforgiving, lifetime of wedded torment?
The form so cleverly employed here by the Saachi creatives is a so-called literary travesty in the narrow sense. While a parody alters the content, a travesty alters the form, or style. To loosely quote from the German Wikipedia entry, the stylistic transformation often updates the original content in a way that makes traditions and social customs visible and subject to criticism.
Travesty, also, is a powerful form of storytelling not despite but because we know what’s going to happen.
In S/Z, Roland Barthes writes:
Rereading, an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of our society, which would have us “throw away” the story once it has been consumed (“devoured”), so that we can then move on to another story, buy another book, and which is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and professors), rereading is here suggested at the outset, for it alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to reread are obliged to read the same story everywhere), multiplies it in its variety and its plurality; rereading draws the text out of its internal chronology (“this happens before or after that”) and recaptures a mythic time (without before or after); it contests the claim which would have us believe that the first reading is a primary naïve, phenomenal reading which we will only, afterwards, have to “explicate,” to intellectualize (as if there were a beginning of reading, as if everything were not already read: there is no first reading, even if the text is concerned to give us that illusion by several operations of suspense, artifices more spectacular than persuasive); rereading is no longer consumption but play (that play which is the return of the different).1
In simpler terms: without rereading, we read only what we know. And that’s the beautiful thing about travesty—there is no suspense, no primary naïve, phenomenal reading. We’re already in rereading mode, so to speak, already open for what’s different, what defies our expectations.