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Denied Parody

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You know that film/show/video game with the hilarious send-up of that major corporation, famous religion or washed-up celebrity? Well, according to the creators, that's not what it was about at all. In fact, despite the obvious similarities and paper-thin alterations that make it a clear parody, they claim it's not a parody of anything in particular.

It should be noted that the standard disclaimer "any similarity to persons living or dead..." does not constitute a denial in this case (indeed, some disclaimers now acknowledge that such names may be used fictitiously). After all, The Simpsons had a character named Bill Clinton who was President of the United States, and despite the disclaimer, it is doubtful that they were denying that it was based on the real-life person. This trope only applies when it's a specific denial.

Also, this trope does not cover situations where the denials are plausible — for example, McBain on The Simpsons could easily be a parody of the character from the Christopher Walken film McBain, if it weren't for the fact that the film was released 8 months after McBain's first appearance on The Simpsons. In this case, the denial is plausible.

This is usually due to one of two reasons:

  1. Fear of lawsuits
  2. A direct parody may give the authors less freedom, since all of the humorous features of the fictional thing must be based on characteristics of the thing being parodied.

No Celebrities Were Harmed can overlap with this if the caricatured version of the person was not really meant as a parody of them.

This is the Opposite Trope of Parody Retcon, in which a work that is not seen as a parody is retroactively declared one by the creators.

Compare Indecisive Parody, where due to some reason it's not really certain whether the work is a parody at all, and Poe's Law, where the confusion behind this trope tends to come from.

See also Accidental Aesop, where the work is interpreted as presenting a specific message when the creators didn't intend that one or even none at all.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • When Code Geass first came out, a lot of fans believed it was a parody-slash-critique of the Bush administration and The War on Terror. When asked about this in an interview, director Goro Taniguchi denied that there was any political motivation behind the plot and said that his goal was just to make an entertaining TV show.

    Films — Animated 
  • Corpse Bride features Maggot, a talking worm who lives in Emily's eye socket that's clearly a Lorre Lookalike in appearance and demeanor. Tim Burton claims he didn't even know Peter Lorre's name when he designed the character, thinking it was just a stock character made up for old Looney Tunes shorts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The boss from The Devil Wears Prada bears a striking similarity to Vogue's editor Anna Wintour, but the author maintains that she is a composite of fiction and various stories of her friends' first jobs.
  • Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis features a self-help religion called Eventualism, based on a book by T. Azimuth Schwitters and featuring a volcano on its cover. But it's not a parody of Scientology.
    • This is a good example of the second rationale above. Aside from the name, Schwitters doesn't seem to have anything in common with L. Ron Hubbard.
  • Good Night, and Good Luck., a film about McCarthyism, is widely seen as being a commentary about the legal processes for alleged unlawful combatants in Guantanamo Bay. The creators deny any such connection.
  • The Crucible is commonly interpreted as an anvilicious commentary on a contemporary legal scare. In the case of The Crucible, that was McCarthyism, though Arthur Miller denied it at the time.
  • Meryl Streep denied that her character in the 2004 adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate was a parody of Hillary Clinton. Given that the original novel was released written in 1959, and the first film adaptation was released in 1962, she probably has a point. (Although, they do have similar Power Hair...)
  • Orson Welles denied that the lead character of Citizen Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst. It's unclear whether Welles was telling the truth, but Hearst certainly went out of his way to make sure everyone would think Kane was based off him. How very Charles Foster Kane of him.
    • Hearst: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war." Kane: "Dear Wheeler, You provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war." Completely different!
    • Welles actually tried to get around this by including a line in the film in which a journalist makes a reference to both Kane and Hearst, thus indicating that Hearst actually exists as a separate entity in the Citizen Kane universe. In later interviews, Welles stated that Hearst along with Howard Hughes and other industrialists were certainly influences on Kane, but that Kane was never intended as a parody/critique/insult to Hearst specifically or other industrialists, it was meant as a serious exploration of an American mythical hero, the tycoon and capitalist.
  • The Monty Python team have always denied that Monty Python's Life of Brian was a parody of the Jesus story — instead it's just a story about a guy called Brian living around the same time who is mistaken for the Messiah. Jesus is referenced several times (one of the most famous scenes is people mishearing the Sermon on the Mount — "Blessed are the cheesemakers?"), making it clear the two are separate. The parody is about the various trappings of the religion — things like emphasis on symbols and extreme sectarianism and interpretations of Jesus' teachings that completely miss the point, while the teachings themselves are left intact. They never said they weren't making fun of religion, they just said they weren't making fun of Jesus. And they weren't. At least, not more than a couple of times. ("Bloody do-gooder.") They rejected their initial concept of Brian as a forgotten disciple of Jesus because the laughs stopped dead whenever Jesus was around — none of them felt comfortable directly making jokes about Him because there's nothing to really mock about the man Himself.
  • While The President's Analyst was being filmed, the FBI, not pleased with their portrayal, threatened massive tax audits on the director/writer. After renaming the pertinent intelligence agencies, he added the opening disclaimer:
    This film has not been made with the consent or cooperation of the Federal Board of Regulations (F.B.R.) or the Central Enquires Agency (C.E.A.). Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, and so forth and so on.
  • James Bond:
    • Ever since the mid-nineties The Living Daylights has had a Denied Parody disclaimer slapped on the character of Kamran Shah. He definitely isn't based on Osama Bin Laden at all, just a generic tall, bearded, Western-educated Afghan insurgent who fights the Soviets. A closer Real Life figure to him, though (even if he wasn't based off him), would be Ahmad Shah Massoud.
    • While Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies looks at first glance like a thinly disguised version of Rupert Murdoch, the movie's main writer claims he was actually based on Robert Maxwell (this is supported by the cover story for Carver's death and the public's reaction to it mirroring Maxwell's fatal boat accident).
  • The writer of Scarface (1932) denied any connection to Al Capone (whose Embarrassing Nickname was "Scarface") when confronted by some of Capone's men, insisting that it was just a work of fiction. The film was an adaptation of the novel Scarface, which was somewhat influenced by Capone.
  • Director Tim Burton went on record as saying that Johnny Depp's interpretation of Willy Wonka in the 2005 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was NOT a parody or Expy of Michael Jackson after the bulk of reviews of the film pointed out the similarities between the two figures — and, at least in Roger Ebert's review, actually counted it as a point against the film because it came off as so creepy. This is another of the more plausible denials, as the resemblances between the two — both are soft-spoken, pale, Reclusive Artist Man Children — owe more to Burton's usual character aesthetics and Depp taking inspiration from the above-mentioned Anna Wintour in appearance and the original novel's characterization in personality. (Jackson himself had sought the role out when the project was announced for that reason.) Unfortunately, the superficial similarities came along just after Jackson's months-long trial on child molestation charges wrapped up.
  • According to Peter Jackson, Meet the Feebles is not a parody of The Muppets. While he did say he was inspired by it, he claims that the film is more of a satire on human behavior. Indeed, the movie was never advertised as a parody of any kind. It was only ever marketed as "the adult puppet movie."
  • The Incredible Melting Man is an odd case where the director invoked this as a sort of reverse Parody Retcon, despite originally intending to make the movie a spoof of cheeseball sci-fi flicks, he's gone on record saying the finished product is not a spoof. The studio demanded he instead play everything as if it were a completely straight horror film, which is why the movie is such a tonally-confused mess. One doesn't even have to pay close attention to notice all the things in the movie that could have easily been Played for Laughs, yet were not.

  • Willie Stark, the governor in All the King's Men, is widely held to be a parody of Gov. Huey Long. The author claims that this belief is "innocent boneheadedness".

    Live-Action TV 
  • It is often assumed that Tommy Carcetti in The Wire is based on former mayor of Baltimore Martin O'Malley. David Simon and the other writers claim that he's modeled after a number of obscure Baltimore politicians.
  • Jennifer Saunders denied that her character, Eddie in Absolutely Fabulous was a parody of PR guru Lynne Franks; the character was actually derived from this sketch that she did with Dawn French in French and Saunders, where the responsible daughter had to look after her flighty teenager-like mother. Of course, for Absolutely Fabulous both characters needed expanding, so it's still possible.
  • Alex Borstein has flatly denied that Ms Swan, a character she did on MADtv (1995), is an old Asian woman, and claims she's based on her Hungarian grandmother. Uh huh. Sure. (The Vancome Lady thinks she's Icelandic and she does speak Hungarian in one episode.) Granted, Hungary was founded by Asians...
  • An In-Universe example on Murder, She Wrote had a man cleared but largely suspected of murdering his wife attempting to sue Jessica over one of her novels which just happened to have similarities to the case, including the husband being the prime suspect. After finally reading the book himself and finding out the husband wasn't the killer in the book either he agreed to drop the lawsuit, but was killed before he could.
  • Community has multiple episodes where they take the normal community college setting but warp it into a paintball war film, a Law & Order style crime episode and in one of the paintball episodes they flip from a "Cowboy Theme" to a "Star Wars Theme". Meta Guy Abed specifically remarks that these are not Parodies, but are instead all a "Homage" to the theme.

  • Indie band Half Man Half Biscuit deny that their song "Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo", is in any way about real band The Libertines, their arms or tattoos. This is despite a number of extraordinarily specific details, from the title's description of cover of the Libertines' first album, to a lengthy rant directed at people who incorrectly refer to the biblical Revelation (singular) of St John the Divine as the Book of Revelations (plural), a solecism coincidentally to be found in the lyrics of the Libertines' "What A Waster".
  • Paul McCartney's song "Let Me Roll It" sounds like John Lennon, but Paul says it's just a coincidence.
  • Monster Magnet's "Space Lord" music video has a few very prominent elements in common with Mase's "Feel So Good" video, such as shots of the band driving around the Las Vegas strip, gratuitous celebrity cameos note  , and dancers in matching sparkly skimpy outfits doing cheerleader-routine-style choreography as pyrotechnics go off and the band's name scrolls across lighted signs. At the time, the band claimed that they were parodying the Glam Rap image in general and hadn't seen the Mase video until after they completed theirs - later on the director admitted that he tracked down specific locations used in the Mase video for the shoot. Of course both things could be true, if the band had come to the director with the general glam rap concept and the director decided to parody a specific video without spelling it out to them.

    Video Games 
  • The makers of Dead Space insist that the Church Of Unitology isn't based on the Church of Scientology. They claim that they were trying to create the archetypal cult and just happened to come up with one resembling Scientology.
  • BioShock: While the name "Andrew Ryan" is similar to "Ayn Rand", and "Atlas" is a reference to the novel Atlas Shrugged, Word of God claims that "Frank Fontaine" being a reference to The Fountainhead is just a coincidence.

  • David Morgan-Mar will often insist that Irregular Webcomic! plotlines and characters that are clearly based on Real Life have nothing to do with them (for example, Steve Irwin and the "Steve and Terri" comics). In all fairness, it's probably sarcastic.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons parodies this on a number of occasions.
    • Bart denies his comicbook character "Angry Dad", an Expy of The Incredible Hulk, is based on Homer, claiming instead he is a composite character, based on his dad, Lisa's dad, and Maggie's dad.
    • In another episode:
      Shary Bobbins: Hello, I'm Shary Bobbins.
      Homer: Did you say Mary Pop—?
      Shary Bobbins: No! I definitely did not! I'm an original creation, like Rickey Rouse and Monald Muck.
  • Futurama: "Weresemblebutarelegallydistinctfrom the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild!"
  • BoJack Horseman: The Stylistic Suck prestige drama Philbert was described by most reviewers as a parody of True Detective, particularly when we see the show's opening (which begins with the line 'Well, I went down to the girly club with a hot glue gun full of beans'), but the creator said that it was meant to be a parody of overly-serious, pretentious drama in general, and that seeing it as only about True Detective would be to let a lot of other shows off the hook.
    Well, unless I'm misreading it, Philbert seemed like a pointed send-up of True Detective, especially when you have a line like, "Time is like a woman: completely impossible to comprehend."
    Yes. [Laughs.] Certainly True Detective was one of the things on our mind as we were working on the season. But I would say that reading is very generous to a lot of other shows that I would put in that same category. True Detective maybe announces itself the most and is the most flagrantly that, but there are a lot of shows that are invested in the trials of difficult men and the women who get in their way and/or sleep with them.