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Parody Retcon

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Lesson learned: Don't sleep with your Literature professor.

"I contend that making a film that's only part satire is hedging your bet, in a sense saying 'if you like it and think it's good, then it's a good movie. If you think it stinks, then I meant it to be funny.' It's the coward's way to make a movie."
Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese in reference to Wild Things

A parody retcon is when a creator, in response to negative critical reaction to his or her work, handwaves the work's failings by claiming that it was supposed to be a parody all along, and that in fact the critic is wrong for taking it seriously. It's a subtrope of the Deliberate Flaw Retcon.

In general, people won't believe a creator who says this. However, with Poe's Law being what it is, sometimes this will happen even if the creator really did intend the work to be a parody but was too subtle with it or didn't go far enough with it. Bottom line — if you have to explain to people that they shouldn't take it seriously, you'd better have solid evidence that this is the case.

See also I Meant to Do That, "Just Joking" Justification, External Retcon, and Author's Saving Throw. The direct opposite of a Denied Parody, which is when people think it's a parody when the creator intended it to be taken seriously. Not to be confused with parodying retcons.


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    Comic Books 
  • Frank Miller claimed that his notorious All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder was intended to be a parody. It's complicated by the fact that he said this to people who liked it. No one's certain if he's telling the truth.
  • Joe Madureira has claimed that Red Monika's ridiculous proportions in Battle Chasers were a parody of sexy women in other comics. And has always done so — even in the original run of the short-lived comic, during which there was little to no controversy regarding said character's proportions. That means he's probably telling the truth, but whether or not it was effective parody is another story.
  • Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Fighting American (an Expy of their more popular creation Captain America) started off as a dead serious book about Commie-smashing. When the anti-Communist Witch Hunts of Joe McCarthy began to fall out of favor with Americans, Simon and Kirby quickly tried to retool the series into a tongue-in-cheek parody of Red Scare stories. It didn't work, and the title was cancelled after just seven issues.
  • Neil Gaiman mentions in The Sandman Companion how he initially envisioned the character Thessaly as a satire of the "new-age pagans" who popped up in feminist circles in the 1980s and '90s, marketing themselves as a Lighter and Softer version of traditional witchcraft: Thessaly, despite looking like a new-age witch, is more of a jerk and practices a very brutal version of witchcraft. As of the 2010's, however, Thessaly, and her premiere story "A Game of You", has been criticized for transphobic and gender-essentialist overtones. Gaiman has since claimed that Thessaly was specifically based on an actual trans-exclusionary radical feminist he'd encountered, and that readers weren't supposed to agree with her dismissive attitudes towards the transgender character; others argue that this is undermined by Thessaly otherwise being the most competent character in the arc.

  • The Room is probably the most famous example. Tommy Wiseau (director, writer, and star) intended the film to be a dramatic melodrama, only for it to be So Bad, It's Good and critically panned on its release. The film's "fans" asked him if he meant the film to be funny, and in a fit of Ascended Fanon, he started calling it a Black Comedy (it even says so on the DVD case). Everyone else involved with the production claims that Wiseau treated the project with the utmost seriousness during filming, and they further suspect that the whole affair plot was based on a real past relationship of Wiseau's. Most fans of the movie are inclined not to believe Wiseau, if for no other reason that he only started calling it a "black comedy" when the idea was suggested to him, and he still describes the film's contents in melodramatic, passionate terms.
  • Mommie Dearest is perhaps the Trope Codifier. After its poor initial reception, Paramount started advertising it as a parody a few weeks after its release, changing its movie posters to proclaim, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"
  • Deafula was said to be a parody, and was even renamed Young Deafula in some places. The director's reason for the conspicuous lack of jokes? Only deaf people would get it.
  • Roland Emmerich claimed that Independence Day was supposed to be a comedy all along. Opinion is split on whether to believe him, because it's a rare example of a film that was very successful when appreciated straight, and because it has enough humor and Shout Outs (e.g. flying saucers, Area 51, Brent Spiner playing a scientist) to be an edge case.
  • M. Night Shyamalan claimed that The Happening was a parody of B movies in an attempt to downplay its critical curb-stomping. No one believed him.
  • The Concorde... Airport '79 was marketed as a comedy after critics pointed out all of its unintentionally hilarious scenes. It still didn't help at the box office. In fact, this was so indicative of the impending death of the air disaster movie genre that it paved the way for Airplane! to do a full-on parody and finish the job.
  • Monster a-Go Go was claimed to be a parody of some sort by Gordon Lewis, although what exactly it's supposed to parody is unclear.
  • Rat Pfink A Boo Boo starts out serious, but apparently halfway through, the director (Ray Dennis Steckler, the same guy who directed The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies) got bored and decided to film the rest of it as a comedy/parody.
  • The lead actress of Space Mutiny claimed that the whole thing was in fact a spoof of the sci-fi genre (possibly trying to save face after its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000). This might explain the cheesy sets and costumes, as well as the bizarre "ancient dentistry" scene. It doesn't explain why, of the three directors that worked on the film, one wanted his name removed, another has his buried deep in the credits, and the third isn't listed at all.
  • Stephen King claimed that his So Bad, It's Good film Maximum Overdrive (which he wrote and directed) was a deliberate homage to bad movies such as Plan 9 from Outer Space after it received bad reviews. Apparently, he was hoping that audiences had forgotten the trailers which clearly presented it as a horror film, with King himself promising the audience, "I will scare the hell out of you." However, he later acknowledged on more than one occasion that the film sucked, calling it a "moron movie".
  • Claudio Fragasso tried pulling this off with Troll 2 after the release of the documentary about it, Best Worst Movie. The people who worked with him on the film say otherwise; he apparently thought he was a genius. There are moments in the film that are meant to be amusing in their own right, such as Elliot abruptly appealing to diplomacy in a showdown with the Goblins or the reveal of the secret weapon as being a double-decker baloney sandwich, but they were clearly written as a counterpoint to a genuine attempt at horror.
  • There's Nothing Out There is quite clearly a parody, but the DVD commentary hangs a lampshade on the phenomenon, as the filmmakers jocularly insist that everything that didn't work was a parody but that everything that did was serious.
  • Wild Things is generally seen as a Guilty Pleasure if nothing else, but the sheer volume of unintentional hilarity has lead some to hypothesize that it may have been a Stealth Parody of erotic thrillers all along. It was directed by an indie filmmaker with a history of making clever movies, and it gives a juicy (and funny) supporting role to a well-known comedian in Bill Murray, so the hypothesis isn't unreasonable.
  • The Wicker Man (2006) remake by Neil LaBute was widely panned. Its star Nicolas Cage insists that it shouldn't be taken seriously, noting that he stopped doing so himself when he punched out a woman while wearing a bear suit.
    "You don’t karate chop Leelee Sobieski in the throat and not know how absurd that is, but it’s just not something I would like to talk about. I would rather let them discover it on their own, but I think I learned a lot of that kind of off the wall kind of stuff watching Stanley Kubrick, because his movies were incredibly funny, but you never really knew how much was planned or accident, you know?"
  • Secretariat was largely well received, but one reviewer, Andrew O'Hehir of, gave it an extremely bizarre negative review. Among other things, he accused the movie of being racist (and pro-Tea Party) simply because the Hispanic "villain" was "terrorist-flavored" and his horse's name, Sham, implies evil. (This despite the film being Based on a True Story, so those elements all happened in Real Life.) He also used the director's Christianity to compare the movie to the works of Leni Reifenstahl. When Roger Ebert, himself a liberal, took issue with the review, O'Hehir tried to claim he was just being hyperbolic, and that it was "supposed to be funny, and also to provoke a response." Few believed him; if nothing else, Poe's Law would have been working against him.
  • It's now claimed that R.O.T.O.R. was a parody all along, despite the poster, video box, description, and advertising not saying a word about it.
  • George Clooney made the mistake of playing it straight in Batman & Robin, unlike virtually all of his co-stars, although ironically this does fit the tradition of Batman's character being depicted as The Comically Serious. Clooney, however, has subsequently claimed that he played the character as gay.
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate was originally billed as a horror movie but became famously So Bad, It's Good, enough to pick up a cult following. The director responded that it worked better as a parody and suggested that it might be even funnier if it got a Gag Dub — and did so even before the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode proved him right and made the movie more famous.
  • United Passions is a film about the formative years of world soccer governing body FIFA, which was widely panned for being melodramatic and glossing over the organization's history of corruption — especially given that FIFA was in the midst of a serious corruption scandal at the time of the film's release. The stars later tried to claim that they knew people wouldn't take kindly to the film and tried to make the characters look as cartoonish and ridiculous as possible — especially Tim Roth, who played FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, who in real life was forced to resign as part of the scandal.
  • Showgirls was savaged by critics and audiences when it came out, but has since attracted a fairly large cult following, in part from the contention that it's meant to be a satire. Opinions differ on whether it was supposed to be garden-variety So Bad, It's Good, a deconstruction of the traditional Rags to Riches story (like A Star Is Born or All About Eve), a satire of the Vegas entertainment scene, or even an indictment of fame and pop culture in general. But it's definitely not meant to be taken seriously.
  • Inverted with The Incredible Melting Man. The director has gone on record to say that he intended it from the start to be a parody of monster flicks (which considering its ridiculous premise and being made about 20 years after the heyday of such movies in the 1950s, isn't hard to believe), but that the final product isn't one. It ended up being a hot mess thanks to Executive Meddling, when the studio insisted that he play it all straight against his wishes.
  • Back to the Future, per film legend, was nearly called Spaceman From Pluto at the insistence of a meddling executive. He went as far as to send Steven Spielberg a note asking for this change, along with a few suggestions for how to work the title into the movie (because it had nothing to do with the movie otherwise). Spielberg responded by thanking the exec for the joke note and telling him how everyone found it really funny — and the executive was too proud to admit he was serious and went along with it.
  • Discussed in John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch, when John, questioned by the kids if the special is supposed to be sincere or ironic, muses that it's entirely up to critical reception in the end, and decides that that's the first lesson of the day: pretending to know what you're doing will make you successful.
    "Um, well, first off, I like doing the show. I mean, The Sack Lunch Bunch is fun. But honestly, like, if this doesn't turn out great, I think we should all be like, 'oh, it was ironic'. And then people will be like, 'oh, that's hilarious'. But if it turns out very good, be like, 'oh, thank you, we worked really hard', and act fake-humble, and then you win either way."

  • Isaac Asimov's "First Law": When this story was republished in The Rest of the Robots, Dr Asimov prefaced the story by pointing out that this was a Donovan story, not an Asimov story. When it was republished in The Complete Robot, he warns the audience that this story is not to be taken seriously. This is because the robot in this story breaks the First Law due to a motherly instinct, which robots aren't programmed with.
  • L. Ron Hubbard's publishers claimed that Battlefield Earth was meant to be satirical in response to criticism. Which makes no sense, because Hubbard himself intended the book to describe a historical event critical to the beliefs of the religion he founded.
  • Maradonia Saga: Following the release of a book trailer that could charitably be called "amateurish", Gloria Tesch's publicist responded to criticism by classifying the trailer as "obviously comic satire". Much like her books, nobody bought it.
  • Valerie Solanas wrote The SCUM Manifesto, which among other things calls for "the eradication of men". People didn't notice until ten years later, when she became famous for trying to kill Andy Warhol, and she claimed it was satirical (in the vein of A Modest Proposal). No word on whether the assassination attempt was "satirical", however.

    Live-Action TV 
  • First Night 2013 was a live New Year's Eve countdown special on local television in Los Angeles that quickly went viral because it was a trainwreck on practically every level (technical glitches, uncensored profanity, has-been musical guests, missing the actual countdown, etc.). Host Jaime Kennedy quickly (and unsurprisingly) invoked this trope.
  • Ricky Gervais did this after criticism of Derek. Before it aired, he spoke often about how he had "dropped the veil of irony" and committed to making a sincere comedy-drama. People panned it for being Narmy, particularly its sad music montages, which Gervais would claim were there to give the verisimilitude of a cloying documentary — while at the same time retweeting comments earnestly praising the sequences for their emotional power.
  • An in-universe example happens in Victorious episode "Jade Dumps Beck". Robbie is forced to review Trina's one woman show before opening night. Predictably, the show is terrible, but Trina harasses and threatens Robbie until he gives her show a good review. After telling André the play was "So bad, it was laughable", André suggests that Robbie review it like a comedy, which he does. Trina is furious at first, but after getting a standing ovation on show night, she goes along with it.

  • The Beastie Boys like to pretend that their first album, Licensed to Ill, was a parody of rap and frat boy attitudes — despite the fact that the album seems to be a straight example of these attitudes as opposed to a send-up or even a subtle parody. The video album makes their intentions painfully clear, as does the fact they originally wanted to call it "Don't Be A Faggot".
  • Alanis Morissette: Isn't It Ironic?, don't ya think, that when she wrote a song about irony, and everyone pointed out that all her examples of irony were not technically irony, she suddenly decided that that was, in fact, the irony all along.
  • Bob Dylan's 1970 album Self Portrait, mainly made up of sloppily-performed cover versions, received the first mostly negative reviews of his career (and pretty vicious ones at that). In the first few years after its release he defended the album, but since then he's claimed that it was a deliberate attempt to alienate his more obsessed fans. Dylan also made the same claim about his previous album, Nashville Skyline, a country-flavored album where Dylan trades in his nasal sneer for a singing voice that borders on crooning. It helps, though, that Dylan was always a renowned troll. Ultimately, both albums were Top Ten LPs, and Nashville Skyline even kept The Who's Tommy out of the #1 spot in the UK. Nashville Skyline at least has since been Vindicated by History.
  • Broken CYDE, a Crunkcore group, consistently pulls a Parody Retcon when they're doing poorly, but switches back to Doing It for the Art whenever they're doing well commercially.
  • This was said about Canibus' disastrous third album, C: Tru Hollywood Stories, after its terrible reception.
  • Peter Gabriel is fond of using this to explain his early lyrics, especially the ones from the Genesis days.
  • Depending on which day of the week you asked Lou Reed, his album Metal Machine Music (a double album of nothing but multitracked feedback noise) is either a Take That! to his record company, a parody of Serious Music (former bandmate John Cale in particular), a drug-fuelled mistake, or actual Serious Music.
  • Music critics have lately been saying this about Sergei Prokofiev, as a way of getting around the fact that he wrote cantatas lavishing praises upon Joseph Stalin, by claiming that they were really mocking Stalin all along. It's a total change of tactic, as in earlier decades, his political works presented problems for his popularity in the West, where critics were keen to dismiss him as a Soviet propagandist.
  • The Lemon Demon song "The Satirist's Love Song" is about someone using this trope to explain a failed relationship:
    I've been satirizing ever since
    The first day we met
    Our love is a great work of satire
    That you just didn't get
  • Averted by Selena Gomez, who said that the name of her band The Scene was a pisstake before they released a note of music.
  • Ryan Pann, the guy responsible for the infamous "Christian Side Hug", has claimed that the song was meant to be a satire.
  • Robin Thicke has tried to pass "Blurred Lines" off as a parody in the wake of its lyrics being denounced as misogynistic. He even went so far as to claim the Anchorman character Ron Burgundy as inspiration.

  • South Carolina State Senator Jake Knotts wasn't being a racist when he called Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for his state's governor and an ethnic Punjabi who converted to Methodist Christianity from Sikhism, a "raghead" (and Barack Obama a secret Muslim in the same breath). He was being satirical. And just quoting a Saturday Night Live skit that exists only in his head.
  • During the 2010 UK general election, the makers of Marmite threatened legal action after the super far-right British National Party included a jar of the product in one of their videos. The BNP originally claimed their video had been a parody, and only later admitted that it was a mistake.
  • During the 2011 US national budget meetings, former Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl spoke in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood by claiming that "over 90%" of the organization's services were abortions. After it was revealed that only 3% of their services (and 11% of visits) were abortions, Senator Kyl claimed that he was exaggerating and that his claim was "not intended to be a factual statement".
  • Ray Comfort now claims that his infamous "Banana: The Atheist's Worst Nightmare" argument was satire. The video argues for intelligent design by showing how the banana is apparently perfect for human consumption — ignoring the fact that this is because of centuries of selection and cross-breeding by humans, and that wild bananas are much less human-friendly (with thicker skins, sour flesh, and large inedible seeds). No one on any side of the debate could figure out what it was even supposed to satirize; it was very clearly just an unresearched argument that blew up in his face.
  • Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson claims he was only joking when he was voicing his concern for Guam capsizing.
  • In late 2013, Slate's Aisha Harris made a case for more inclusiveness when it came to who portrayed Santa Claus, prompting then-Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly to offer her take on the issue, which led to her saying that "Santa just is white." Several pundits, including Jon Stewart, took her to task for it, leading her to clarify her remarks and say they were "tongue-in-cheek." Stewart found that rather difficult to believe.
  • Thomas Friedman got some attention for his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention: "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's", a folksy attempt to express the logical (but not foolproof) opinion that economically stable countries have few incentives to go to war. First published in a 1996 New York Times column, he also featured it in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and apparently meant it in utter seriousness. Weeks after the book was published, forces of the McDonald's-happy NATO countries bombed Yugoslavia, with a few McDonald's locations sustaining damage. Critics also found earlier cases of conflict between two countries with McDonald's. In response, Friedman claimed that his theory was done "with tongue slightly in cheek".

    Video Games 
  • After the pornographic Atari 2600 game Custer's Revenge received heavy criticism, the president of the company that created it said "our object is not to arouse, our object is to entertain". This despite the fact that its cartridge calls it "erotica".
  • Far Cry 3 lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem responded to criticism of the game's use of Mighty Whitey by announcing that the plot was actually a satire. No one believed him.
  • When the next-gen version of Call of Duty: Ghosts was revealed, one of the promoted features was "fish that moved out of the way you got near them". Gamers were quick to point out this was not a new thing, specifically pointing to Super Mario 64 (which came out 17 years earlier). They since then said it was a joke, despite not sounding like one.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • A lot of Final Fantasy V's fans argue against criticism of the game's Lighter and Softer nature, daft Cliché Storm elements, and Large Ham Generic Doomsday Villain Big Bad by insisting it's a parody of Final Fantasy games as a whole. There are a few sequences that qualify as parody of how these games tend to go down (Bartz waking up from a meaningful dream about his destiny to discover his party staring at him freaking out, the whole Solve the Soup Cans sequence with the Ronkan door switch), but for the most part it's a normal Final Fantasy with jokes in. This trope was, however, invoked for the Game Boy Advance remake, which re-translated the game in a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek fashion, with such gems as Bartz declaring a Giant Enemy Crab has "been served" and a librarian's advice to "take a look, it's in this book."
  • In 2011, PETA created Super Tanooki Skin 2D, a game about a tanuki trying to reclaim its skinned fur from Mario, and said that the Mario games were sending the message that it was okay to wear fur. After the expected backlash and an official statement from Nintendo, PETA claimed it was all "tongue-in-cheek". PETA did the same with Pokémon in Pokémon Black and Blue.
  • Watch_Dogs has been interpreted by some as being a Deconstruction of typical video game protagonists with protagonist, Aiden Pearce, being a Failure Hero and Hypocrite who ruins his family's life with his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. When asked about this, writer Kevin Shortt said it was entirely intentional. The best evidence is this is true is interviews have cited Breaking Bad as an influence on Aiden.


    Web Original 
  • The Irate Gamer commonly does this, either in response to accusations of plagiarism of other Caustic Critics like The Angry Video Game Nerd and Armake21, or in response to pointing out mistakes in his videos (when he doesn't re-edit the video, delete the comments, and pretend the mistake was never there).
  • Discussed in the Folding Ideas episode, "Asian Girlz": Dan thinks this is not really that good of an excuse because satire can done badly. The example he uses is the eponymous song "Asian Girlz" — it was accused of fetishizing Asian women, so the band claimed it was satire, but the song doesn't offer any criticism of said fetishization and thus fails at satirizing it.
  • The creators of CinemaSins have usually responded to critique of their videos by claiming that they're intended to be satirical, and that the narrator of the series is more of a "character" who represents anal-retentive Caustic Critics on the Internet. They also claim that a certain percentage of the sins written for each video are intentionally wrong "as a joke". Since none of them are actually presented in such a way, how do you know which are which? Well, if you can prove the point wrong, then that was obviously one of the "intentionally wrong" sins and you just missed the joke!
  • Let's Players who are known for complaining about video games being hard when they're really not very good at them (like Game Grumps) occasionally deflect criticism by claiming that they're playing poorly on purpose and portraying a character who sucks entertainingly and blames everything but himself. While the "Let's Play Curse" is a known phenomenon in the genre, the problem with these Let's Players is that they generally don't suck entertainingly, often forcing the viewer to watch them try the same thing several times and fail in baffling ways (like getting stuck or ignoring game mechanics), and their complaints sound too genuine to be acting.
  • The "social experiment" variant of the trope is a popular Internet meme, referring to a person who would make an inflammatory post, get a negative response, and respond that he wasn't serious and that it was all a "social experiment" to get a rise out of people. It's actually fairly common for people to do this for real, but they're not fooling anyone. The more enterprising posters will even mock people for "falling for it". A variant of the variant is the "I was only pretending to be r***" meme.
  • To try and prove that he played Donkey Kong on original hardware, now-disgraced competitive video gamer Billy Mitchell once released a video in which he ostensibly swapped the circuit board of an arcade cabinet. However, the video clearly shows him putting the same board back into the cabinet that he took out. When questioned about this, he claimed that the video was satire, a claim that was hard to take seriously, as it was never presented as such, and the only way to detect the supposed "satire" was to identify the minor physical differences between Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. boards in Mitchell's dark, grainy, out-of-focus footage. The claim was completely ruined when photographs of the machine circulated, showing that even if the board was as he said it was, the joystick was replaced with an eight-way stick (which is illegal in competitive Donkey Kong).

    Western Animation 
  • Used In-Universe in The Cleveland Show: A playground kid mocks Rallo's "stupid rap," and Rallo replies that it's a joke band, "like Spinal Tap, or Aerosmith".
  • Used In-Universe in The Fairly OddParents! when Timmy releases an action movie at a film festival, he wins an award because everyone thinks it's a comedy, and accepts it.
  • Used In-Universe in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Show Stoppers", in which the Cutie Mark Crusaders' musical performance at a talent show is given a comedy award, which the CMC gracefully accept.
  • The Simpsons: "The Principal and the Pauper" remains notorious for its retconning of Skinner's backstory, claiming that he took over the "real" Skinner's identity after he disappeared in The Vietnam War. Ken Keeler defended it by saying that it was supposed to be a joke on people who proclaim that They Changed It, Now It Sucks!. The problem with that is that people didn't just criticize it for the retcon; they also didn't like that barring the conclusion, the situation and Skinner's angst are more or less completely Played for Drama, with very few jokes made on the whole topic and some incredibly maudlin music and dialogue. Then again, Keeler has also suggested that the message may have been garbled somewhere in development.


Video Example(s):


Dealing with Aliens

What to do if space aliens aren't impressed by our civilization.

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Main / ParodyRetcon

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