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Putting the spoof before the horse

A copy of Strange Interlude just passed over the counter here, and as always, whenever that play (or indeed any of Eugene O’Neill’s plays) comes to mind, I think of Groucho Marx pointing with his cigar, waggling his eyebrows, and saying Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.

It got me thinking about how often I become familiar with a spoof or parody or even a reference to a thing before I encounter the thing itself, and how that colors my experience of the thing. I mean, I saw Young Frankenstein before I saw Frankenstein; I learned a bunch of opera motifs through Gilligan’s Island. I think I probably saw Prufrock before I read the one that starts “Let us go then, me and you/when the evening has dropped like an old shoe/the first of what must inevitably be two”, but I honestly don’t remember. I saw Murder by Death before watching any of the Charlie Chan movies, and I think before watching any of the Nick and Nora movies, although I had seen (and I think read) both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Can’t remember whether I had seen The Maltese Falcon, by then. I definitely saw The Maltese Falcon before watching The Cheap Detective, but I hadn’t seen To Have and Have Not or The Big Sleep, or even Casablanca.

I don’t think my enjoyment of Casablanca or Frankenstein was ruined by that experience. I’m not sure about the Charlie Chan movies; there is so much that makes those a truly guilty pleasure that Peter Sellers being screamed at by the moose head on the wall is probably small potatoes. And if there are a few songs that have been ruined for me by a filk or parody, well, they are just songs, anyway. So maybe it’s just Eugene O’Neill. I was thinking there were more, but now I come to write the note, I can’t think of any.

Are there movies or books or plays that were ruined for you by exposure to the parody first? Tarzan? Michael Jackson? How Doth the Little Busy Bee?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Hmm. I didn't really enjoy Citizen Kane all that much, but that was probably less about parodies and more about references, homages, etc.

There are some things (Finnigan's Wake, say, or Proust) that I've never gotten around to reading, in part because the parodies and references make me feel like I have enough of an idea of what they're all about to get by.

But yeah, mostly not.

On the other hand, I first saw Casablanca in a double bill with Play It Again, Sam, and I was certainly glad that Casablanca was first.

I learned this verse as a little kid:

A boy stood on the burning deck
eating peanuts by the peck,
His father called him, he would not go,
because he loved his peanuts so.

Which my mother, having grown up with the original, found hy-sterical, but I didn't really get it until I finally read that piece of melodramatic schmaltz called Casabianca. I did have trouble not thinking of roasted peanuts, when I finally found the original...

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