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Parodies and satires exist with the purpose of mocking something serious, it helps contribute to the overall critic of a situation. Most parodies and satires have carnivalesque themes, originally created by Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin the definition is that subverts and liberates any assumptions of dominant social hierarchy through humor and chaos. Julian Wolfrey’s describes carnivalesque, “not as a form of universal political response to conditions of political oppression and containment, but instead as an ongoing strategic interruption in social norms, in ideological containment, and in corporeal order and propriety”(Critical Keywords in Literacy and Cultural Theory, 2004, pg. 27, print). In the three films Some Like It Hot (1959), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and Blazing Saddles (1974) each of the directors and writers use either satire, parody, or dark comedy to address the societal issues of the time by putting their characters in carnivalesque situations.
The role of identity plays an important part in comedies, especially in films that involve cross-dressing. Many films and TV shows involve stories about men or women cross-dressing in an attempt to get out of certain situations. In the film Some Like It Hot the main protagonists Joe (played by Tony Curtis) and Jerry (played by Jack Lemmon) witness a murder by Spats the gangster, which has been dubbed the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Trying to run away from the gangster Joe and Jerry decide to run away to Florida disguising themselves as women in all female band, Joe decides to call himself Josephine while Jerry goes as the name Daphne. The cross dressing theme is mostly related to the characters having to hide from a danger. Joe and Jerry’s crossdressing adventure brings up the idea of a carnivalesque inversion of gender hierarchies, which allow socially taboo experiences and pleasures. This exposes an unsettling hegemonic heteronormative beliefs, doing this causes a rift and calls attention to cultural, social, or aesthetic dissonance. Joe the womanizing and self centered saxophonists instantly takes the role of Josephine very seriously in an effort to stay alive, this can be seen when boarding the train and he argues with Jerry about their crossdressing names. Jerry on the other hand seems like the woman in their relationship, he is always listening and following Joe’s dumb ideas like taking out his gold filling to bet on a horse race. When Jerry becomes Daphne he enthusiastically embraces the role for example the scene he goes out with Osgood Fielding III (played by Joe E. Brown), Daphne enjoys the free food and salsa dancing all night. This becomes something that Jerry has never had a romantic experience like this before. Returning from his night out Daphne tells Joe he has fallen in love with his money and that he wants to elope with Osgood, only to divorce him for the settlement. Joe explains to Daphne that this is impossible because he is a man and cannot consummate the marriage. These scenes create a level of transgression in that Billy Wilder tests boundaries of homosexual encounters between two of his characters by throwing them in situations with men that think the two are women. Joe and Jerry’s carnivalesque crossdressing is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the other films.
Racism and stereotyping has been a major element for comedy with stand-up comedians like Red Foxx and Richard Pryor using it in their bits. Their bits never explicitly to be racist instead to gain attention from white audiences of the issues in the nation about African Americans. In 1974 Mel Brook’s released Blazing Saddles which was a parody of the western genre, he wanted there to be no limits to the film using every gag in the book. The film focuses on Bart (played by Cleavon Little) an African-American railroad worker appointed to become a sheriff of Rock Ridge by the conniving State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (played by Harvey Korman) who only wants to demolish to town to build a path for a his railroad. Despite becoming the protector of Rock Ridge, Bart receives a lot of hate from the citizens he is trying to protect because of their ignorance of the fact that he is African-American, this can be seen when Bart enters Rock Ridge only to have guns pointed at him. After Andrew Bergman’s draft of the script was released originally titled Tex-X, Brooks wanted an African-American perspective of the script so he then sought out Richard Pryor to get involved. When Richard Pryor got ahold of the script he wanted to talk openly about race and not be held back by breaking known stereotypes. Not having boundaries gave Pryor the right to laugh at white people, and white people were laughing with him. The use of the n-word is very apparent in the film and mainly used towards the main character Bart, the people who used the word were hillbillies, simpletons, and morons. Brooks used the word so many times not for offense but “to show racial prejudice. And we didn’t show it from good people, but from bad people who didn’t know it any better.” Creating stupid people would later allow Bart to easily manipulate any situation and come out unscathed.
Rockridge consists of people as Waco the Kid (played by Gene Wilder) put it, “simple farmers…people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know…morons.” Giving everyone in the name Johnson in the town shows that their people have been inbreeding for years causing everyone to have the same last name and be a little slow. Bart on the other hand is smart, hilarious, and cunning, even putting all of Rock Ridge’s hate on the side to stop Mongo from ravaging the town. This shows that Bart being an African-American can still be the better man than the ignorant town folks of Rock Ridge. Even at the end of the film Bart unites the town folks with the African railroad workers to fend off Lamarr’s armies, under the term everyone must live together peacefully in the town. Finding a common enemy everyone unites to build the fake town to prepare for the final battle of the movie. This shows that despite their differences people can unite to battle an enemy that will do anything to bring each of their factions down. Unity is also apparent in Dr. Strangelove when the missiles were ordered under General Ripper’s consent, when president Merkin Muffley (played by Peter Sellers) has to call the Russians to persuade them that the United States didn’t intentionally shoot the nukes. The phone conversation gives off some laughs because the Russian prime minister is very drunk and unable to understand anything the president says, eventually saying that he will counter attack the U.S. with their death machine. This causes the president to end the assault as soon as possible in order to unite the world. People unite for the betterment of their own personal world like the people of Rock Ridge defended themselves from Hedley Lamarr and the U.S. having to agree with Russia for the betterment of the community.
The ideas of a dystopia becomes a reality in Dr. Strangelove throughout the movie with the impending U.S. force strike on Russian soil. Dr. Strangelove was based on the book Red Alert by Peter George, the book had a very serious tone which was later changed to a black comedy after a treatment by Stanley Kubrick, he changed the theme of the story because he during writing the script that, “in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.” (Macmillan International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers,Detroit : St. James Press, 1984-1994, Vol. 1, p.26, Print). The Dr. Strangelove scenes, which the film is takes the title from is the most absurd character, he portrays the fallen dreams of the Third Reich by constantly calling the president my fuhrer. Towards the end of the film when the end of the world is about to occur, Dr. Strangelove suggests a breeding camp for people in the bunker, which sounds like some type of bad dream. Strangelove even suggests of having designated class systems for their underground society to thrive. These ideas bring up the theme of nihilism, which is the rejection of every religious and moral principles, which is basically the belief that all life is pointless. General Ripper initiates the strike because he finds that the Russians should be stopped and our two nations can’t coexist, finding no meaning in his life he decides to destroy the world. Even the leaders of the War Room seem to have forgotten their humanity because once the bomb goes off there is no point in trying to have standards of living but simply survive, even acting like children when it comes down to the important business of stopping the bombs. On top of that the leaders of the U.S. have all been anxiety infested throughout film, eventually just putting all their worries behind and accepting the fact that they are in the midst of the end of days.
Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, and Some Like It Hot all share the universal theme of failure and not truly accepting their faults. They share this theme because of their postmodernist themes, post modernism as described by Carl Boggs often, “questions established social hierarchies and discourses while at the same time depicting a society in the midst of turmoil, chaos, fragmentation, and violence—a social order that gives rise to and sustains a popular mood of anxiety, cynicism, and powerlessness” (Carl Boggs, Postmodernism the Movie*, National University, New Political Science, Volume 23, Number 3, 2001, Journal). Joe and Jerry in Some Like It Hot are two very poor jazz musicians that have nothing going for them and are stuck in a gangster feud, this causes them to crossdress as a form to escape their money problems and Spats the gangster. In Blazing Saddles, Bart comes into being the sheriff of Rock Ridge with a lot of racial hate from the town’s people, only through the chaos of Hedley Lemarr’s henchmen do the town folks slightly accept Bart. The film Dr. Strangelove depicts the world on the edge of destruction and the world leaders give in to the destruction of the world because of loss communication with one of their bombers. Throughout the film we are see inside the cockpit of the bomber and inside there are all different religions and ethnicities coexisting before the end of the world. The commanding pilot Major T.J. “King Kong” (played by Slim Pickens) is the leader of the plane and he is the whitest and most protestant of the rest of the crew, also the most enthusiastic one of the crew to start World War III. Even at the end of the movie Major T.J. rides the nuke to its destination like a rodeo bull because of what he will be known as in U.S. history. Every single one of the films end in some form of failure or another. Some Like It Hot ends with Joe and Jerry running away from a syndicate of mobsters hunting them down instead of just a gang, without their instruments that they rely on for an income, and Sugar (played by Marilyn Monroe) and Joe’s relationship all revolved around a gigantic lie. In Dr. Strangelove the whole world is annihilated by the Russian death machine and mankind has completely obliterated ourselves off the face of the Earth. Blazing Saddles ends on a happier not but still fails to give an accurate conclusion to Bart by having him go “nowhere special”, which is pretty much the stereotype of most African-Americans which the time period is set in. We never get a satisfying ending from any of these movies which causes them make the viewer think about the overall societal messages contained in them.
These carnivalesque situations in the films allow the characters to find flaws in societal issues that ultimately get them nowhere in the film. The comedy of the films help the audience make fun of these issues with intent of understanding the overall critic of the subject matter. From the “Make Em’ Laugh” documentary “When at peace you turn your comedy internally and when at war you turn it outwards” this can be seen in Blazing Saddles which pokes fun mainly at white people and in Dr. Strangelove we poke fun at the Russians for their drinking and over masculine personalities. In the end these films make us laugh with the purpose of understanding the mood and social order that prevented prosperity.
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