What happens when popular parodies stop being parodies? Do parodies more popular than their subject cease to be funny, or are they just funny in a different way? If you didn't know about the movie Downfall, for example, would all of those Downfall Hitler memes still be funny?
It's a tricky question. It doesn't happen very often, but there are a few examples of this weird phenomenon. Most parodies "punch up," so-to-speak, poking fun at politicians, films, songs, companies, and so on, that a lot of people are familiar with. Long after everyone has forgotten, for example, a Saturday Night Live sketch mocking a presidential candidate, that candidate is remembered by the public for their life and deeds beyond the sketch.
But sometimes, the parody becomes way more popular than the source material, creating a new, rare class of parody: "Things You Didn't Realize Were Parodies." Do these parodies suffer for being so anchorless? Is David Bowie's "Magic Dance" a weaker, less-clever song? Is the Energizer Bunny any less iconic? Let's explore some examples of parodies that occupy this odd space in popular culture.
Child's Play director Tom Holland says the 1988 film's homicidal Chucky character is largely inspired by My Buddy, a then-popular doll first manufactured by Hasbro in 1985. While Chucky became a pop-culture icon with five Child's Play sequels and counting, the My Buddy doll was discontinued in the 1990s and is now virtually forgotten, outside of conversations about Chucky. If you do remember My Buddy, it's probably because of the earworm of a jingle used in the ubiquitous commercial spot.see more on Chucky
Casual gamers may be unaware, but Dan Hibiki from Capcom's Street Fighter series is actually a parody of three characters from rival SNK's knock-off Art of Fighting. Capcom took Ryo's outfit, Dan's face and ponytail, and Yuri's personality and color scheme and created Dan, one of the silliest, weakest and pinkest characters in the Street Fighter series. Unlike Ryu and Ken's famous screen-crossing Hadouken fireballs, for example, Dan's Gadouken fireball basically dissipates before it leaves his hand. Dan is also hopelessly vain: one of his special moves in Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter is to chuck signed photographs at his opponents, causing minimal damage.see more on Dan Hibiki
The call-and-response playfulness in David Bowie's "Magic Dance" from Labyrinth ("You remind me of the babe/What babe?" etc.) is actually a parody of a scene in a 1947 Cary Grant film called The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer featuring an 18-year-old Shirley Temple. It isn't just a random reference: the film involves a teenager's crush on a much older man, so the lyrics nod at the Goblin King's assumption about the 15-year-old Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly). It isn't a coincidence, either: the lines are almost identical, except for Bowie swapping "man" with "babe" and "hoodoo" with "voodoo."see more on Labyrinth
The Energizer Bunny became an unlikely pop-culture icon in the 1990s, completely overshadowing the rival Duracell Bunny, which the perpetually drumming Energizer mascot was invented to parody. Popular commercials featuring the intrusive Energizer Bunny first appeared in 1989, parodying Duracell as well as a string of fake products. In 1992, the two companies drew up a peace treaty, agreeing to keep the Energizer Bunny in the U.S. and the Duracell Bunny in Europe, making Duracell's character even more obscure in the states. American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, for example, once admitted in an interview he accidentally put the line "march down the street like the Duracell Bunny" in his 1997 song "Rose Parade," mixing up the brands, seemingly unaware that the Duracell Bunny did, in fact, exist.see more on Energizer Bunny