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In order for a parody to work, a work of fiction needs to also take on many of the traits of its target. For example, a parody of action films will, inevitably, have to have some action sequences of its own. If it didn't, it wouldn't be so much of a parody as it would be a public mocking of the genre. A parody of Magical Girls would be required to have at least one Magical Girl character or else it would just be mocking the character type. Most of the best parodies actually stand not only as comedy, but also as the particular genre they are a creation of.

However, the line for what defines a parody can often get murky. Besides flat out labeling something as a parody (which is rarely a good sign due to the lack of subtlety involved), the criteria for what defines a parody changes from person to person. Some works of fiction straddle the line, unsure of whether it's a parody or just a quirky entry in the genre it's supposed to be a parody of. This can often lead to Misaimed Fandom when people take a parody dead seriously (or, perhaps due to the Weird Al Effect, are unaware that it even is a parody).

How this happens can vary widely. Perhaps it is just too affectionate of the genre it's a parody of. Perhaps it doesn't go far enough. Perhaps it's just too close to its target. Perhaps it was actually meant to be serious, but took on too many comedic traits. But often, this happens because the writer(s) just couldn't decide what they wanted to do. In any case, an Indecisive Parody is when something is confusing about its intent.

See Stealth Parody for when something very intentionally evokes this to try and get responses as such. And compare Indecisive Deconstruction.

Examples of Indecisive Parody include:


Anime & Manga


Films -- Animation


Films -- Live Action

  • Army of Darkness, as below.
  • Big Trouble in Little China can easily be seen as a straight action movie, rather than the parody it's intended to be, especially if one isn't familiar with the Wuxia tropes it mocks throughout. To be honest, it's not much more over-the-top than many straightforward action flicks.
  • Condorman is an extraordinarily campy Disney live-action spy flick, but it's so absurd and occasionally self-aware at times that it's hard not to see parody.
  • Enchanted has elements of both, thus this trope. While it mocks a lot of the tropes of fairy tales and shows how ridiculous they would be in real life, it also has a happy fairy-tale ending and suggests that life would be better if people did live more by fairy tale ideals of kindness and trust. The only way that a relationship between Giselle and Robert can work is for her to become less of a fairy-tale true-believer (and give up the perfect prince) and him to become more of one (allow himself to love someone again).
  • Feast , a survival horror film starts as an obvious parody of such films, wherein the characters are simply named after their archetypes. However, despite the occasional sex joke, it creates some truly frightening monsters and horrific death scenes. By the end of the movie, no-one's laughing.
  • Friday the 13 th Part VI: Jason Lives was part self-parody, part serious slasher.
  • The Get Smart remake movie was criticised by some reviewers for attempting to both parody spy action movies whilst at the same time attempting to be a straight spy action movie. The original was like this as well, though not quite as blatant about it.
    • That happens to most spy movies aimed at children and teenagers. Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks, Stormbreaker, Los Superagentes and even Cats and Dogs suffered from it.
  • The Golden Child can't seem to decide if it's an Affectionate Parody of The Chosen One or a straight use -- and incidentally also stars Daniel Wong as a Trickster Mentor.
    • Interesting case, the movie originally was going to be a straight action movie staring Mel Gibson, then the part was recast as Eddie Murphy so they took out a lot of the dialogue and just let Murphy improvise stuff.
  • Seth Rogen's version of The Green Hornet seems a parody of the comic book heroes that the Green Hornet actually predates. However, parodies by their very purpose exaggerate the outlandish elements of the target. To take the Batman, one finds it outlandish that a man would dress up as a bat and even more outlandish that he would drive around in a huge car with wings on it that would look screamingly outlandish traveling to and from a crime scene. Now look at the Green Hornet who wears a rain coat with a hat (just as numerous undercover law enforcement officials do), and drives around in an ordinary looking Imperial Chrysler. Kind of odd for a parody to jettison the ridiculous elements of its source, making this an indecisive parody.
  • Gremlins The first film didn't seem to know if it was supposed to be a parody of monster films or just a particularly weird monster film itself. While it had the highly goofy scenes with the gremlins themselves, it otherwise portrayed them as a very real threat. Action sequences were a bit hard to pin down. For example, is the violent kitchen fight supposed to be just a simple horror action sequence or a parody of it? The sequel was a more clear cut case of being a spoof.
  • House of the Wolfman can't seem to decide whether if it wants to be a spoof of old Monster Mash films or a Retraux horror film.
  • Kick-Ass is somewhere between this, Affectionate Parody, Deconstructive Parody, and Indecisive Deconstruction. Put another way, it starts off as a deconstruction of superhero tropes and plays them straighter as it progresses.
  • Lake Placid took a lot of heat from critics who didn't realize it was supposed to be funny. As though a Cluster F-Bomb from Betty White could be anything else.
  • Last Action Hero tried to split the difference between Lampshade Hanging mockery of action movie cliches and Affectionate Parody of them, and suffered for it.
  • Lesbian Vampire Killers At times seems to be parodying the ridiculous oversexualisation of female vampires and vampire clichés, it also has long scenes of gratuitous nudity and a massive phallic sword MacGuffin.
  • Mystery Men cannot decide whether it is a ruthless Deconstruction of the Superhero genre, or an Affectionate Parody. At first, the "heroes" are made to look like some deluded loons in a world without superpowers... until an old mentor and a new member with actual superpowers appear, and then the bunch of losers finally save the day against all odds.
  • Never Say Never Again The "unofficial" James Bond film can't quite seem to decide if it's a harsh satire of the Eon series or if it's a regular James Bond film. Plainly satirical scenes (such as Bond's discussion with M at the beginning) are side by side with normal Bond-style scenes.
  • Pineapple Express starts out as mushing a stoner movie into an action movie, showing how poorly this type of thing would go in real life. But then Seth Rogen takes an offscreen level in badass, and is jumping ontop of people and shooting everything.
  • The Princess Bride is this trope done more or less to artistic perfection.
    • More obviously a parody in the book (if only because of Goldman's "analyses" of "S. Morgenstern's" work. See the whole idea is Goldman is pretending it's someone else's... it's a weird setup). Would you believe it ends with a Bolivian Army Ending?
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is never really sure whether or not it's serious.
  • Scream was marketed as a Deconstruction of the Slasher genre, but for all it did to point out as many traits as it could, it just ended up being a straight entry of the genre with genre savvy characters that still fall into all the same traps.
  • Shoot Em Up is arguably at least partly a metahumor-touched Affectionate Parody of the more over-the-top entries in the genre from which it takes its name (for goodness sake, the eagle-eyed hero's even a carrot-chomper!), and thus includes ridiculously over-the-top gunplay action and ridiculously over-the-top scenes involving sex and/or nudity on top of that. It's pretty entertaining... if you noticed the parody elements for what they were, which a hell of a lot of people (including a good two-thirds of the people this troper went to see the film with) apparently didn't, thus leading quite quickly to the film being dismissed as "another dumb, pointless action movie with unrealistic plot and characters" instead of being recognized as the fourth-wall-flirting action-comedy it really is at heart.
    • The fact that Paul Giamatti is in an action movie at all should have been something of a clue.
    • There's a scene were he shoots up an entire room full of bad guys WHILE having sex, and another were he shoots out the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. People took this movie seriously?
  • Showtime, a 2002 Eddie Murphy/Robert De Niro flop begins as a clever parody of buddy cop movies, then rapidly degrades into a straight action film with dismal results.
  • Spice World can't seem to decide if it's a self-spoof, a harsh satire of the Spice Girls themselves, or just a vapid ripoff of A Hard Day's Night.
  • Starship Troopers: Your enjoyment of the film version may depend on whether you think it's a parody. The movie started simply as a movie about a war with alien bugs until someone pointed out vague similarities with the book, and meddlesome executives insisted they buy the rights to the name to avoid a lawsuit. The director claimed that he found the book too slow and depressing to get through, so he decided to make the whole thing a Stealth Parody of fascist propaganda, which he felt the book was leaning towards.
  • This Is Spinal Tap A lot of people didn't understand that the "Rockumentary" film was a parody of the burgeoning heavy metal scene of the time. People thought it was a documentary of a real band. Much of this was probably because of how much Truth in Television it had (Eddie Van Halen is quoted as not finding it funny because "everything in that movie had happened to me"... Which just goes to show how serious Eddie Van Halen takes himself).
  • True Lies: Either a 90's action comedy, or a parody thereof.
  • Van Helsing couldn't decide if it was an Affectionate Parody of old fashioned horror movies, a straight parody, or a Massive Multiplayer Crossover of the genre. Although it might be considered "pulp" like The Mummy Trilogy.
    • Interestingly, whether or not a person likes Van Helsing seems to be determined a great deal by whether they thought it was a parody or not.


Literature


Live Action TV

  • Desperate Housewives When it premiered, it straddled the line between parody & nighttime soap before landing on the side of soap (albeit with a good dose of comedy).
  • Glee seems to be sliding in here. Is it a quirky teen drama with dark comedy elements and Crowning Music of Awesome? Or is it a dark comedy parodying teen dramas with intentional Soundtrack Dissonance? Nobody seems to really know. Indeed, one of the main criticisms of the is that it both wants to be a goofy hyper-skewed version of high school, while at the same time wanting to "really speak to the kids" and seriously "be a voice to the voiceless", something that smacks of having one's cake and eating it too.
  • Power Rangers RPM In a definite case of Tropes Are Not Bad, it manages to be one of the most depressing parodies of Power Rangers ever. The show constantly varies between lampshading PR tropes ("Sometimes when I morph, a giant fireball appears behind me for no apparent reason..."), and dark storylines (Dr. K's past). Of course, for some, Your Mileage May Vary.
  • The 7pm Project Part of the reason it's struggling in the ratings is because of this. Is the show a news satire, a news parody which looks at amusing stories, or an ordinary news show that happens to be hosted by comedians?
  • She Spies Nobody seemed to get that it was an action-comedy series bordering on parody, mainly because to the untrained eye, it looked like just another trashy syndicated action show. Which is probably why it got retooled into a straight action show for its second (and last) season.
  • The Muppet Show always walked the line between being a full-blown parody of Variety Shows and a unique example of one itself.


Music


Radio


Myths & Religion

  • Religious(?) example: The Church of the SubGenius. One Church text openly taunts the reader with this: "A joke disguised as a religion? Or an actual, secretive religion, disguised as a joke disguised as a religion? Or an incredibly complex joke, disguised as an extremely ambiguous religion, disguised as a joke disguised as a religion?"
  • Discordianism. In this case it's largely the point.
  • At least one of the above has been described such that "If you don't see the joke, you've missed the point. But if you think it's nothing at all except a joke... you've also missed the point."


Tabletop Games

  • The creators of FATAL have variously claimed it to be a work of "historically and mythically accurate scholarship" and "controversial humour".


Theater

  • Arguably, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Particularly the scenes with the Mechanicals, who are performing a self parody of Romeo and Juliet, it's possible those characters are parodies of some of the Lord Chamberlain's Men
  • The Broadway version of Tanz der Vampire, retitled Dance of the Vampires. Tanz is a serious rock musical, albeit not without humor. Dance tried to make the show into a straight-up musical comedy, since the producer thought this would go over better with an American audience. Unfortunately, due to an incredibly dysfunctional creative process, many of the songs didn't fit in with the new approach, so the show wound up swinging between Camp and seriousness, leaving no one satisfied. To quote the Variety review: "It's not an outright comedy [...] but as a serious musical -- well, it's pretty damn funny."
  • The play Done to Death is an Affectionate Parody of the Mystery Fiction genre. However it combines drastically different styles and the first scene of Act 1 is extremely different from the rest of the show.


Video Games

  • High Voltage Software claimed that Conduit 2 is supposed to be "tongue-in-cheek". Some portions the game are clearly taking the piss (half of Ford's dialogue, for instance), but other parts of the game are done completely seriously (like the conspiracy objects), and still others are ambiguous (the ending).
  • It's not always immediately clear whether Trenched is supposed to be Rated "M" for Manly or Testosterone Poisoning. Some aspects seem to be firmly mocking over-the-top manliness, while others seem to be playing it straight. The Word of God isn't very helpful either -- when citing over-the-top men's magazines like Man's Life as a source, they both refer to how warped their values are, and how awesome they were.


Web Original


Western Animation

  • The Total Drama Island series started out as an animated parody of reality shows. The focus on shipping and other such plot tumors have essentially made it a totally pre-scripted (read: slightly more scripted than usual) reality show that happens to be animated.
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