The parody sweet spot …

There is a point at which parody becomes sublime, when it is so well done, so accurately portrayed, that it is indistinguishable from the real thing. It is at this most sublime moment that parody transcends the notion of a “joke” to truly show us something fundamental about our beliefs and the contradictions inherent therein. Watchers of the web were treated to just such a sublime parody this past week with the website Marry Our Daughter (

Its initial appearance is that of an odd cross between fundamentalist Christian site, and a dating site. The apparent purpose is for parents of teenage girls to use the service to facilitate the “Biblical tradition of arranging marriages for their daughters” and a surfer is immediately presented with “ads” for a number of prospective “wives” to “propose to.” Delving deeper into the site, you can find testimonials from girls and their parents (none from happy or prospective husbands) and a Frequently Asked Questions section that seeks to answer such obvious queries as “Is your service legal?” and “What is a Bride Price?”

Its in these answers that we might first see the glimmer of the parody. In answer to the question about legality, the FAQ never directly answers. Rather, they discuss the marriage/age laws around the US, implicitly invoking the notion that a marriage in one state must be recognized in others. Likewise, in discussion of the Bride Price concept, the FAQ never really discusses it any great detail, either in practical, or moral terms. Instead, they use external links to a Wikipedia entry, and two “Biblical” websites to explain the concept. In these answers, they don’t explicitly endorse the ideas their website is based on in the way I would expect of “true believers” but up until that point, its VERY hard to see “hedging of bets.”

It looks as though the New York Times broke the hoax story through their blog as far as the “mainstream media” were concerned. John Ordover, the creator of Marry Our Daughter, confirmed the “hoax” for their story. “People get angry so fast they don’t stop to question whether its real,” he said, adding that the purpose of the parody was to draw attention to some rather archaic marriage laws in the US. “As far as I can tell, in every state but Oregon, parents can marry off their children.” Ordover used the Biblically supported notion of arranged marriages for a bride price to create a very effective way of showcasing those strange laws.

Parody works because it makes us compare something ridiculous to the real world, usually in a way that makes reality seem even more ridiculous. Stephen Colbert is a wonderfully effective parody precisely because he makes us compare to things we see every day, and thats what this site does so very well. By playing it completely straight-faced, with meticulous research, and inspired web design, they managed to make even the most jaded eye look twice, and ask questions. It fooled many, MANY people, and it made almost everyone who looked at it think long and hard about what it was. Thats precisely what parody is supposed to do … make us look at the real world in a wholly different way. Its not always supposed to be “funny” or “make use laugh” … its supposed to make us realize how stupid reality can be at times. I haven’t seen an example of parody that does it so well, so precisely, so sublimely, in a very long time. Hats off to Ordover and the designers … its a remarkable example of the form.


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