You know what caricature portraits are – cartoon versions that exaggerate certain distinguishing features of the subject in ways that are amusing, if not always flattering. Caricatures do not only exist as drawings.
When I was teaching, I observed that many of my veteran colleagues had become a joke version of themselves, with some of their mannerisms exaggerated. This was not done on purpose. It’s apparently something that just happens. I noticed colleagues who exaggerated their tough-guy approach to discipline, or a “students-are-my-buddies” attempt to deny aging, or flirtation with the same goal, or the “I’m still a jock” swagger. Then there’s the obsession with tardiness, or the “I’m too intellectual to be teaching high school” or “I never got out of high school” mannerisms.
The term “unintended self-parody” is not one I coined. It was, I believe, first applied to writers whose habitual style became so exaggerated that it turned into a joke. Think of e e cummings becoming too e e cummings, or lusty-busty historical romances with too much bodice-ripping, or rom-com movies that become a predictable joke, or of many Hallmark cards (though some I really admire). Think of some rock lyrics, or of political speeches, or the blurred very fast spoken warnings tacked onto the end of some television commercials. I have simply expanded the term to include people.
Lately I’ve noticed that this does not only apply to aging teachers, and as a matter of fact, the aged are not the only people who are demonstrating unintended self-parody. In fact, I first thought of this blog subject when I saw a group of wealthy and loudly chattering blond “Karens” outside a shop in Harbor Springs. They did not know they had become self-caricatures.
At this point I should mention people I know as examples, but for obvious reasons I decline to do so. Why not use them as examples? you ask, confident that you would not find yourself described. Well, the term includes “unintended,” which is very close to “unaware.”
I frequently see myself surrounded by caricatures, by cartoons. Some of the obvious examples are in our political dramas (sit-coms, if they weren’t so serious), and costumed young people, some salespeople, but also some aggressive customers, or non-athletic people wearing shirts of their favorite sport teams, and quite possibly some Canadians, but also in some of the folks we meet at our garage sale, other people we’ve known for a long time, even some family members. But no, not you. Just to make sure, you might want to check with your husband or wife . . ..
Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see a self-parody: That can’t really be how I look! Who changed all my mirrors to fun-house mirrors, exaggerating a few comical features, adding hair in unwanted places, making me slouch. And Kim saw her reflection in the mirror and said, “Who’s that old lady? She looks like Humpty Dumpty!”
Other unintended self-parodies:
· old guy struggling with his three tv remotes
· standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, staring at the full shelves
· driving 45 mph on the highway where the speed limit is 55
· telling the same five jokes, again, hoping the audience has changed
· wearing my Jeep sweatshirt while masquerading as the kind of off-road guy who needs a Jeep for rough terrain.
· standing in the kitchen with a confused look on my face
· my cartoon costume: baggy grampa pants, t-shirt with stretched-out collar, sweatshirt, slip-on shoes. This, despite Kim's efforts . . ..
It occurs to me, reading over what I have written, that it might also qualify as an Unintended Self-Parody.