Gratuitous self-promotion alert!!!!!
Last month, I released ALWAYS YOU, bringing a close to THE JANE AUSTEN ACADEMY, my contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s novels which imagines each of her heroines as teenagers at an exclusive boarding school. ALWAYS YOU is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon, with other retailers coming online in July. Want to win a copy? Comment below (any comment!) or subscribe to my newsletter. Entries accepted through Sunday, March 8th midnight PST.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
The Jane Austen Academy series is set at a fictitious boarding school called…drumroll….The Jane Austen Academy. Each of the six friends is named after the lead heroine of a Jane Austen novel. Their romantic entanglements resemble the major plot arc of a Jane Austen novel. The characters themselves even read Jane Austen, as it is part of the mandatory curriculum, as would be expected at The Jane Austen Academy.
Yet, at no point in the series does Lizzie Bennet (or anyone) say, “Hey…isn’t it weird that the six of us are best friends and we each share a name with one of Jane Austen’s heroines and we all go to a school named after her? Like, isn’t that the trippiest?????”
Nope. I decided to forgo being meta. I ran through every possible way I could conceive of for the characters to acknowledge the wink to the audience, and none of them felt satisfying – or anything worthy of what I suppose Jane herself could have conjured up if given the task.
I’m a fan of meta jokes, and while I wasn’t clever enough to think of one of my own, I thought I’d share my favorite examples of pop culture winks to the audience.
First, a definition: what does it mean to be meta?
Being meta is largely a reference to being self-referential or referential to another piece of parallel pop culture.
Second, why be meta?
Being meta is often comedy and commentary at the same time. It relies on the audience being aware of the source material and willing to allow you to comment on it, and since the mere act of commenting on pre-existing pop culture can be perceived as satirical, if you’re going to do it, you better have something worth saying. Which I did not…beyond how much I love Jane Austen (a worthy message but still pretty self-serving.)
Third, what kind of meta jokes are there?
Meta references range from clever to insulting to just plain fun, and here are some of my favorite examples.
Scream (honorable mention: Cabin in the Woods)
The 1996 horror film opened with Drew Barrymore being taunted by a killer while making fun of movies in which busty blondes are taunted by killers. While Whedon’s recent horror/comedy film, Cabin in the Woods, tries to explain why such tropes exist, nearly a decade ago Scream was the first horror film to tell the audience it understands its genre and intends to surprise us anyway. The question is whether the upcoming summer TV series based on the movie will be just as clever with nearly a decade passing since its original source material. Careful, the video below is pretty gruesome!
The hit TV series Supernatural is going to be at least ten seasons strong due in no small part to its rabid fan base, which goes so far as to sell out show conventions and create strong online communities with endless pages of fan fiction. The writers of the show gave a nod to the fans when the two brothers discover the fictional world they inhabit also has fans with the same zealous admiration of them as in real life. A recent 200th episode of the show was even titled Fan Fiction…and I’d show it to you but you should really watch the entire series yourself!!
Hot Tub Time Machine
This 2010 comedy shows you don’t have to be clever and self-referential to be meta – simple works, too. Perhaps recognizing the conceit of this show – that a hot tub has time travel properties – is too absurd not to mention, a character at one point in the movie breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it.
The list above is by no means exhaustive. Even as I write this I keep thinking of how Glee’s earlier seasons had characters voice its fans’ complaints within the context of the show, how in Ocean’s 12 the character played by Julia Roberts is involved in a gag where she impersonates Julia Roberts, and pretty much every episode of Community, which is so clever and meta I’m sure I don’t get half of it.
I’d love to hear from you about your favorite meta pop culture bits, and if anyone has a meta Jane Austen book, I’m game to read it!!