According to the Internet, Miriam Elia has started a new ‘trend’ with We Go to the Gallery, her satirical Ladybird book about contemporary art. Here’s why everyone wants to parody her parody, and why everyone is raving about it to begin with…
A few weekends ago I went to a party in a private member’s club in Soho with a bunch of people I did not know. I like to think I can adapt to getting on with other humans, but the champagne and canapés and various faux-fur half-jackets that tickled my arm in the packed bar made me a bit bashful, a bit fish-out-of-water. (I’m more grotty-charm when it comes to drinking out). I was there with my girlfriend, whose sister-in-law was having a 40th birthday celebration, and for the first twenty minutes, while everyone caught up, I stood there like a spare part, pretending to be interested in the rugby playing on an iPad in the corner. It was pretty awkward… until we presented the birthday present.
I didn’t see the present being unwrapped, but I knew it had been from the LOLs nearby. There it was: a small, perfectly formed copy of Miriam Elia’s We Go to the Gallery.
There was a crowd gathered around it. And – perhaps unusual for a party activity – the crowd read it. From cover to cover. Everyone was laughing – a lot. Every page was hilarious. That’s when I knew the book would end up being big news.
For those who haven’t read about it yet, We Go to the Gallery is a satirical Ladybird Early Learning book, published by Elia’s own Dung Beetle Press. Mummy takes Susan and John to a gallery, wherein she teaches them about the ‘debilitating middle-class self-hatred in contemporary art.’ Alongside Elia’s paintings (modelled on a couple of kids she recruited from Yorkshire) are new words to learn: dead, vagina, guilty.
Search for it in Google or Twitter, and you’ll find a lot of people raving about it. You’ll find articles about the potential plagiarism law suit from Penguin that Elia was faced with when she published an artist’s edition of the book in 2014. You’ll find that soon after, the law was changed to allow for satire and parody and that as a result, people on the Internet are now quoting the book and posting images and generally enjoying the fact it exists. Really enjoying it. That’s because it’s basically the perfect parody; super smart, hilarious, and devoted to the original.
You don’t have to be an art-lover to appreciate it, or a parent, or a fan of Ladybird books (unless you are, then great! You will love it wildly). You just have to be a human in the modern world. It may be a satire of the art world, the parenting world, and lots of other things you’ll figure out when you read it, but it’s also a sort of universal mockery of times past, while also being a mockery of today.
Look at this Ladybird ‘Boys and Girls’ book from the 60s. Look at Peter jumping savagely on that trampoline, while Jane stands by the side looking worried, a bit frail. That’s what boys and girls did back then, right?
Now look at this page from We Go to the Gallery. HAHAHA.
It’s great. It’s really, really funny. So it’s no wonder Elia has started what The Guardian is now calling a ‘trend for spoofing’ the classic books.
Yesterday I started seeing it all over Facebook. Penguin has now started parodying Elia’s parody (would that be called a meta-parody?) by parodying their own Ladybird books. Some of their offerings look okay (The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness, or Of Dating) and some look not that okay (The Ladybird Book of The Hipster – groan, what a bore. ‘How it Works’ Husband, Wife – double groan: aren’t we over gendering and stereotyping everything yet?).
I’m sure the Penguin parody-parody-parodies will be snatched up over Christmas, because using the now-inappropriateness of the past to take the piss out of the present is effective. Done well, it makes people laugh while providing a useful social commentary. We Go to the Gallery does this ingeniously.
If this is going to become a ‘thing’ now, there’s no better place to start than with We go to the Gallery. And if it really is a new book trend, I hope people can come up with parodies as witty and intelligent. The kind that have a bunch of dapper folk in a private member’s club bent over laughing (the rest of the party was great, by the way, and our present is still proving victorious).
Let’s hope the parodies that will doubtless crop up over the coming months are as good as Elia’s. Let’s also hope this trend doesn’t end up like those vintage greeting cards that put ‘funny captions’ over old images. You know, the ones that you snort at for a micro-second but are actually just a bit rubbish.
Miriam Elia’s We Go to the Gallery is out now from Dung Beetle Press. I’d recommend you get hold of a copy if you haven’t already. Buy one for yourself or for a mate.
And if you have any feelings about the book and would like to share, the comments section of this blog post is a great place to do so. We would love to know what you think!