October 19, 2005

My big fat Greek snowclone

Following on my fretting about the Eye Guy figure -- snowclone, playful allusion, or what? -- I've been offered a couple more variants of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, plus a note from Jay Cummings pointing out a pun in the title: the straight guy is in fact the "straight man" for the comedy in the show.  And then I returned to a message from Ken Callicott (back on 12 October), who started by wondering why some expressions lend themselves to so much variation while others seem not to, and then discovered that the stuff in the second group got messed with too.  And noted that the Wikipedia list of catch phrases was a goldmine of snowclones, which made him wonder about "a (veritable) goldmine of X".  Oi.

From Marc Ettlinger and Wendell Kimper, independently, a spin-off show Straight Plan for the Gay Man (like QESG, but with a reversed premise).  I think I was briefly aware of this short-lived show, but averted my eyes from its obvious awfulness and then wiped it from my memory.  And from "acw", a wonderful Eye Guy riff, "black eye for the white guy", suggesting that "some cool black dudes are going to give hopeless white geeks some fashion advice" -- but, ouch, wait, it sounds like the white guy's going to get a black eye!

On to Callicott, who distinguished formulas like

I'm not X, but I play one on TV.
I'm shocked, shocked to X.
Holy X, Batman!

(which he thought were easily generalized from their originals) from expressions like

The devil made me do it!
Show me the money!
Play it again, Sam!

(which he thought resisted substitution of novel words).  Call these group A and group B.

But then he (and I) started googling.  The things in group B turn out to have lots and lots of variants:

Made Me:  X made me do it, where X = my antidepressant, my genes, the VC, Satan, God, the dark side of The Force, video games,...

Show Me:  Show me the X, where X = monkey(s), science, numbers, gold, poetry, value, jobs,...

Play It Again:  Play it again, X, where X = Mick, Bud, Pete, Pac-Man, RIAA, Gus, (MC) Shan, Maurice, Sledge,...

It Again Sam:  X it again, Sam, where X = wear, repair, replay, pay, read, say, use, sell, pitch, tax, write, parse, knit,...

Callicott also googled up these marvels:

Harvard, we have a problem.
Frankly, my dear, I don't give a spam.
"Frasier" has left the building.
Gag me with a Grammy.
It's people!  The internet is made of people!

Then, on my own, I looked for variants of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Vast numbers.  For "my" you can get pretty much any determiner: any possessive, "a". "the", "no", "this".  And "big" can be, um, expanded to "great big".  But the real action is in substitutions for "Greek" and "wedding":

big fat X wedding, where X = gay, lesbian, dyke, queer, Jewish, Italian, Irish, New York, California, Florida, Texas, family, church,...

big fat Greek Y, where Y = Buckeyes [Ohio State fraternity/sorority members], supper, omelet, sandwich, stuffed peppers, feast, diet, restaurant, cafe, shop, place, island, retreat, vacation, festival, party, adventure, architecture, quiz, Emmy, employee benefit, Olympic dream, life,...

big fat XY, where XY = independent movie, American summer, lousy screencast, queer life, physics project, class action, geek plate, Italian Thanksgiving,...

(Of course, I excluded examples where "big fat" could easily be taken literally.)  It looks like this one has developed into a Big Fat snowclone.

Callicott concluded there was no real difference between groups A and B, but I'm not so sure.  I think that what we should conclude is that almost any model can be playfully varied, but that some have turned into relatively fixed prefab figures, with open slots: Play One, and probably Big Fat.  And I suspect that Shocked Shocked and Holy Batman are still in group B, with the other playful allusions, though maybe if they practice hard they can make it to the majors.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at October 19, 2005 06:55 PM