I. What is Pastiche?
Pastiche (pronounced pass-TEESH) is a creative work that imitates another author or genre. It’s a way of paying respect, or honor, to great works of the past. Pastiche differs from parody in that pastiche isn’t making fun of the works it imitates – however, the tone of pastiche is often humorous.
II. Examples of Pastiche
The TV show 30 Rock is about a television studio, so there are plenty of opportunities for pastiche. In various episodes, the show mimics classic shows like The Brady Bunch or Seinfeld and major television events like the Olympics. From the tone of the show, it’s clear that these imitations come from a place of irreverent love, so they fall into the category of pastiche rather than parody.
Pastiche is extremely common in music, as musicians must constantly try out new styles in order to keep their sound from getting stale. A few examples include Queen’s “Thing Called Love” (a pastiche of Elvis Presley), and the song “Eternal Rains” by Opeth (in which the death metal band imitates a prog rock sound from the 1970s). Hip-hop frequently employs a broad pastiche of jazz, blues, and R&B sounds.
Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films are a simultaneous pastiche of two genres: westerns and kung fu movies. In these films, the camera techniques and dialogue are highly reminiscent of these two classic genres, and the creativity of the movie comes from mixing the disparate genres together.
III. The Importance of Pastiche
The main purpose of using pastiche is to celebrate great works of the past, or genres that a given show, movie, or story does not actually belong to. When the creator and the audience share a love for this other work, they can celebrate it together through a pastiche.
A secondary purpose of pastiche can be to create variety. In a show like The Simpsons, which has been on the air for decades, the writers and animators frequently use pastiche to shake up the look and feel of the show. Constantly incorporating new elements helps the creators stay innovative and prevents them from getting stuck in a rut.
Pastiche is also extremely important for any artist just starting out – not only in writing and film, but also in music, painting, photography, dance, web design, or any other creative pursuit. In order to build your skills and learn what makes each genre “tick,” you need to try it out for yourself. This is a key process in learning to do anything creative, and is also a great way to figure out what genres come most easily and naturally to you.
IV. Examples of Pastiche in Literature
Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” is a pastiche of “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. By employing Whitman’s poetic form, Ginsburg hoped to speak to his generation in the same way Whitman did to his. Moreover, since “Song of Myself” is widely considered one of the greatest works of American poetry, Ginsburg’s pastiche was a way of inserting himself into the great national artistic tradition.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a pastiche of Victorian literature that also employs some fantasy elements – it’s set on the high seas in the early 19th century, and much of its language sounds similar to the novelists of that era. But it also brings wizards and magical creatures into that world, giving it a unique literary flavor.
V. Examples of Pastiche in Pop Culture
The film Pacific Rim is a pastiche of the kaiju (giant monster) and mecha (giant robot) genres in cinema. It has moments of gently parodying those genres, but mostly it’s an homage to those great films.
Much of Amy Winehouse’s music is a pastiche of classic soul and R&B. The instruments, rhythms, and the sound of her voice all sound highly reminiscent of music from the 1950s and 60s – even her hair was modeled on the styles that were popular in that generation.
Pastiche is used constantly in animated television shows like South Park and The Simpsons. For example, there is an episode of South Park that is animated almost entirely in the style of the classic Scooby-Doo cartoons, and another that uses an anime style. The plotlines of these episodes also mimic the same genres.
VI. Related Terms
As we’ve seen, parody is a variation on pastiche. In a parody, all the elements of pastiche are there, but there’s also a mocking tone. Standup comedians, for example, frequently do impersonations of celebrities or major political figures, and it isn’t about paying homage – it’s about making fun! Similarly, movies like Meet the Spartans and Vampires Suck are parodies of 300 and Twilight, respectively. Spoof and send-up are synonyms for parody.
Pastiche isn’t just stealing. The author of pastiche always expects that the audience will know the works being imitated and appreciate that they’re seeing an imitation. A creative work that hides its imitative aspects begins to look more like plagiarism. That’s why it’s important always to imitate the conventions of another genre or creator, not specific aspects of another author’s work. For example, in a parody of Clint Eastwood’s movies, it would be pastiche to imitate the way his characters speak, but it would be plagiarism to take their actual lines.
Fan fiction is a little like pastiche – it’s taking the stories, characters, or fictional worlds created by another author and somehow adding to them. For example, fan fiction might focus on the lives of characters who play only minor roles in the original work. Or it might continue the events in a film starting where the movie left off. However, fan fiction is only pastiche if it uses those characters or settings to make its own artistic statement.