If you want to spoof or lampoon something, you have to understand it perfectly. Understanding it perfectly also comes with the ability to make such a stunning homage to it that often the two intertwine.

Star Trek, as a franchise, has a lot of movies. The best Star Trek movie is a movie called Galaxy Quest, which isn’t a Star Trek movie. It’s a parody of Star Trek movies, but it’s done with such incredible conviction, respect, and heart that it absolutely became a pure example of the genre.

Within a given genre, creators need to constantly reinvent. They need, specifically, to vary their entries; to depart from the norm. They have to do that to stay relevant, or else their works become lost as “just another” example of the same old thing. But those deviations don’t always hit, and each one dilutes the pool of what that genre represents.

Then you get the satirist. The person who is lampooning an entire genre all at once. When Weird Al Yankovic parodies an entire group or even musical genre instead of just one specific song, the result is almost always the best example in the category. Terry Pratchett wrote better fantasy epics than virtually every fantasy author.

Because in order to parody an entire category of something, you not only need to understand what makes that category what it is to begin with, but you also have to strike directly at the heart. You can’t parody the outer edges; you have to go for the core experience. And on top of all that, you have to be charming – mean parodies are just bullying. Charming works that blend parody and homage thus become some of the absolute best examples.

All this is to say – if you really want to understand something, go look at why the parodies of that thing work. Galaxy Quest is a great movie even if you’ve never seen Star Trek, but it’s wonderful if you’re a Trekkie. And if you can see why, you can appreciate Star Trek even more than before.

Not every genre of every creative endeavor has its own Galaxy Quest. But even if it doesn’t, you can follow the patterns. Look for the pure, the things so iconic that you can lampoon them easily. Follow comedy. It helps you understand, and appreciate.

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