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(Edit: title frames the question better thanks to @TheRubberDuck)

This has been bugging me for a while; enough to join this wonderful community - thanks for any help you can offer! Keep in mind English/Literature isn't my field, so apologies in advance if I'm misusing certain words (and feel free to correct).

Every now and again, I find a work that depicts a fictionalized version of a real-world series with adjustments that feel thematically similar to a parody, yet fundamentally does so to show a world where the system works better. That is, the work comments on the real world through a mix of imitation and allegory, but almost to show how 'better' people would handle the world. Consider West Wing, which depicted the country being led by quantifiably brilliant people whose primary motivation comes from a genuine sense of altruism. The show, on occasion, does parody a real-world character that the creator dislikes, but the primary focus of the show is almost something of a wish-fulfilment or aspirational outlook for what the real world could be.

I'm not sure this is necessarily something akin to a dystopian/utopian fiction genre per se, whose works tend to be more speculative, and whose goal feels more prospective than reflective.

This response started to get at it, but the question itself, as well as the responses, more are getting towards a dramatic parody or humorless lampooning, which isn't quite what I'm asking.

Even if technically accurate, I think the word parody just about always implies a derogatory or mocking tone in the mind of the reader.

I really don't think satire is a good fit, as I understand its primary purpose to be to mock or ridicule another work.

I don't believe homage would be a good fit, as the goal of the work isn't to imply that the real-world equivalent is worthy of praise.

In other words, the given antonyms for parody and satire tend to be words like "frankness, solemnity, or flattery/praise" - which again isn't the necessarily the goal of this unique niche of literature and media.

I spent a decent amount of time trying to clarify this question here, but please don't hesitate to ask any clarifying questions - again, really appreciate your insights!

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    Try Pastiche, "an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period."
    – Steve
    Jun 6, 2022 at 22:33
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    Weird Al Yankovic, arguably the most well known parodist in modern times (at least in music), would not generally be described as mocking or ridiculing the works he parodies. I mean, sometimes he is (e.g. "Achy Breaky Song", "Six Words Long", "Smells Like Nirvana", etc.) but usually it's just telling jokes by changing the lyrics on some other song, which he usually does with the original artist's blessing. Almost closer to being an homage or tribute. Jun 7, 2022 at 18:02
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    Aspirational Parody - you invented a genre!
    – user121330
    Jun 7, 2022 at 22:07
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    The title says "to reflect positively on the original context", but then you say "the goal of the work isn't to imply that the real-world equivalent is worthy of praise". These seem at odds to me. Would something like "to show an idealized or improved version of the original context" be accurate for the title? Jun 8, 2022 at 15:44
  • Just wanted to say thank you to @TheRubberDuck - you are totally right, I just didn't have the words for it.
    – Wojtek
    Jun 9, 2022 at 0:05

3 Answers 3

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I would argue that a parody is not always a negative imitation of something, nor is it always intended to mock. What it is is something that imitates another thing in order to comment on it. For example The Wind Done Gone is a novel that retells the story of Gone With the Wind from the PoV of the enslaved characters. By doing so, it comments on the original, as well as making some new points of its own. That is a true parody, IMO.

In any case, one does not usually speak of parodying real events. When one attempts to closely imitate the style of another work, usually with a positive intention, although not always, that may be called a "pastiche". But one does not normally pastiche real events, either.

One might speak of "fictionalizing" real events, or of "idealizing" a real situation. One might say, for example, that The West Wing was an idealized version of the Presidency.

I have also herd people use the phrase "X done right". For example The Commonwealth in Charles Stross's "Deep State" series has been called "The Soviet Union done right". This means to take the basic concept of X (whatever X might be) and write about it being implemented in a different way, so that the mistakes which happened in the real world are prevented or countered. one might speak of The West Wing as "The Presidency done right".

Would either of those phrases fit the meaning you intend to convey?

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    This is all so great, thanks! I don't think Pastiche gets entirely at what I'm stating, but it is significantly closer than an homage. I think "X done right" is exactly what I was looking for, something shat shows an idealized version of something, and in doing so, lends it self readily to critiquing the other system (work, etc.), through juxtaposition. I just wish that it inferred the intent of the author more: "West Wing is the presidency done right" sounds less like a statement as to the author's goal, and more like I am stating my personal approval of the fictional characters.
    – Wojtek
    Jun 7, 2022 at 1:09
  • @DLosc Yes, thank you. I have made the correction. Jun 7, 2022 at 15:27
  • All the definitions I can find of "parody" say that it's done for humorous effect. I haven't read The Wind Done Gone, but I suspect it's too serious for this to apply. "Satire" may be closer.
    – Barmar
    Jun 7, 2022 at 16:04
  • @Barmar See britannica.com/art/parody-literature Also, the meaning of "parody in copyright law cases is clear, adn is in no way l;imited to comic use. See also literaryterms.net/parody which says " parody is a work that’s created by imitating an existing original work in order to make fun of or comment on an aspect of the original." Jun 7, 2022 at 16:11
  • I'm not sure that the copyright usage is very relevant, but I'll accept your second reference. But I did check 3 different online dictionaries before I commented: Lexico, M-W, and dictionary.com.
    – Barmar
    Jun 7, 2022 at 16:23
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I think you were right with Utopian. The real world political problems that would come with much of the West Wing stories was just left out, or glossed over.

We've had charismatic leaders that could fit the profile of the West Wing President, like Obama, but faced with a Mitch McConnell that cannot be shamed, or primaried or politically defeated and was unfailingly ruthless, the charismatic leader is powerless.

On the West Wing, they always seem to find a way to get the ball across the goal line. In Real Life that just isn't true in the White House; too often a strong Senate can stop the President cold.

I think the kinds of stories you are talking about are Utopian morality tales, or as you also said, Wish Fulfillment stories.

Much like Superman stories.

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There is a word for a sort of parody which doesn't mock the work but borrows its style, namely pastiche.

According to the Wikipedia, "[u]nlike parody, pastiche celebrates the work it imitates, rather than mocking it".

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