Poe's Law

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Pop quiz: is this flyer declaring polio vaccine, water treatment, and psychology to be communist plots to destroy America a real pamphlet, or a parody of fervent 1950s "Red scare" tactics? (Answer: it's real!)
"Satire doesn't stand a chance against reality anymore."
Jules Feiffer in 1959

The core idea of Poe's law is that a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody (all because parodies are intrinsically extreme, in case you haven't noticed it). This can also happen to someone whose picture of the opposing position is such a grotesque caricature that it renders them unable to tell parody from reality. Reality and parody are further blended by the fact that something that started as a parody might turn into a Windmill Political that some people take as gospel and go to a very serious (if not literal) war.

According to the trope namers, RationalWiki, Poe's Law was formulated by Nathan Poe, referring to the Flame Wars on Christian forums where Creationism vs. Evolution was discussed: Many users posted parody comments, which were followed by both angry replies and supportive ones. Poe phrased his law thusly: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake it for the genuine article."

While Poe's Law referred originally to religious fundamentalism, it can also apply to any debate where controversy runs high and at least one position is particularly extreme, such as the infamous North Korean Twitter feed that got mistaken for the real thing.

It can also refer to the idea (supported by a different Poe) that a poem should be short enough that the reader's mind does not wander, but that's something else entirely.

A similar notion was named "The Harry Golden Rule" by Calvin Trillin: "The Harry Golden Rule, properly stated, is that in present-day America it's very difficult, when commenting on events of the day, to invent something so bizarre that it might not actually come to pass while your piece is still on the presses." See Stealth Parody, which this law tends to undermine. Don't Explain the Joke is one of the possible outcomes of this law. Parody Retcons attempt to appeal to this. If a work actually becomes popular as a result of this law, that's Misaimed Fandom. Compare Does Not Understand Sarcasm or Insult Backfire. Compare also the pitfalls of Some of My Best Friends Are X. If you are trying to invoke this trope to get people to believe something you just made up to feign legitimacy, it's a Bavarian Fire Drill.

To really turn this trope into a brain-twister compare it with Death of the Author.

NOTE: When adding an example, please cite a specific instance or instances of the relevant work being either mistaken for a parody or being analyzed to determine whether or not it is serious. Any examples that shoehorn in a work with Weasel Words or the like but without such instances being cited (i.e. something along the lines of "this could easily be mistaken for a parody", "this might as well have been a parody", or "some people have a hard time believing this is real" with little else) will be assumed to be Complaining About Shows You Don't Like and will be deleted as such.

Examples of Poe's Law include:
  • The Alt Text of one xkcd suggests trying this on a noted pit of stupidity and prejudice - "Fun game: try to post a YouTube comment so stupid that people realize you must be joking. (Hint: this is impossible.)"
    • Parodied, believe it or not, with this quiz which tasks the viewer with discerning whether Mitt Romney or Charlie Bucket said each of the listed quotes while asking "Is there even a difference?" (Here's a tip: Charlie isn't the one talking about politics.)
  • The blog AntiSpore fooled many gamers, despite some very obvious notes on the blog's "Real About Page", like the following:

But the Bible teaches us that God was not done with man. For we were His creation and He then spoke to Noah in Genesis 8:21-27 after the flood.
"21. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never gonna give you up. 22. Never gonna let you down. 23. Never gonna run around and desert you. 24. Never gonna make you cry. 25. Never gonna say goodbye. 26. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you. 27. Never truly believe anything you read on the Internet. There will always be cases of Poe's Law."

    • Even after this, people kept up arguing against him for over a thousand comments; there's over 2500 total, and the balance slowly shifts to people actually getting the joke, but toward the end there's still one or two condemning him as a bigot. Most of them apparently didn't even read the entry, and some of them who did read it, and pointed out he'd gotten the Bible verses wrong.
    • Though it's possible that the latter is too a very confusing example of Poe's Law, in that we don't get that they're correcting the verse ironically.
  • The Onion is the embodiment of this trope, its satirical articles often being mistaken for real ones, while real extremist articles are often suspected of being Onion articles.
    • An article about Harry Potter was actually taken for real by one fundamentalist site, in spite of (or perhaps because) it ending with J.K. Rowling praising Satan and calling Jesus weak and stupid.
      • Possibly the very same article led to a concerned parent sending mail to Reader's Digest, criticizing them about interviewing Rowling. After a bit of back-and-forth the reader mentioned reading about it on The Onion whereupon Reader's Digest pointed out that it's a humor paper, and Rowling is not really a Satan worshiper.
    • Their videos have also undergone this trope, one of the most infamous cases being the video "Martial Law Plans Revealed?" taken seriously by some conspiracy sites.
    • The AV Club posted an article about how Glenn Beck loved the Spider-Man musical. Since both Glenn Beck and Turn Off the Dark are polarizing topics which often spark fierce discussions, a lot of people thought this was just The Onion making stuff up, even though the AV Club is the non-satire section. It's not a joke. He really did enjoy the musical.
    • The blog Literally Unbelievable chronicles people taking Onion articles at face value and posting them on Facebook. It is as hilariously depressing as it sounds. Poe's Law applies recursively here, as it's impossible to tell whether the Facebookers are just playing along with the joke.
    • The most controversial "Onion" example is their "Kelly" political cartoons, which still have people arguing about whether they're expressing or parodying conservative ideas. Although the real focus of the cartoons is less ideological than parodying the artistic cliches of bad, lazy political cartoons independent of any specific viewpoint.
    • A high-profile victim of The Onion is US Congressman John Fleming (R-LA), who posted a link to the "Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex" story on his Faceboook page.
  • On The Colbert Report Stephen Colbert played a right-wing pundit, but the show in general was against right-wing pundits. Many conservatives were convinced that Colbert was a real neoconservative and the show was a parody of the way the left views the right. See this Ohio State University study for more on the topic.
    • There's also a pervasive myth that he was mistaken for a real conservative pundit by members of the Bush administration when he was invited to the 2006 correspondents' dinner; the dinner was in large part a traditional roast of the President, and they knew exactly who he was, although they may not have expected him to be quite so harsh.
    • Some conservatives realize that Colbert is a parody but believe that he makes correct points in character. In other words, the Straw Man Has a Point.
  • In his review of the film Bamboozled, Roger Ebert noted that most movie-going audiences wouldn't catch onto the film's satire about how black people are portrayed in modern media; people would simply get pissed off at the mere use of Blackface. Indeed, the film ended up a box-office bomb as a result.
    • Ebert admitted that the paradox is true of all satire, to some extent. In order to poke fun at something, you first have to play it straight, and unless you beat your audience over the head with the point that you really don't agree with what you're depicting, there's always going to be someone who takes you seriously.
  • Salvador Dali once sent a telegram for Romania's communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, for his adoption of a scepter as part of his regalia. Dali's intent was to mock him, but Ceauşescu, who had one of the biggest personality cults ever, took it seriously, and the text was published in the Party's newspaper. When he did find out it was a joke, he fired the editor who published it. Never mind that he was the one who ordered it to be published.
  • Endemic at Conservapedia, a site created by right wingers upset at certain things said in Wikipedia. As soon as it was founded, people descended on it writing completely-over-the-top articles, which some people took seriously. Their serious projects include a translation of the Bible into Conservative language. For instance, the whole "easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven" thing is apparently socialist, and "blessed are the meek" should really be "blessed are the God-fearing".
    • Here's a particularly funny example of (apparent) stealth-parody vandalism.
    • Or read their page on Barack Obama, or any Democratic president of the 20th century. But especially Obama.

- Religion: Claims to be Christian
- As of May 25, 2012, says Religion: probably Muslim
- On April 27, 2011 Obama officially released his long form birth certificate, which many experts have determined to be a fake and no legal body has determined its authenticity.

    • See also the second iteration.
    • The Conservapedia article on George W. Bush once said that he was "one of the greatest presidents in American history," that he was "successfully able to salvage the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort after it was sabotaged by a Democratic/Islamo-Fascist conspiracy" and that his unpopularity is entirely due to him being forced by the Democratic Congress to push through bank bailout packages.
    • The root of the issue is that the site's proprietor, Andy Schlafly, keeps the site under tight control. The number of satirists has led him to become ever more paranoid and ban-happy... the result being that only the parodists remain, driving him ever-deeper into his mad spiral of paranoid banning.
    • RationalWiki speculates that this is the first living example of a "Poe Paradox" -- that in any given fundamentalist group, any new person/idea sufficiently fundamentalist to be accepted by the group will come off as being so ridiculous as to risk being called a parodist or a parody.
    • This evolved into meta-humor once this entry made its way on there -- particularly with this laughable assertion:

"Clearly, the cause of the mistake is not that the genuine article is no better than a mockery; rather, the cause of the mistake is that some people lack the critical thinking skills and/or experience to differentiate the two."

    • The caption below the picture of the Black Cat and number 13 on that page is even more hilarious. It quotes a Wall Street Journal article to claim that Christianity reduces belief in superstitions, yet the "unlucky 13" pictured is a superstition that has its origins in Christianity.
  • A frequent issue with internet discussions, especially since you can't actually hear people talk and thus can only give them a tone of voice from your own imagination. This picture is popular for noting current confusion with the law.
  • Roger Ebert went political and wrote a blog post giving a statement of creationist beliefs, with the intention of making a point about people's inability to recognize irony. While many people did see the satire, a significant number of readers either thought he was being serious or assumed the site had been hacked. PZ Myers criticized the article, pointing out that when there are so many people making the same claims without irony, the joke becomes undetectable to anyone who doesn't already know Ebert's stance on the issue.
  • There are still people who have to have it pointed out to them that A Modest Proposal is not intended literally. A Modest Proposal was Jonathan Swift's satirical essay that suggested solving the problem of working-class children in Ireland being a drag on their parents by selling them for food to rich people. Most interpretations read it as a satire of British attitudes towards the working-class of Ireland. It created a scandal because some people didn't get the joke (Swift intended a scandal, but not like that). Modern readers who take it seriously justify their stance with Swift's misanthropy and deteriorating mental condition later in his life. At the time of the writing however, he had no such attitudes or problems.
  • Popehat closed their fake Twitter account for North Korea's propaganda ministry after legitimate news agencies started picking up stories from it.
  • In Religulous, Bill Maher disguises himself and starts preaching the actual tenets of Scientology on a park, naturally, most people laugh at him and call him crazy, unaware that those were Scientologists' real beliefs.
  • This also showed up in the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet" when an official narrates Xenu's origin story. The phrase, "This is what Scientologists actually believe" was put in because it would've been indistinguishable from the show's weird humor to those who didn't already know the story. Even then, some people still didn't believe it, because even that sounds like something South Park would do.
  • "John Clarke and Bryan Dawe" are an Australian comedy duo that satirize politicians and other public figures. A quick glance at the comments on the YouTube page shows how many people think they're for real. Given that each of those sketches involve John Clarke playing all of the political figures, anyone who watches more than one should very quickly realize that he is not both Prime Minister Rudd and Senator Stephen Conroy, but is in fact a sketch comedian.
  • When Internet Infidels Discussion Board decided to start a contest of making parodies of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis cartoons, they received a cease and desist letter from the latter claiming that the parodies "clearly (are) likely to cause confusion as to the affiliation between your client and my client..." Here's an example: original and parody.
  • Performance artists The Yes Men have made a career out of this, or at least they did during the Bush administration. One of their projects included passing out pamphlets called "Yes Bush Can!" with a checklist of the Bill of Rights, urging people (these were handed out at Republican rallies) to check off the rights they were willing to waive in the name of the War on Terror. They had assumed people would be shocked, but instead the audiences filled them out and turned them back in.
  • Brass Eye, which hoodwinked British celebrities into participating in fictional public information films, culminating in a Member of the British Parliament raising a question in the House of Commons about the ludicrous made-up drug "cake".
  • Matt Harding of Where the Hell Is Matt fame did a joke video claiming that his Where the Hell Is Matt videos were just an elaborate hoax, involving robot backup dancers and other such absurdities. Soon news articles around the Internet were lambasting Matt for this terrible deception, to the point where he had to make a public announcement that the hoax was a hoax.
  • There were "scientific" papers and conferences that swallowed and processed nonsensical, but imitating their style and language papers, only to discover they were punned:
    • Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity by Alan Sokal. Alan Sokal, a physicist who was severely annoyed at scientifically-illiterate deconstructionist philosophers trying to work quantum physics into their philosophy, submitted a paper to the journal Social Text which declared "quantum gravity"—and ultimately reality itself--to be a social construct. Social Text accepted it. Right after printing it he notified them it was a logically inconsistent rambling as bad as he could write without using mushrooms. Oops. Social Text was annoyed; they thought that the paper had merit, and, according to them, while the editors themselves didn't think reality was a social construct, they thought that Sokal thought it was!
    • WMSCI 2005 accepted an article Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy. The only value it has for computer science is the fact that this garbage wasn't even written by a human, but by a pseudorandom text generator. Then these pranksters went to the conference, held a "technical" session and read a few more randomly generated speeches with straight faces. It's all there—along with the Open Source text generator.
  • This is the basic premise of Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans where he travels around the US asking people about fake Canadian news stories. The show even got the better of some soon to be well known American politicians here.
  • Just as YouTube user potholer54 was about to nominate a creationist for his 2008 Golden Crocoduck Award (given to the creationists who knowingly and most effectively lied to support their arguments), the creationist (that is: the man Potholer54 is talking about, not PT54 himself) outed himself as a satirist. Despite this, potholer explained that one of his arguments (the rings of Saturn prove a young solar system) is actually used by some creationists. Watch for yourself here.
  • Syndicated columnist Jack Kilpatrick once wrote a column purporting to be an interview with an ACLU leader named Eton "Si" Eritas. Eritas claimed he was determined to remove all traces of religion from America, going so far as to change the names of any cities with religious connotations, such as San Francisco and St. Paul. This column shocked many people and sparked countless columns and letters to the editor flaming the ACLU. The only problem? Eritas didn't exist. Eton "Si" Eritas, spelled backwards, is "Note: Is Satire."
  • In 1985 MIT pranksters managed to get a sculpture included in an exhibition at MIT's List Visual Art Center. Titled "No Knife", it consisted of an overturned wastebasket on which was a dining hall tray, plate, bowl, glass, fork and two spoons. It was accompanied by an artist's statement describing it as "a study in mixed media earth tones", and going on to praise and interpret it ("The casual formalism of the place setting draws upon our common internal instincts of existential persistence to unify us with the greater consciousness of human bondage") in a parody of the style of art criticism. It took the gallery staff several hours to discover it was not actually part of the exhibition.
  • A group of students at Rice once assembled a bunch of junk brought up from a college basement in the middle of the college's quad and declared it to be art, just to see if anyone would believe them. They ended up winning an award and receiving a small grant, and the thing stayed up for the entire semester.
  • When Private Eye ran a mock-up Daily Telegraph cover, parodying the MP Expenses Scandal the paper broke, but targeting its proprietors, the reclusive Barcley Brothers, they received a letter threatening them with libel action. Their response was that it was in the "joke" section of the magazine, it clearly wasn't a real news story, and they didn't think there was a case to answer.
    • Private Eye gets this from many newcomers who don't know where the cut-off points between the 'investigative journalism' pages and the 'parody' pages are. There are a lot of otherwise intelligent people who think From the Message Boards (a parody of Internet arguments which contains everything you'd encounter in a real Internet debate) is genuine.
  • A viral marketing ploy for the movie Hell's Half Acre created the WUCP, an organization that represents the What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids? mentality to the most logical extreme by acting shocked when they see the movie trailer and are appalled that this is being passed off as children entertainment and call for it to be banned. It's so over the top that no one would believe it was real, right? Well, as a look at the comments will point out, many people took it seriously. On a plus side, the movie producers did get quite a bit of free publicity.
  • The Bonsai Kitten web site, which admittedly was a very sick joke, was a joke nevertheless (close inspection of several of the photographs revealed that they were obviously posed, such as a kitten supposedly "in" a bottle being actually behind it). Still, the site drew tons of protests, including several chain letters, from those who failed to grasp the parody.
  • The cancellation of Chappelle's Show and Chappelle's subsequent Creator Backlash response was due to a growing Misaimed Fandom of racist white viewers.
  • In a strange case, creationist speaker Kent Hovind earned the P.T. Barnum "One Born Every Minute" Award when he incorporated information of the finding of man and dinosaur fossils co-existing and the government cover-up of this discovery, from a website into his lectures as evidence against evolution. In reality, the website was a fake one (and somewhat conspicuously so) that the New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) had set up as an April Fool's Day prank.
  • Several YouTube videos, such as the famous "Angry German Kid" video were originally made to satirize how German politicians saw gamers. Unfortunately, if you ask around today, most people won't actually know it's faked because of how easy it is to put on a show for the camera.
  • Another famous video, the Greatest Freakout Ever: At least 3/5 of the comments were "Boy, this is what World of Warcraft does to people?!?", ignoring that you can replace "World of Warcraft" with "Xbox Live" or "EverQuest" and it'd still make sense...or that. The internet still seems to be divided between those who think it was fake and those who think it was real, without any conclusive proof one way or the other.
    • Detractors often point to the over-the-top reactions of Steven (the freakout kid) as clearly being acted.
    • Some cite the interview of Steven by Daniel Tosh on his TV show Tosh.0 as definitive proof that the video was fake. The episode involves Tosh interrogating Steven, with the help of Michael Winslow (You know, that guy who makes the funny noises), eventually using a polygraph machine, and finally resorting to a threat to shove a remote up his butt if he doesn't tell the truth. This is a comedy show, and it's not known what occurred back stage.
    • Supports often cite the other freakout videos posted of Steven, in which he destroys a microwave, as well as a Christmas tree, and attacks a car with a baseball bat. This would require the parents to be in on the lie as well, which would seem unlikely. This implies that it is much more likely that Steven is simply an out of control teen who acts out, rather then a complex hoax designed to deceive the internet. One wouldn't want to completely assume it's real, though. There is one video where Jack (the filmer) puts the camera in his room and ties the door shut and then gets Steven's attention. However, there was another video of the exact same thing where Steven has what would appear to be a pickle inside his underwear and Jack did the same prank. Jack then said that Steven saw the video, made him remove it and make another one... which was the one with the Gag Penis. For some reason, Steven's acting a lot more irrational in the "Remake". Wafflepwn (Jack) removed both. Several things seem to be just freak coincidences, such as Steven "finding out" about the videos when he supposedly found out about one of those videos earlier (and is apparently very stupid as both vids had "part", as well as titles and he didn't look for it), conveniently walking in during an interview... and not once has he ever gone after the camera. And he obviously knows that Jack's filming... isn't it weird that if he does have such a rabid temper and only has enough control to say "Turn off that camera" or "stop filming", since he apparently knows his brother has put videos on the internet? One would assume he'd grab that camera and smash it rather than screaming or hitting something replaceable.
  • Tech parody site BBspot ran an article claiming that the MPAA was lobbying Congress to pass a law requiring anyone who owns a home theater setup to purchase a home theater license, and additionally, that they would require people to install surveillance devices to make sure there were no unauthorized home screenings. Even though the site only runs parodies and not actual news, they had to run a second article explaining this fact to all the people who read it and thought it was real.
  • The HMS STFU copied the Harry Potter section that was on Tv Tropes' Warp That Aesop page circa January 2011 as seen here. Most of the commenters took it as real Fan Wank with only a few considering that it might be a joke. Then again, The HMS STFU usualy deals with people who have similar or worse positions in total seriousness - they were the ones who discovered The Girl Who Lived, Hogwarts Exposed, The Last War, and the complete works of pstibbons, after all .
    • There are several papers formally exploring the legal issues in the Harry Potter series - such as essay Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy [1] by Benjamin H. Barton, who praised the series for apparently being the most vicious satire of the lawless bureaucracy since George Orwell and "concludes that Rowling may do more for libertarianism than anyone since John Stuart Mill". Because, really, isn't all this horribly over the top?

What would you think of a government that engaged in this list of ty­rannical activities: tortured children for lying;1 designed its prison specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates;2 placed citizens in that prison without a hearing;3 ordered the death penalty without a trial;4 allowed the powerful, rich, or famous to control policy;5 selec­tively prosecuted crimes (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges);6
conducted criminal trials without defense counsel;7 used truth serum to force confessions;8 maintained constant surveillance over all citizens;9 offered no elections and no democratic lawmaking process;10 and controlled the press?11

And while the situation can raise some eyebrows as to why the wizard community is not even grumbling, much less seriously pushes to improve or replace such an important institution that got so terribly messed up, this would remain the most obvious, uncontested conclusion possible. If only J.K.Rowling had no Twitter account. But as it happens, she has one (and "confirmed" one at that), which repeatedly made clear at least what the author's standards for trumped-up charges evidence and fairness are: she consistently joins the most ludicrous smearing campaigns available via Mainstream Media or random people on Twitter, and then ignores any proof of those being obviously made up, even if given ready links. So far she retracted and apologized to one of the involved parties for one, and only after 3 days of "boo!" even from CNN - which in itself is a remarkable achievement for an attempt to smear Donald Trump. And specifically the incident with PewDiePie created reasonable doubt in her ability to understand this sort of humor at all. Which raises further questions as to whether the rest was supposed to be messed up, or with strange aeons even Death of the Author may die and the only thing wrong with it is "we have no Rule of Law, but there are still too many rules - a lynch mob would get things done"?

J.K.Rowling: 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them.' - Maya Angelou [1]

    • In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them the Magic Justice thing got even weirder, and not because of a magic Death Trap it uses. Gushing reviewers invariably avoid mentions of this part altogether. Some of the less impressed ones are puzzled and go into details(spoilers)

Think about this. Two people are tried, convicted, wait in a jail cell, and then are taken to be executed, for something less of a crime and more of an accident, in the space of just about half an hour. It got even more surreal when it became clear that Tina was on a first name basis with one of the executioners, who doesn’t even flinch.

  • Speaking of The Last War and Poe's Law, there were some posters who suggested it to be a Troll Fic, noting Harry and Hermione's choice of theme song and that it's like a perfect Harmonian Cliché Storm.
  • The infamous Zelda video The Light of Courage has an interesting case of something being both incorrectly mistaken for a parody and something fully serious at the same time. The animation behind the videos was purposefully kept bad as was the voice acting. However the dialog, grammatical errors, and storyline the videos were based on are all real and was done with the serious attempt to get them made into a movie. Aside from the few who know the story behind The Light of Courage, most people can't seem to figure out whether it's real or not. It was based on a horrible fanfic that its creator took completely serious, then someone else created the parody by adding purposefully badly done animation and voice acting. Also the case for the infamous "Half-Life: Full Life Consequences" video, though this one is more universally recognized as a joke.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Scenes from Aristophanes' over-the-top parody of Socrates, The Clouds, were cited in Socrates' trial as if they were real evidence against him. You know, the one that ended with him forced to drink hemlock?
  • Cracked.com has two articles about "Satirists Attacked by People Who Totally Missed the Point," 1-5 and 6-9.
    • Also, see this article about how the blogger meant to come off as so ridiculous that nobody could take it seriously... and the media thought he was being literal.
    • This Cracked article is about movie trailers of 2011 summer movies - a romcom, a comedy and an action movie - that can be interpreted as parodies of their respective genres. They aren't.
    • It shouldn't take long to realize that this article about Lord of the Rings is a parody. But according to the comments, some people still didn't get it.
    • Alice Jane Axness writes in "In Defense of Lena Dunham and People Who Hate Her" that a certain TruthRevolt article, which accuses Dunham of having sexually assaulted her younger sister when both were less than eight years old, is "so mired in the hatred of women that it reads more like a really terrible attempt at satire than anything."
  • The Guardian finally pokes fun at the long standing leftist idea that promoting humans rights in totalitarian hellholes is the modern definition of "imperialism". Doesn't it?
  • Whynne at Deviant ART reminds us: the difference between a Troll and someone who tries to cover a pathetic pratfall is not always visible—or existent.
  • The jury is still out as to whether Timecube is real or a parody of schizophrenic antisemitic conspiracy theorists. It doesn't help that Gene Ray is a Reclusive Artist.
  • Sarah Palin mocked the way her opponents obsess over minor misstatements of hers by releasing a blog post consisting entirely of erroneous statements made by President Barack Obama. At least some of her detractors criticized the new "mistakes" from Mrs. Palin.
    • Reimagined with common knowledge that Sarah Palin said, "I can see Russia from my house!" ...via Tina Fey's parody.
  • Opinions are split on whether Niccolò Machiavelli's most well-known piece, The Prince, is a satirical Take That at the Medici who had recently had him brutally beaten or a genuine article giving advice to monarchical rulers. (Or, as some readers have suggested, Lorenzo di Medici Slash Fic.)
  • Michael Savage debates a pro-amnesty liberal over the Arizona immigration laws, and outright lampshades this.

"Of course you're pulling my leg."

  • Bernard de Mandeville, a Dutch physician in the XVIII century, wrote a poem named The Fable of Bees, which was a satire to the moralist campaigns of the time. The poem caused public commotion in the time, because he wrote that the vices of the people can be useful to the society, but today is regarded as a serious economic tract and many economists complain that it's hard to interprete him. It's hard, because Mandeville wrote it as a satire, he didn't have any pretension to make a scientific tract.
  • In 1989, some people took seriously a humorous piece proving that Lenin was a mushroom.
  • A group parodying the Tea Party released videos advocating a boycott of Disney's Aladdin on the grounds that it was Islamic propaganda. Many were confused as to whether the videos were serious or not, but in this case the fact that it was believable as a Tea Party position was part of the point of the parody.
  • People taking Anal Cunt's songs literally.
  • Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue." Is it a genuine (if a little overheated) expression of Patriotic Fervor, or an ironic glorification of the Eagle Land (Flavor 2) mentality? It's really hard to tell. The song starts off sincere and heartfelt enough, but the abrupt shift from "melancholy" to "kickass" is bizarre enough to inspire at least a few self-aware chuckles. It gets even more confusing if you watch the music video, which backs up the lyrics with an intense montage of various U.S. military bombs, missiles, and fighter jets, looking almost like a Technicolor Dr. Strangelove. On balance: since most country/western songs don't feature so much violent or militaristic imagery, it's easy to see this as a spoof; however, the song's Crowning Music of Awesome and throat-grabbing finale make you want to take it at face value. So, all things being equal, it's all probably being played straight.
  • Housos is a Black Comedy of Australia's working-class bludgers (i.e. the working-class who don't work). Two current affairs programs aired hard-hitting "exposés" on this offensive new Reality Show. Interestingly, when they realised the show was fake they tried a new angle, complaining about tax-payers money being used to subsidise filth. The show's home channel, SBS, raised all the funds itself. All in all, the Housos creator was happy at the hilarious free publicity, while the current affairs shows got publicity of the wrong kind altogether.
  • In his short story collection Famous Monsters, Kim Newman mentions that Penguin Books asked him to tone down the politics of his story "Pitbull Brittan", a savage satire on Conservatism based on the question "What would it look like if everything the Daily Mail said was true?" To his bafflement, their objection was on the assumption that he was saying the world was like this.
  • PolitiChicks, a right-wing "answer" to The View, has led to endless discussion in the comment section (as well as on a number of other sites) about whether it's serious or a parody, with the fact that Saturday Night Live alumna Victoria Jackson is involved causing some (perhaps mistaken) impression that it's all a skit.
  • Swedish humor show Grotesco featured a song called Det är bögarnas fel ("It's the gay men's fault") which became a hit and can be watched here. It's a textbook example of this trope. The song is sung by a reverend who claims that gay men are to blame for every single bad thing in the world and says (well, singing) that "I don't know what line and verse, chapter or part, but somewhere in [the Bible] it says that it's the gay men's fault." He and lots of other singers then go on to give gay men the blame for things that clearly aren't gay men's fault. One woman sings that "My son shot four people to death with the hunting-rifle. Somehow, I feel that it's the gay men's fault." A man sings that "I once ate porridge and confused curry for cinnamon, and that wasn't carelessness, no, it was the gay men's fault." It's almost impossible to imagine how it could be more obviously satiric, and still, when it was performed live in the family show Allsång på Skansen, somebody reported the show to the police for being upsetting to homosexual people.
  • The death of Cass Elliot also factors into this; after collapsing from a heart attack, investigators noted that a sandwich was found in her room and, despite a post-mortem showing otherwise, parodies regarding her weight and the poor wording of the attending physician mean it's still widely believed that she choked to death on a sandwich simply because it's considered more humorous.
  • When G4 held their 2011 VideoGame Deathmatch and pitted Skyrim against The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Zelda Universe fansite posted an article sarcastically imploring their readers to help Skyrim, "our favorite game," help win the vote. So many people in the comments took it at face value that ZU had to post another article explaining that it was meant to be a joke. Incidentally, the comments themselves exhibit this trope as well; some site members tried to partake of the sarcasm in their own comments and got said comments voted down to as low as -20.
  • In a combination of this and Stealth Parody, Jethro Tull recorded the album Thick As A Brick as a deliberately over-the-top parody of concept albums and the Progressive Rock genre, after the pevious album Aqualung was mistakenly called a concept album by the music press. It is widely considered one of the best progressive rock albums ever made, by music fans and journalists likely unaware that the work was a parody. Bandleader Ian Anderson still gets remarks from fans about how much older the fictitious child prodigy poet (Gerald Bostock) depicted in the cover art and album credits who "wrote" the lyrics to the album must be now in the present day.
    • However, the follow-up album A Passion Play is apparently a straightforward example, despite having the same structure.
  • Prior to the release of James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar, a curious blog popped up called "Stop Avatar Movie." The blog's editor claims to be a transgender woman who is offended by the "heterosexual themes" found in the movie (namely, the apparent lack of non-heterosexual characters), and urges people to boycott it. She goes so far as to make Avatar the scapegoat for anything in the wider culture that is or could be remotely construed as homophobic/transphobic, regardless of whether or not the thing or incident being discussed has anything to do with the film. The political and social views expressed on the blog are so extreme that even actual gay people are divided on whether the author is just a very dedicated troll, or legitimately insane.
  • Radio host Phil Hendrie makes a living on this trope. His radio show consists of a stable of guests that he regularly interviews (the president of a home-owners association, the owner of a restaurant that supposedly sponsors the show, the head of a local activist group, etc.) discussing a current event of some sort, with the guest having some wild, ridiculous, and sometimes offensive opinion on the matter. This prompts listeners to call the show and incredulously berate the guest, whose rhetoric becomes more and more ludicrous as the segment goes on. The joke? All of the guests are voiced by Hendrie, who essentially is having a conversation with himself using a phone handset in the studio.
  • In some forms of humour or advertising, it can be hard to tell the difference between the mocking of "extreme" masculinity seen in Testosterone Poisoning and whether the creators think it's genuinely OK to hold men to those standards (of those that have a theme that things should be this way, joke or not); enforcement of masculinity can get so ridiculous as to be difficult to distinguish from parody.
  • As a satire of excessive capitalism, an artist made a bench that you must pay to sit on; overstay your purchased welcome and the bench will impale you with steel spikes. And now, a Chinese park owner who didn't get the joke actually wants to install these in his park to prevent hobos from hanging around on the benches. Yeah, that's gonna end well...
  • During The Second Google Incident, several works were cutlisted by members of The Other Tropes Wiki in protest to say "This zero-tolerance policy will likely cut this". While obvious ultrafamous works like Romeo and Juliet[2] had little risk, Black Bird ended up being cut for real. (It was restored afterwards -- one of the few times the TVT Censorship Bureau has ever admitted to a mistake without intense, embarrassing media scrutiny first.)
  • Regretsy, a now-defunct website that used to make fun of ridiculous Etsy products (its tagline was "Where DIY Meets WTF") had a column called "Etsy or Regretsy?", where they interspersed actual bizarre Etsy listings with parodies created by the Regretsy staff, and had the readers guess which were real and which were fake. It was harder than you'd think.
  • The Rap Critic states this as the problem with Ke$ha: She's supposedly a parody of current music, but when "serious" artists are making songs that are just as ridiculous, it's hard to tell.
  • Right-wing British paper "The Daily Mail" recently decided to make fun of their readers with an article about how right-wing voters are stupider; while the article was intended to be an obvious satire (as no paper would be stupid enough to flat out insult their readers), the less intelligent readers quite aptly failed to consider it a joke, which prompted Guardian writer Charlie Brooker to deconstruct it:

In what has to be a deliberate act of "trolling", last Friday it carried a story headlined "Rightwingers are less intelligent than left wingers, says study". In terms of enraging your core readership, this is the equivalent of Nuts magazine suddenly claiming only gay men masturbate to Hollyoaks babes.

In-Universe Examples[edit | hide | hide all]

  • An in-universe example would be Leo and Max's "Springtime for Hitler" gambit in The Producers; they aimed to produce the biggest flop ever so they could make off with the investment money, so they took in a story glorifying Hitler and made it as offensive as they could. Unfortunately, the actor playing Hitler himself was so terrible that the audience assumed that it was a parody, and the show sold out. The director deciding to throw in some catchy musical segments didn't help.
    • In the musical version the former Nazi Franz who was to play the part of Hitler breaks his leg just prior to curtain, and is replaced by the director—who turns flamboyant Up to Eleven.
  • Taken to something of a logical extreme in Homestuck, where Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, Dave's Stylistic Suck webcomic, is described as "a webcomic ironically maintained through a satirical cipher" with "legions of devoted fans, most of whom are totally convinced" of his Sock Puppet persona's sincerity. A bit of meta irony kicks in when you consider that in real life, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff actually is much better known than Homestuck and MSPA, and genuinely does have legions of devoted fans (though most of them are well aware of its ironic Stylistic Suck value).
  • In a Checkerboard Nightmare arc, the titular character creates a children's show centered entirely around promoting himself and his merchandise. Said Merchandise-Driven nature is so transparent that the show becomes a hit amongst teenagers and young adults who mistake it for biting satire.
  • In Erasure, an intellectual black author, sick and tired of his philosophical books being passed over for publication because they're not suitably "Black," writes a way, way over the top parody of thuggish ghetto-chic blaxploitation called My Paffology and has his agent send it out as a protest. Random House accepts the book at face value as a fierce portrayal of the Black experience and pays six hundred grand for it. The book, now renamed Fuck, goes on to win the National Book Award.
  • This is what got the Bill of Life, which allows parents to have their children's body parts be divided and used as transplants once they reach age thirteen, passed in Unwind; it was proposed in order to make both sides in the Heartland War realize how ridiculous they were being. What wasn't expected was both pro-choice and pro-life people to embrace it as the only way to compromise.
  • Patri-Archie Comics mentions "Poe's Law and Order: Special Snowflake Unit".
  1. available freely, e.g. here
  2. Which has a history of being used this way