Each Saturday in What Memes Mean, Alan Noble questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.

Although “Baby Got Book” was first posted on YouTube in 2007, it still occasionally gets posted and sent around the Internet. The lyrics are witty (“it looks like one of those large ones, with plenty of space margins”), DJ WhiteBoy (the artist) has a gold chain that reads KJV, and it is a parody of a song about a man who is attracted to women with large butts. Wait, what?

Before we can talk about this specific video, I need to say a word or two about musical parody. In general, what makes a musical parody funny is the disparity between the original and the parody. The more dissimilar, the more humorous. For example, you can think of Weird Al Yankovic’s classic “Amish Paradise.”

It is hard to imagine a more dissimilar context for a gangster’s Paradise than an Amish community. So, what makes Weird Al’s song so funny is not merely the fact that he is describing an exaggerated version of Amish life, but that the original song was a gritty portrayal of life in a gang. In other words, it would be hard to find this video humorous if you did not know what it was making fun of.

Now, let us consider “Baby Got Book.” What is the original content and context that is contrasted in this song? What is so dissimilar? What makes it so funny?

“Baby Got Book” is a parody of “Baby Got Back,” a song about a man who has a butt fetish. In the song, he describes how he becomes sexually aroused at the sight of a woman with a large butt. He also describes in various ways how he would like to sleep with these women and the great joy he takes in viewing them. So, what is funny in “Baby Got Book” is that we have replaced a sexual butt fetish with a Bible fetish.

In the original song, Sir Mix-A-Lot raps, “when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung.”

In DJ WhiteBoy’s parody, these lyrics are changed to: “When a girl walks in with a KJV and a book mark in Proverbs you get stoked.”

Sir Mix-A-Lot: “My homeboys tried to warn me, but that butt you got makes me so horny.”

DJ WhiteBoy: “My minister tried to console me, but that Book you got makes (“M-m-me so holy”)”

The Bible replaces a large butt. Instead of sexual arousal at the sight of a large butt in his face, he is “stoked” because a girl has a KJV Bible with a bookmark in Proverbs. And instead of a butt making you horny, the Bible makes you holy. And these are some of the less explicit comparisons.

It is a good, healthy, and humbling thing to make fun of our own Christian culture. It reminds us that our Bible fetish (an inordinate focus on the translation and physical appearance of a Bible), which many Christians do have, is trivial and a distraction. But, if this poking fun takes the form of a song that draws a comparison between butts and Bibles, and horniness and holiness, and sexual arousal and excitement about a Bible, is this humor really appropriate? If the exact thing that makes “Baby Got Book” so funny is that a butt fetish and a Bible fetish are so dissimilar, then is this really edifying? Is this really honoring to the word of God? Is this merely making fun of our Christian culture, or does it also necessarily implicate the word of God in its mockery?


9 Comments

  1. Great questions Alan. I watched this a few years ago and thought it was funny to some degree but having watched it again I have to question myself on that. What I noticed watching it again was that DJ Whiteboy does appear to have love for the Word of God and seems to want to even encourage reading of it–but all the while the song seems to be appealing to all these Christian stereotypes about the Bible. So I feel like this song doesn’t quite have an identity. If the song were merely meant to make fun of Christian kitsch then I kinda think it would work but he tries to pay homage to the Bible in this song and it just doesn’t ring true for me.

    Anyway–that is my take. Also I didn’t really think that “me so holy” part was funny this time around.

  2. I love both videos. Parodies are not meant to be taken but so seriously. They are even funnier, as noted in this blog, when you are familiar with the original. Humor can be used to get a message across, Jesus used absurdities in his parables.

  3. Dawn,

    Thanks for commenting. It’s true that this song is in jest, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t critically consider what its message is and how it functions.

    And although Jesus used humor, it was quite different from the humor in this song.

  4. How was Jesus’ humor different? The one parable he told about the Rich Man and Lazarus was quite absurd – “Abraham’s bosom” probably got a few laughs from the crowd – cooling your tongue with a drop of water in hell (?); also the ridiculous contrast between a speck and a log in one’s eye was quite the exaggeration; speaking of exaggeration – forgive 7 times? – no seventy times seven! Jesus certainly “made fun” of the culture around him.

  5. I suspect that the things that you find absurd in those parables were not received as absurd, or at least not as humorous to their original audience. But I could be wrong.

    In regard to your second comment, why do you think that this is not a time to be critical? Why do you think we can’t both be critical and enjoy the video? I still think that parts of it are funny.

  6. It would depend who you were in the crowd, humor is a subjective thing. Maybe instead of the word “critical” let’s use the word “analyze”, much better connotation. I look forward to “analyzing” your future Saturday posts.

  7. @Alan:
    I think you’re misreading “Baby Got Book” as parody. It doesn’t seem to be poking fun at anything in particular or offering really any critique of Christian culture. Instead it seems to stand pretty fully behind its assertions of the value of the Bible.

    Instead of parody, it seems pretty much more solidly just a matter of “fun” mimicry, capitalizing on people’s enjoyment of a rather salty song about a preference for female butts. Kind of like those intensely unfunny songs by Apologetix. Or more close to home with your past articles, almost exactly like “God’s Gym: His Pain, Your Gain” and “Bud Wise Up” t-shirts.

    It’s not parody, it’s kitsch.

  8. I didn’t like this one much, because of its irreverence, the first time around.

    The literary critic in me wants to argue that you have confused “what makes it funny” with “what makes it significant as satire.”

    I think we could argue that the parody here is not based on juxtaposition between the original song and the new subject matter, but on the incongruity of this subject matter to its new medium.

    Imagine someone going to the Bible bookstore and looking at the shelf, full of Bibles recommending themselves to him for all sorts of reasons. Or imagine someone listening, bewildered, to a Sunday School conversation that has descended into a “my favorite Bible” contest. That person might find that the crass mishandling of the Scriptures in those contexts was insufficiently obvious, but that more people might “get it” if they were suddenly confronted with a crass rap song adapted to parrot their appeals.

    Now, having said that, I’m not sure it’s a *good* idea, or that this has necessarily become popular for those reasons. And I’m not sure this makes the problem better, rather than *worse*.

    But I think I could make a case that this does function as parody, and that it is funny at moments–and still shoot it down for its objectionable nature and inappropriate choice of medium for this matter.

    Cheers!
    PGE

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