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CYBURBIA

Making a Mockery of the Whole Thing

September 17, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The digital age has reached yet another milestone in its development--parody.

Humor, ranging from the infantile to rare instances of sophistication, has long been a part of the Internet, much of it stemming from the hilarity that comes from making fun of geeks and nerds (some of the laughter quieted down when gizmoheads started breaking into the seven-figures-a-year club). But parody requires a bit of seasoning.

Two digital age parodies of note are currently available--one exists on the Internet's World Wide Web and the other in print. Neither reaches the lofty heights achieved during the golden years of the Harvard and National lampoons, but one is certainly worth a look.

Stale is a parody of Slate, the Microsoft-backed, online weekly magazine that debuted with much fanfare earlier this year. Slate hasn't been around long enough, seemingly, to merit a parody, but it did arrive on the Web with a lot of knowns right from the start. It's edited by Michael Kinsley, formerly of the New Republic and CNN's "Crossfire" and features well-known writers.

Part of the fun of Stale, quickly put together by a small staff that includes alumni from Spy magazine, is its look--the graphics style was lifted from Slate, with variations, of course. Whereas Kinsley's introductory statement in the first Slate was adorned by a winged angel proudly carrying a banner, Stale's version of the angel uses the banner as a handkerchief.

The Stale takeoff on the statement's text is very funny, mostly at the expense of omnipresent Microsoft. Kinsley writes: "A Seattle cyberwag says that the name Slate is appropriate, because whenever he asks anyone from Microsoft, 'How's your project coming along?' the answer he usually gets is, ' 's late.' "

The Stale version: ". . . because whenever he asks anyone from Microsoft, 'How'd you come up with that idea,' the answer he usually gets is, 'stole.' Which sort of sounds like 'Stale' if you say it in a Pacific Northwest accent. We had him killed."

Stale was a one-time effort. That's too bad.

One of the best things about Stale is that it got me to take another look at Slate, which is already far better than when it began. All its articles are archived--I particularly recommend looking up Harry Shearer's hilarious pieces about the political conventions.

Slate is at http://www.slate.com. Stale is at http://www.stale.com.

The other parody is the far more expensively produced, but much lamer: re>Wired, a print takeoff on the magazine Wired. The best thing about it is its design, which wickedly lampoons the excesses of Wired. And there are some text gems, including a wonderful parody of a CD-ROM adventure game advertisement that declares in gothic type, "Find out as you enter a world of nothing, where everything is something."

But much of re>Wired, created by the same team that did several parodies of Martha Stewart publications, is taken up with timeworn jokes about nerd romance and the ponderousness of Internet philosophers.

re>Wired, published by HarperPerennial, sells for $12.50.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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