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Weird Al Yankovic's Amish Paradise as Compared to Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise
In 1995, a movie known as Dangerous Minds came out, featuring a song by Coolio entitled “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Coolio’s song was dark and gritty, highlighting the world of the gangster and how little life meant on the streets. In 1996, Weird Al Yankovic had taken the song to new levels with his clever parody entitled “Amish Paradise.” “Amish Paradise” also highlighted a difficult life: that of an Amish farmer—though the farmer’s greatest worry is not being shot down by a rival gang, but that technology might encroach on his uncomplicated existence. Yankovic is a master parodist, and to best determine the extent of his parody, a close look will be taken to examine the video and lyrical elements of each song.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” starts off with a scene paralleled from Dangerous Minds, in which Michelle Pfeiffer, looking quite dangerous herself, sits down to inquire of Coolio what it is that makes his life so difficult. His response begins the song itself in which he states: “as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothing left” (Coolio, 1995). As he explains, “ ‘cause I’ve been blasting and laughing so long that even my momma thinks that my mind has gone. But I ain’t never crossed a man that didn’t deserve it. Me be treated like a punk, you know that’s unheard of” (Coolio). At this point in the song, it becomes clear that Coolio is living a life full of death and hatred, a life in which he must stand up and be the strongest or he’ll be the next to die. He’s been struggling in his hard and difficult life as a gangster, and he has a reputation to keep strong while remaining alive as well.
Weird Al Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise” takes a different turn on this same ideology. Thematically similar, Yankovic appears on camera in Amish costume, standing out in a corn field while a horse and buggy drive by. As the camera zooms in on his face, Yankovic emphatically lifts his head (fully bearded with wide-rimmed glasses and Amish hat) and states: “as I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain, I take a look at my wife and realize she’s very plain. But that’s just perfect for an Amish like me, you know I shun fancy things like electricity. At 4:30 in the morning I’m milkin’ cows, Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows” (Weird Al Yankovic, 1996). Perhaps taking the most extreme parody possible, Yankovic’s words demonstrate a very different world—one in which an Amish farmer’s uncomplicated life is compared with that of the gangster who must live everyday in fear for his very existence.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” continues with “you betta watch how ya talking and where ya walking or you and your homies might be lined in chalk. I really hate to trip but I gotta lob, as they croak, I see myself in the pistol smoke. Fool, I’m the kinda G that little homie’s wanna be like, on my knees in the night, saying prayers in the street light” (Coolio). Yankovic’s words mirror, to an exact beat, that of Coolio’s, though the Amish farmer elaborates: “Fool—and I’ve been milkin and plowin so long that even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone. I’m a man of the land, I’m into discipline, got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin. But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine, then tonight were gonna party like its 1699” (Yankovic).
Parodying the Main Points
At this point, Yankovic’s song parodies the lyrical beats of Coolio’s song, while featuring exact wording, like “fool,” though when an Amish man says “fool” he’s doing so out of character. Much more out of character, however, are the actual video elements that Yankovic parodies throughout. In the opening lines, Yankovic sings that the Amish “shun electricity” and the scene expands to see Yankovic and his family vigorously stomping on laptops, CD’s and floppy disks. When he milks the cow at 4:30 in the morning, he is doing so directly into his bowl of Corn Flakes, and when he describes how Jebediah feeds the chickens, Jebediah is seen taking a pepperoni pizza out to the flock.
Also in the beginning lines, Florence Henderson (parodying Michelle Pfeiffer) takes the seat as Yankovic explains about the procedure for getting their chores done. Her face is markedly as serious as Michelle Pfeiffer’s, only her dress is Amish and she is wearing a white cap to cover her hair in modesty. Coolio’s video features an artist called L.V. who sings the chorus while filmed on a profile shot. There is smoke billowing in his face, and beads of sweat forming on his cheeks as he gets into the emotion of the words. Yankovic’s version features a progressively sweatier, progressively smokier profile scene in which Yankovic belts out his “Amish Paradise” chorus.
Explaining the 'Life'
In the next verse, Coolio elaborates, “Look at the situation, they got me facing, I can’t live a normal life, I was raised by the state. So I gotta be down with the ‘hood team, too much television watching, got me chasing dreams. I’m an educated fool with money on my mind got my ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye. I’m a locked out gangsta, set tripping banger and my homies are down so don’t arouse my anger. Fool” (Coolio).
Yankovic delves deeper into Amish life as well, explaining that “a local boy kicked me in the butt last week I just smiled at him and I turned the other cheek. I really don’t care, in fact I wish him well, ‘cause I’ll be laughing my head off when he’s burning in hell. But I ain’t never punched a tourist even if he deserved it. An Amish with a ‘tude? You know that’s unheard of. I never wear buttons but I got a cool hat, and my homies agree I really look good in black. Fool” (Yankovic). Again, the rhyme scheme and wording is similar; the main difference being content in which Coolio defines why his life has come to the point it has, and Yankovic defines why he’s better than the tourists who come into his town.
Yankovic explains that “we’re just plain and simple guys living in an Amish paradise. There’s no time for sin and vice” at which point the camera shows a group of young boys gawking at a magazine entitled “Plow My Field.” The camera zooms in to the centerfold, which features a young Amish woman modestly covering her entire body in a bulky dress and showing only her shin. Then, in the final verse before the last chorus, Yankovic tells Florence Henderson that “don’t be vain and don’t be whiny, or else, my brother, I might have to get medieval on your heinie” (Yankovic), at which point he angrily rips off his Amish hat to show that he’s wearing Coolio’s dreadlocks underneath as hair.
Bringing it Back Around
The final chorus for “Gangsta’s Paradise” sings that “we’ve been spending most our lives
living in a gangsta’s paradise. We’ve been spending most our lives living in a gangsta’s paradise…tell me why are we so blind to see? That the ones we hurt are you and me?” (Coolio). Yankovic’s final chorus gives a bit of rehash: “we been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise, we’re all crazy Mennonites living in an Amish paradise. There’s no cops or traffic lights, living in an Amish paradise. But you’d probably think it bites living in an Amish paradise” (Yankovic). Where Coolio’s song ends on the same note (if even more depressing) that it began, Yankovic’s song takes a decidedly upwards movement with the final words, offering no cops or traffic lights as the consolation for loss of technology—and in Coolio’s sake, gang violence.
The parody goes even deeper, to focus on the choir of background singers, heard but never seen in “Gangsta’s Paradise.” In “Amish Paradise,” the chorus becomes fully ecclesiastical, holding candles in front of their faces while they emphatically sing the chorus. However, before they finish the final beat of the last line of the chorus, they all shout “yech,” spit, and leave their positions within the pews. This contrasts with the final moment of “Gangsta’s Paradise” in which Michelle Pfeiffer has left Coolio to his ranting and is walking alone down a long and dark hallway—her questions left unanswered.
It's Better to Laugh at Life than to Live in a Gangsta's Paradise
Overall, Yankovic’s song is as striking as Coolio’s; however, Yankovic’s snarky humor and biting parody makes a mockery of the dark and gritty situation that is gang life by demonstrating the highlights of life in an Amish community. Where Coolio is saddened by the turn his life has taken, though he vows to continue living it until he is ended by a stronger foe, Yankovic laughs at tourists and phone bills, making it clear that life on the farm is far better than outside inconveniences. The contrast is deep, but the parody is purely masterful. In many ways, the two songs, because of the nature of the parody itself, become synonymous with each other. Watching either (despite the humor in Yankovic’s) will leave the viewer with the message that life is worth living—no matter how or where you choose to do that living. Most importantly, as Yankovic makes clear, it is better to laugh at life than it is to live in a gangsta’s paradise.
Coolio. (1995). Gangsta’s Paradise. On Gangsta’s Paradise [CD]. New York: Doug Rasheed. < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUTJgk0HFqw>.
Weird Al Yankovic. (1996). Amish Paradise. On Everything You Know is Wrong [CD]. New York: Scotti Brothers. < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsfVw9xxoNY>.