Photo: South Park/ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks
As much as saying it makes me sound like a dudebro boy as he downs his fifth Monster Energy of the day, I have to admit it, I love South Park. There’s a certain stigma that comes with watching South Park much like there is a stigma that comes with eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast. First-timers often feel guilty afterward and maybe even gross but they have a strange feeling they’re definitely gonna do it again. Of all the adult animated shows out there,
South Park quickly garnered a reputation for being the raunchiest and the one your parents were least okay with you watching after school. If The Simpsons is like eating an apple with a little bit of caramel on the side and Family Guy is like eating a slice of chocolate cake, South Park is like holding up a Mrs. Field’s cookie store in the mall after raiding Chocolate Works and washing it all down with a 2L bottle of Mountain Dew. Need I say more?
I started watching South Park my Freshman year of college. It was my dirty little secret because while I was a member of the GSA, the Latinx student org, and the woman’s rights group at school, I was also watching one of the least PC shows on TV. But I had a reason. Freshman year of college, I got into issues that I’d never given a crap about before in my life. Political issues, social issues, things that didn’t matter growing up as the privileged daughter of two successful doctors living in the quiet suburbs of Long Island. Now that I was interested in these issues, I needed a way to get a fair perspective on them without all the BS. I also don’t have the attention span or the discipline to watch the 5 o’clock news or read The Washington Post. That’s where South Park came in.
South Park episodes are all written, developed, and produced in the six days before the episode airs. This is an ingenious method because it allows all the episodes to be current and relevant. Trey Parker and Matt Stone swear by this method as it’s the best way to keep the show up to date. Though it is a risky endeavor as we saw in season 20 when the writers thought Hilary Clinton was gonna win the election and South Park aired on a Wednesday and the election day was Tuesday…. But you can keep current on a show and not be as well-rounded as South Park is on the issues.
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Two Sides to Every Issue on South Park
Maybe well-rounded isn’t the best word for a show that has 75% male characters who get all the best jokes and one of the only Black recurring characters is literally named for being the Token Black character. Any proud SJW such as myself has to dock the show a few points for that. You need to have a thick skin to watch this show whether you’re, as the show would put it, a pissed off white trash redneck conservative or a douchebag hippie liberal. And that is the beauty of South Park. Everyone gets offended! Let me put it another way, in order to offend everyone, you need to show multiple points of view. And that is something South Park does phenomenally.
Take, for example, one of my favorite episodes, the “Sarcastaball” episode. This episode is about safety in football. The episode starts out with Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and Randy all watching football together. It’s clear that the football players have suffered brain trauma as one of them bakes an invisible cake on the field and another attempts to drive home with no car. The boys then tell Randy that their football coach has banned kickoffs because it’s unsafe and can cause brain trauma, and Randy flips out. Randy then goes to a PTA meeting at the boys’ school and sarcastically suggests they play football but with balloons instead of balls, compliment each other on the field instead of tackling, and wearing bras… for some reason. The school takes Randy’s proposal seriously and launches the world’s first Sarcastaball team.
This episode brilliantly demonstrates what I love so much about South Park. The show’s lack of subtlety makes it all the more amusing. Yes, football is clearly dangerous but what’s the alternative? Will the overly concerned parents of our day demand their kids play something like Sarcastaball instead? Is that really much better because at the end of the episode, Randy suffers brain damage from being sarcastic all the time? South Park almost never offers a solution to these issues and when it does it’s obviously too ridiculous to ever work in real life. It just lays out the issue and the different takes and lets the audience take it from there.
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South Park on the topic of PC culture
South Park knows, though its episode topics are always current, that the general tone of the show has always ignored viewers’ personal feelings. If you get offended, just change the channel. However, in the last couple of seasons, the show has made it abundantly apparent that they don’t really know what to do now that our culture is becoming increasingly PC – politically correct. South Park is well aware that there have been plenty of episodes that don’t fit in with the times such as “Fat Butt and Pancake Head” or “Here Comes the Neighborhood.” In 2015, the show dedicated an entire season to the subject of PC culture. The thesis of the season was that there are a lot of drawbacks to a culture that dissects everything we say but it’s good and it’s gonna win out overall so we might as well just accept it.
South Park understands that PC can be weaponized against society but also there’s a value in the culture as a whole, namely that we all learn to accept each other as human beings regardless of gender, sexuality, or race. PC culture isn’t going away and everyone including South Park just has to live with it. Not to say, of course, that the show has lost any of its punch or ability to walk the line between what’s okay nowadays and what isn’t.
The fact is, South Park will always be South Park. Commenting on the hot button topics in the news with the lack of subtlety the show is known for is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Such is so in the episode “Dead Kids” in 2018 about societies numbness to the frequency of mass shootings or “Mexican Joker” in 2019 about Immigrant detention centers. South Park is still just as edgy as it was. The difference between now and then is instead of making fun of different cultures or traits, it makes fun of society’s errors as a whole.
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