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South Park is a satirical animated series that debuted on Comedy Central on 13 August 1997. Its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, first met when they were teamed together for a film studies class project at the University of Colorado. The series about four foul-mouthed eight-year-olds[note 1] and their strange hometown grew out of their belief that only child characters could be politically incorrect enough to satirize American society.
- 1 Scientology
- 2 Muhammad censorship controversy
- 3 "Go God Go"
- 4 Scientific denialism, and other libertarian quackery
- 5 Racism
- 6 Troll Central
- 7 Everyone has standards
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
During the ninth season, which began in March 2005, there were rumors that the creators of South Park were working on an episode that would skewer Scientology. These rumors likely originated with cast member Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist who voiced the character of Chef. That Stone and Parker would want to produce such an episode should have come as little surprise to the hierarchy of Scientology, as they had lampooned elements of other religions — especially dogma, fundamentalism and the slave-like devotion many religious leaders demand of their followers. (Stone — who is from a Jewish background (now a self-proclaimed agnostic/atheist) and who supplies the voice of Kyle Broflovski, who is Jewish — has written many episodes satirizing Judaism.)
The episode, titled "Trapped in the Closet", aired on 16 November 2005. In it, Stan Marsh is screened by a Scientologist who finds that he has a high thetan level, and so is believed to be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. Tom Cruise and other Scientologists visit Stan and try to recruit him as a church leader. When Stan ridicules Cruise's acting and career choices, Cruise throws a tantrum and locks himself in Stan's closet. This leads to a running gag where several people ask him to come out of the closet. Eventually, fellow Scientologists John Travolta and R&B singer R. Kelly join Cruise in the closet.
The episode also includes a long segment describing the dogma of Scientology. It ends with Stan saying to the Scientologists "so sue me", to which they reply "fine, we will!" In the end credits, everybody is credited as "John Smith" or "Jane Smith".
At first, Isaac Hayes was willing to participate in the episode. But as the time to produce the episode drew closer, Hayes withdrew his support and eventually quit the series, saying "There is a place in this world for satire but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward
my religious beliefs begins." In the first episode of the tenth season — "The Return of Chef" (aired 22 March 2006) — Chef is killed off after he joins a club that is really a brainwashing cult.
In October 2011, Mark "Marty" Rathbun, a defector from Scientology who was once the head of a secret unit within Scientology charged with inspecting critics of the organization, claimed to have documentation that his former unit had done in-depth investigations of the South Park production team — particularly of Stone and Parker — in retaliation for the episodes Trapped in the Closet and The Return of Chef.
Muhammad censorship controversy
In 2010, South Park — being a show that likes to intentionally piss people off by making very good points — decided to broadcast an episode featuring the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Despite the depiction being of just a guy in a bear suit and the same show depicting Muhammad back in 2001 (and in the flesh, sans bear suit) Comedy Central decided to outright censor the image. Stone and Parker were adamant that it wasn't some random in-joke, particularly as the entire event was foreshadowed by the 2006 episode "Cartoon Wars"; the storyline was almost identical to how the 2010 controversy played out, but with the cartoon in question being Family Guy. However, the degree to which Comedy Central took the censorship — especially Kyle's speech at the end, of which only connecting words such as "and" are audible — was extreme enough to make it look like satire.
The event eventually sparked "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" in protest, with the aim being to make depictions of Muhammad common enough to render them hardly offensive at all, or at least make most Muslims grow up and get over themselves.
"Go God Go"
In true South Park manner of poking fun at everyone and everything, the creators of South Park also made an episode about atheism. The episode features Richard Dawkins (whose voice actor should be executed for his poor accent imitation) having an affair with the local transgender school teacher (the creators have said that Dawkins comes off as a smart guy, but still ignorant enough to have sex with a transgender woman without realizing it). The two later lead the abolition of all religion. While atheism is favourably depicted in the episode, it does depict Dawkins as being a dick and condescending to anyone who disagrees with him.
Society in the distant future is then depicted as being completely atheistic, worshiping science and ridiculing as well as violently fighting everything religious, but involved in a three-party civil war over an atheist community naming dispute (which is called the great question).
Scientific denialism, and other libertarian quackery
While South Park is the most cutting edge satirical show of its caliber, with its "equal opportunity offender" policy of poking fun at all targets, there have been instances where the show has promoted libertarian values and political apathy. Since South Park is watched by millions and is a cultural phenomenon, the show is no doubt a prime enabler of some aspects of internet libertarianism.
Global warming denial
- "Rainforest Shmainforest" parodied environmental activism. It was inspired by a trip that Trey and Matt took in Puerto Rico, where they hated every minute of being in the rainforest. Their opinion on environmentalism is best summed up by the
terrorist leaderfreedom fighter's rant about how rich Americans use up all the resources then dictate what the people in the third world do with their own backyard and how they live their lives without said rich Americans actually suffering the consequences of living there, all because Americans like the "pretty flowers". The episode began with the kids getting unwillingly sucked into a kids' musical group, "Getting Gay With Kids!", and going on a field trip to the rainforest for activist purposes. After almost getting killed by the harsh elements of nature, and before being ritualistically sacrificed by the native population, Cartman (who hated the trip and the rainforest from the get-go) saves the day along with an industrial logging company. They proceed to pave down the trees, kill the wildlife and natives, and free the captive group. "Getting Gay with Kids!" immediately changes their tune:
"There's a place called the "Rainforest", it truly SUCKS ASS!/Let's knock it all down, and get rid of it FAST! Getting Gay with Kids is here!"
- In "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow", Earth Day people come to South Park. The Earth Day people utilize a Jedi mind trick to make the townspeople not only believe that all they say is correct, while that which conservatives say is slander, but to also build for them a massive Earth Day celebration. When Clyde says "My dad is a geologist and he says there actually isn't any concrete evidence of global warming", they answer "That's not true, global warming is going to kill us all. The Republicans are responsible". (Of course, his father was speaking outside his field of expertise, and as such he would be no authority on global warming.)
- "ManBearPig" is a parody of the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and of Al Gore. It is also a prime example of Global Warming denial. In the episode, Al Gore comes to South Park to warn everyone about the dangers of ManBearPig. Throughout the episode, Al Gore is depicted as an immature manchild who thinks everyone's not taking him "serial". Towards the end of the episode, after the kids survive getting trapped in a cave, Stan yells at Al Gore, calling him a sore loser who had no friends because of his loss in the 2000 election, and states that "ManBearPig" isn't even real, and it's just Al Gore's method of gaining friends because he is a friendless loser. We hope those of you who aren't South Park Republicans can catch the "subtlety". The titular ManBearPig has become a meme amongst conservatives and libertarian global warming denialists. Expect them to pop the meme and shout "MANBEARPIG!" whenever you try to debate them with facts.
- Possibly the most explicit form of global warming denial may have been in the episode "Goobacks", which was a commentary on illegal immigration policy. In this episode, time travellers from the future, who happen to be a mix of all human races, go back in time to work minimum wage jobs because their future is desolate and offers no opportunity. This causes a ruckus with the local rednecks who chant out "DEY TOOK UR JERBS!" in response. In one scene where they all gather at a rally, the rednecks conduct some brainstorming out of what little brains they have to get rid of the time travelling "goobacks". One of them proposes to pollute the Earth to cause the ice caps to melt for massive floods, and the head redneck "corrects" him on the subject matter. The episode ends with the rednecks deciding to become gay so that they don't produce offspring so that the goobacks won't be born. Stan counteracts that solution with the goal of cleaning up the Earth and being environmentally friendly in order to not produce such a dismal future for the goobacks, which is what the South Park residents start to do until Stan gets bored and says "all right, this is gay, let's go back to the redneck homosexual idea."
- South Park has since then apologized for their ManBearPig episodes and making fun of Al Gore through an episode which makes fun of common anti-climate change tropes and reveals that the ManBearPig indeed exists. Al Gore responded, saying that he was impressed by their apology.
Acceptance of global warming
In "Time To Get Cereal" and "Nobody Got Cereal?", Manbearpig is confirmed to be real and starts eating and dismembering residents of the town. The boys, who act as the mouthpiece of Parker and Stone, apologize to Al Gore for making fun of him and admit that he was right all along and beg for his help. The high moment of "Time to Get Cereal" is a diner scene where a manbearpig denialist is shown stating typical denialist talking points like "there's no scientific evidence" and "lots of smart people don't believe." Once Manbearpig bursts into the restaurant and starts murdering its patrons, the denier states that despite being real, there is nothing that can be done and it's too late. Besides, he argues, the Chinese aren't going to do anything about Manbearpig. After this line, the man is eaten and torn apart by the monster. In "Nobody Got Cereal?", it is shown that Stan's grandfather's generation made a deal with the beast. In order to have nice things like cars, they promised manbearbig that he could return and wreak havoc on Stan's generation. When Stan finally gets a chance to negotiate a new deal with manbearpig, the townspeople are unwilling to give up Red Dead Redemption 2. Instead, he renegotiates a deal where he does not have to give up anything, but Manbearpig will return in five years and the carnage will be much worse.
Depiction of abortion rights and transgender people
Abortion is heavily parodied in South Park. In "Eek, a Penis!", Cartman encourages marginalised minorities to have abortions like rich white girls do as a means of "cheating the system". In another episode, Eric's mother sleeps with Colorado's governor to convince him to change abortion laws, only to realise that it is impossible to perform an abortion after the child is born and he will not be able to "abort" her 8 year old son Eric. In the episode "Woodland Christmas Critters" and in the "Stick of Truth" video game, it helps save other people, the former being to stop the reign of the Antichrist and the latter to keep the town from being blown up by a nuclear bomb. These satirical instances at least indicate Matt and Trey don't completely consider abortion to be bad.
The episode "Krazy Kripples" satirizes Christopher Reeve's post-paralysis charitable services as "self serving" considering that Christopher Reeve never partook in any charity for paralysis until he became crippled. However, the treatment made possible by stem cell research is depicted as Reeve sucking the stem cell liquid out of the cracked spinal cords of aborted infants, and gaining super powers which he continues to do so after being cured of paralysis. The day is saved when Gene Hackman gets the government to declare stem cell research as "unethical". This episode was more of a parody of the Superman films than a stance on stem cell research, and could be construed as a parody of the fears of opponents.
LGBT rights are continually parodied, to mixed results, with the teacher, Garrison, whose sexual identity shifts repeatedly from episode to episode, and stems from not being molested by their father. After fighting the identity of being gay, Garrison relents and accepts it. In "Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina," the teacher transitions to being a woman but when she realises she cannot do things like get pregnant or have an abortion, she regrets the decision. She eventually realises she made the right choice and is comfortable with her decision. (This is contrasted with more outlandish "identity" issues such as Kyle who feels like a tall black basketball player or his father who has always felt like a "dolphin" inside. They have surgery to help their transition but they end up having disastrous consequences.) Then, in "D-Yikes!", she suddenly shifts to being a lesbian. Then, in "Eek, A Penis," Garrison wants to de-transition and proclaim to be male again. In short, it's not clear what type of individual Garrison is, when identity shifts on what is the focus of the joke.
In "The Cissy", people uncomfortable with anything outside the binary gender system are lampooned. The episode largely revolves around bathroom politics, particularly the controversy over gender-neutral bathrooms. The ending concludes that "Anyone who has a problem sharing a bathroom with people who might be transgender will have to use the special designated bathroom designed to keep them away from the normal people who don't care." Cisgender people who are uncomfortable get to use the "cissy" bathroom. It even acknowledges non-cisgender identities as not always having to do with sex. When Stan goes to his father for guidance, the question he asks is: "Dad, is it possible for someone to be one way on the outside, but totally different on the inside? I mean, can somebody identify as one sex, but be something else, but still have it be nothing about sex?"
"Board Girls" depicts the controversy around trans-woman athletes where two progressive people struggle with how to deal with a person who is clearly pretending to be trans to have a competitive edge in sports. They are conflicted between calling out the person and accepting all people who identify as another gender. In the end, the athlete pretending to be a woman ends up being humiliated by a group of strong school girls and PC Principle resolves his own inner conflict over whether to call out people he perceives as identifying with another gender for dubious reasons or not.
The n-word is used 42 times in one South Park episode titled "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson," leading one to believe the episode is just another "We make fun of everyone." excuse that very racist people like to use to justify hate speech. However, it is one of the show's most affecting episodes for the way it delves deeply into issues of race in America and fosters deeper understanding and compassion for minorities among members of dominant society. Randy, one of the main characters' fathers, appears on the game show Wheel of Fortune and makes the mistake of attempting to solve one of the puzzles with a racial slur. As a sort of taste of his own medicine, people use the term “nigger-guy” as a derogatory term towards Randy, much like how the word nigger is used offensively towards black people. Another scene emphasizes how, even in seemingly harmless or joking contexts, the use of the n-word is wrong since it is a powerful, terrible word with a long history of bad historical meanings, and hence has the ability to penetrate deeply. Randy is obviously upset in the scene after being forced to watch as he is mocked by a stand-up comic in a comedy club who uses the word "nigger-guy" in a non-confrontational manner to garner laughs. It forces white audience members to follow Randy as he meets various acts of discrimination, but not because it puts them in his shoes, but because it puts them in his shoes, forcing them to suffer the implications of a foolish racist act. It accomplishes this by staging a game show setting in which Randy uses a racist slur in such a way that the viewer at home is primed to believe the same way Randy does, possibly even believing Randy's response will be accurate.
Another important aspect of the show is that they realize at the end that as a privileged group, they cannot completely comprehend the impact of the n-word or how it feels to be racially discriminated against. The creators do their best to simulate the daily racial discrimination that African Americans suffer in order for people to better grasp what it's like to live as a minority, but they recognize that they will never be able to feel it for themselves. They acknowledge this with a little side-story depicting Randy's son Stan's interaction with his African American classmate Token Black (get it? token black guy? hehehe) Throughout the episode, Stan tries to persuade Token that the incident with his father was "not a big issue" because his father is not a racist and was driven to use the slur accidently, but Token consistently rejects his efforts, stating, "Actually, it's kind of a big deal, Stan. It may be a mistake but you don’t understand how it feels when that word comes up, so don’t say it isn’t a big deal.” Finally, near the end of the show, Stan receives a revelation about why the word may not appear significant to him but is significant to Token. In the final scene he finds Token and confronts him to explain that he has figured out why his way of thinking was short sighted and says, “I’ve been trying to say that I understand how you feel, but I’ll never understand. I’ll never really get how it feels for a black person to have somebody use the “n”-word. I don’t get it.” Token then responds, “now you get it Stan,” and the episode ends on a positive note of mutual understanding between the boys.
South Park has been accused of spawning a generation of alt-right trolls. This is based upon South Park's frequent use of "both sides are equally bad cynicism, attacks on earnestness, and overt bigotry and bullying ("Why are you taking it so seriously? They’re just jokes!"). Since we all know the creators of media are responsible for how the fans respond...
Everyone has standards
Despite the show's reputation as an equal-opportunity offender with no qualms about taking the piss out of everyone across the sociopolitical spectrum, one interesting fact is the cancelled Game Boy Color game, which was to be released alongside similar tie-in games for the Nintendo 64, PlayStation and PC. The game went gold and was to be submitted to Nintendo for approval and publishing, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided that a mature-themed game for a console with a significant player base of children would be more trouble than its worth, and had the game quietly shelved at the last minute, with them and a few staff members keeping the prototypes in commemoration of being the first South Park game. Crawfish Interactive, the developer behind the cancelled game, later took what they worked on thus far with the GBC South Park project and retooled it as Maya the Bee & Her Friends in Europe and The New Adventures of Mary Kate & Ashley in the US. A ROM image of the cancelled game was eventually leaked in 2018 after a member of the Lost Media Wiki collective managed to contact the lead developer.
- Islamic Awakening — Islamic group who were not very happy with the Muhammad thing.
- Revolution Muslim — Another jihadi group who were pissed off about Muhammed being depicted in a bear suit
- Parents Television Council — Christian group who are never happy with anything
- The Simpsons — already did it
- From Episode 306, Sexual Harassment Panda:
Judge: Mr. Marsh, what do you have to say?
Stan: What do you mean?
Judge: I need to hear your defense.
Stan: Uh… I'm eight?
- "Hayes leaves 'bigoted' South Park", BBC News, 14 March 2006, accessed 7 August 2016
- Rathbun, Mark "Marty". "Corporate Scientology Targets South Park", Moving On Up a Little Higher (Rathbun's blog), posted 23 October 2011, accessed 26 October 2011.
- South Park — Maybe We Should Have Done about Manbearpig on YouTube, accessed 17 November 2018
- I criticized ‘South Park’ for spawning a generation of trolls. And so the trolls came for me. by Dana Schwartz (Feb. 21, 2020 at 5:00 a.m. PST) The Washington Post.
- Lindy West Explains How South Park Paved the Way For the Alt-Right: Talking with the author of The Witches Are Coming about memes, media, and how not to become an American sucker. by Adrienne Westenfeld (Nov 5, 2019) Esquire.
- The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019) Hachette Books. ISBN 0316449881.
- How Jokes Won the Election: How do you fight an enemy who’s just kidding? by Emily Nussbaum (January 16, 2017) Esquire.
- "South Park [GBC - Cancelled - Unseen64"] (in en-US). 2008-04-05.
- South Park (found build of unreleased Game Boy Color game based on animated sitcom; 1998)