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Articles > Politics July, 12, 2021

South Park: The greatest satire of our time?

Mason Oldridge
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3.73 / 10

The subgenre of the adult animated comedy gets a bad rap, stereotyped as defined by toilet humour and childish gags. The adult animated comedy actually shines a light on topical content like no other. It deals with controversial subjects in a truly unique manner.

A pioneer of the genre, The Simpsons debuted ahead of its time in 1989. It became known for regularly predicting the future, notably 9/11 and Trump’s presidency. Ten years later, Family Guy debuted in 1999 and became a cult classic among young adults, touching upon difficult topics; though, it was back in 1997, when a show came along that delivered political and social commentary in a truly surreal way: South Park.

South Park’s madcap and daring methods of portraying such commentary have led to the show being shunned as offensive, seeing other media take credit for delicately handling content in a more mainstream and acceptable manner.

South Park focuses on the four schoolboys and the crazy characters in their fictional town of South Park, Colorado.

Fun fact: It’s actually based on the real area of the same name.

The show made a name for itself from its gross-out humour and crude vulgarity. The creators defended these as a more accurate representation of the rude behaviour of children, as opposed to the unrealistic yet positive child role models previously seen on television.

Controversy arose particularly in Season 4 with the introduction of a new character schoolboy: Timmy. Timmy is disabled, bound to his electric wheelchair with what seems to be a combination of cerebral palsy and Tourettes, and can only say his name and the unusual catchphrase “livin’ a lie”. The boys like Timmy and treat him as an equal, though the adults accuse them of laughing at him. The character highlights how the issue is that people treat disabled people different under the guise of supporting them which is what actually alienates them in the first place.   

A fan favourite episode hails from Season 8: ‘Goobacks. The episode focuses on immigration, with time travellers travelling back from their poverty-stricken future to modern-day South Park, where they take up all the jobs by working for minimal wages. The episode balances the argument well; at first, the townspeople are welcoming of the immigrants and sympathetic towards the difficult circumstances they have come from but grow tired of them when they overcrowd the schools and take up all the work.

However, the greatest moment of the episode is the parody of redneck culture which spawned one of the show’s most famous catchphrases. Darryl and his redneck followers organise a rally in protest of the immigrants, ranting about them and proclaiming “They took our jobs!” in their ever-growing Southern accents. The rednecks conclude that the only way to fix the problem is to stop the future from happening. After Darryl angrily dismisses global warming as a ridiculous way of doing so, they claim that the solution is to all turn gay and therefore stop future generations from being born.

So what is it about South Park that makes its commentary truly special?

While most US entertainment is dominated by the liberal media, South Park takes a libertarian approach to its satire. The creators have expressed dislike towards both ends of the political spectrum, resulting in them taking the perspective of an outsider having a fair crack at both viewpoints of several debates. Critics have placed the show closest to the term ‘libertarianism’, meaning they take a more conservative view on political issues and a more liberal view on social issues.

This can be seen in several episodes through the holy grail of satire is the episode Red Hot Catholic Love’ from Season 6. In the episode parodying the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, the town’s priest Father Maxi attempts to expose the abuse, only to find that all the town’s priests are involved and more concerned about keeping this quiet. Upon realising the extent of the problem, Father Maxi takes the issue to the Vatican, where again the entire congregation are only concerned about how they can continue abusing the boys.

The issue is presented in an exaggerated manner, with the congregation in uproar at suggestions of changing the Vatican law to condemn sexual acts with the children and even more so at a substitute of sexual relations with their wives instead. There is even the alien race of Gelgameks present at the Vatican, presumably to emphasise the ridiculousness of the situation.

Meanwhile, the townspeople are horrified by the scandal and respond in the most bizarre way possible: converting to Atheism. It’s a common occurrence for the townspeople to react to events in madcap ways with the children often being the only voices of reason, like in Season 6’s ‘Child Abduction Is Not Funny, when, upon learning that it’s often parents who abduct their own children the most, the parents react by sending their children away to live on their own.

However, it’s the even more bizarre subplot of the episode that proves South Park is the greatest form of satire. Upon discovering that defecating from the mouth is a healthier form of digestion, the whole town begins doing so. The pinnacle of all satire comes when the townspeople discuss the positivity of Atheism while all defecating from their mouths. This can be seen as a visual representation of Father Maxi’s speech towards the Vatican when he states “when they have no mythology to live their lives by, they just start spewing a bunch of crap out of their mouths”.

This shows that the scandal within the Catholic Church isn’t representative of the Catholic faith, claiming that the Bible stands to help guide people through life and encourage positive behaviour and it is when people interpret the Bible too literally that scandal emerges. In doing so, the episode has also criticised the narrow-mindedness and naivety of Atheists.

Therefore, a seemingly liberal and anti-religious episode has actually honoured the Conservative counterpoint that Catholicism originally supports good behaviour and offers guidance whereas Atheism can support pejorative attitudes. This episode alone can singlehandedly elevate South Park on the metaphorical pedestal of satire. It also shows how someone who just sees horny priests and toilet humour, should scratch beneath the surface to see the layers of the episode’s meaning.

South Park may no longer be in its golden age but the recent COVID episode proves it can still provide commentary on current topics. As we navigate through an ever-growing crazy world, South Park will always be there to provide a unique satire of whatever is going on.

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