South Park’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on the must-know references in South Park. From Britney Spears to Ex Machina, South Park constantly borrows from and parodies pop culture and current events to make profound statements about the world we live in. The more of these references you know and understand, the richer the show becomes! So what are the most important of these references? How do they elevate the show to new levels? Join us as we dive in!
Written by: Matt Reichle
Narrated and Directed by: Jared Bauer
Assistant Director: Camille Lecoq
Edited by: Mark Potts
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
South Park’s Must-Know References!
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here. There are few (if any) properties that do a better job analyzing, parodying, and dissecting current events than South Park. The satire is made all the more poignant by it’s ability to stay topical. Sure, on one level it’s a series of dick and fart jokes but when you unpack some of its core references it can be quite profound.
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on References in South Park. Britney’s New Look is one of the more gruesome South Park episodes. In it Britney Spears goes camping in South Park, pees on a ladybug, is hounded by paparazzi, and Kobains herself. She spends the rest of the episode walking around like this until the people of South Park literally photograph her to death.
The episode is a reference to the 1948 short story, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson where a small town draws lots to determine who gets stoned to death as a sacrifice for a good harvest. The Lottery is a commentary on mob psychology, tradition, and scapegoating. It interrogates how easily tradition can justify unspeakable cruelty.
South Park substitutes lottery winner Tessie Hutchinson with Britney Spears. The story plays with the typical lottery narrative- instantaneous riches for a lucky few who live happily ever after. Except in this case, you don’t get that happy ending- you get stoned – not the good kind.
Similarly, South Park takes the idea of “Celebrity”- also a means of instantly generating piles of cash for very lucky people and shows that— well, celebrity can be a curse. South Park exposes the cruel sacrificial economy of celebrity reporting. People grind their entire lives to become famous, and if their hard work pays off, they face the possibility of win the lottery, and getgetting symbolically stoned in the tabloids.
The stones from the Lottery are substituted with camera flashes, and comments about Britney’s boob job scars, camel toe, and weight. This in light of her missing skull satirizes tabloid media’s insatiable appetite to willinglyruthless disregard for celebrity’s humanity in pursuit of profit. In the Lottery Old Man Warner says:
The Lottery exposes the shallow justification for human sacrifice and the complicity of the surrounding public. Britney’s publicist, her music producers, the MTV awards, and the paparazzi are all just as responsible for her public execution. “Britney’s New Look” exposes the cult of celebrity as a ruthless economy built on voyeuristic consumption of celebrity dysfunction.
In the last three episode of season 19 Jimmy discovers that ads have become indistinguishable from reality, and even other people. The show develops this idea with some clever nods to sci-fi classics about artificial intelligence. Jimmy’s interrogation of Leslie is a nod to the interview scenes in Ex-Machina except Leslie is an Ad and Ava is a very sexy robot.
After interviewing Leslie Jimmy asks the newsmen: Does she know she’s an ad??
Which is a nod to Bladerunnder: Does she know she’s a replicant?
Ex Machina and Bladerunner explore the line between humanity and machine—they effectively ask: what does it mean to be human? In Southpark the replicants are replaced by advertisements that have adapted so well that they are indistinguishable from humans. A dig on sponsored content—the idea is that most advertising now is indistinguishable from most of the news people consume.
The final episode opens with PC Principal savagely massacring a room full of ads; Similar to the way Deckard retires replicants—he even quickly administers the Voight-kampff test before he kills them. The Voight-kampff test gauges empathy reactions by administering a series of questions about animals that allegedly tells the difference between humans and replicants.
In South Park the test determines if you are PC, and if you don’t care about being PC you aren’t human. South Park also borrows the Femme Fatale trope from Ex Machina and Bladeruner. Kyle and Jimmy fall for the supposedly sizzling Ad Leslie, Deckard falls in love with sexy replicant Rachael, and Caleb falls for smoking hot robot Ava, and—they are all thinking with their dicks.
South Park’s stroke of genius is subtle. By placing PC principal in the Advertisement with Leslie it puts PC principal in the same existential crisis as Deckard: is he human or something else? However, instead of being just an interrogation of humanity, South Park folds a criticism of cultural capitalism into its narrative. PC principal is tantamount to a lifestyle brand that can advertised.
Advertising succeeds because it sells people on a way of living—it paints a beautiful picture to be adhered to— all of the products that are part of that life are necessary components. And being PC is just one of them. The episode “Scause for Applause” takes aim at childhood heroes. Jesus and Stan serve as stand ins for Lance Armstrong and the moral center of doctor Seuss stories is twisted a bit.
When its revealed that Jesus didn’t actually suffer for anyone’s sins because he was on pain killers and HGH the people of South Park line up to cut their “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets off in effigy at the local Walgreens. The episode comments on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and the folks that jumped off the Livestrong bandwagon after they learned that Lance was a dirty dirty cheater.
While the episode could spend the entire time dumping on Lance for cheating: South Park does something interesting. They turn the episode into a criticism of the general population.Halfway through the episode the animation changes and everything goes Seuss mode.
When Stan and Jesus want to make new bracelets to raise awareness for the farmers of Belarus they visit Doctor P.F. Pityet Bracelets and Factory- a reference to Sylvester McMonkey McBean from “the Sneeches. The Sneeches are Seuss-ian characters that are either born with or without stars on their bellies—Sly McBean preys on the Sneeches desire to feel special by removing or adding stars to bellies. McBean makes bank doing these operations until, in the end the Sneeches can’t tell the difference between the O.G. Star bellies and O.G. non star bellies.
The language “on thars,” the animation, and rhyme scheme used in South Park are all mirrored from the Sneeches story. Like McBean with his stars, P.F. Pityet removes and creates new scause bands to wear. And the name Pityet is a clear reference to an economics that prays on pity and self-congratulations.
Raising awareness” is ridiculed as a form of sick pity where the person giving gains more via their self-gratification than the receiver of aid. In the Sneeches, Dr. Seuss preaches kindness and focuses on commonalities as a way to bring people together. While South Park suggests that todays kindness and love of difference is likely no more than a way for people build their cultural capital.
The episode lampoons people like Cartman who wear charities on their sleeve as a fashion statement—instead of actually doing the hard work of helping others, people prefer causes that require little to no effort. South Park takes the structure of a Doctor Seuss story and deprives it of its moralistic content—it takes the somewhat non-controversial act of “consciousness raising” and reveals the perverted narcissism that pervades these acts of charity.
Disaster films are common fodder for South Park. The episode “Pee” is basically “2012”, “Pandemic” and “Pandemic 2: The Startling” make fun of POV disaster movies like “Cloverfield”, and “Two Days After the Day After Tomorrow” makes fun of… “The Day After Tomorrow. But these references aren’t just throwaways——the over the top hyperbole challenges the current trend of media fearmongering with doomsday warnings and apocalyptic scenarios.
Each episode has some sort of calamity. In “Pee” earthquakes and tsunamis of urine at “Pi Pi’s Splashtown” threaten the lives of the children. In Pandemic it is Giant Guniea Creatures terrorizing the world. In Two Days After the Day Bef—you know what episode I am referring to… it’s the flood of Beavertown. In each episode, a tiny event sparks a disproportionate calamity.
When too many people pee in the waterpark there’s a tsunami, a single boating accident leads the town to believe that a runaway ice age is about to start, and when the head of homeland security attempts to stop a pandemic of Peruvian pan pipe bands. Giant Guinea attack.
Each episode riffs on the reactionary nature of the media, panic, and subsequent news coverage. In the Two days after episode the news reports that the town of Beaverton has hundreds of millions dead even though the population of the town is only in the thousands. Later the news reports that Chicago has 600 billion casualties— a direct reference to the news reports that inflated the initial death tolls of hurricane Katrina.
The reference to people looting, raping, and acts of cannibalism divulged without any actual reporting is a scathing indictment of our current journalistic practices that merely circulate news without any fact checking or independent verification. And shit… this is before the stunning revelation that we live in a post-fact world. Similar to the narratives of disaster that instantly seek a cause, purpose, or person responsible for these cataclysmic events, the people of South Park are less concerned about helping the people of Beaverton and are more interested in playing the blame game.
But when Stan says “I broke the Damn” no one listens because it doesn’t fit their narrative of blame. South Park takes the tropes of disaster films: thinly connected plot points, sketchy scientific discourse, shaky hand held cameras, and ridiculous over the top catastrophe sequences and pushes them to their extreme to show the inanity of both the disaster genre and contemporary “journalism”.
Following in the traditions of Johnathan Swift, O’Henry, and Mark Twain—Trey Parker and Matt Stone paint a bleak picture of society: a world of sexy robots, politically correct bullies, foul mouthed children, sentient whole foods, and an endless number of clueless celebrities. South Park disembowels popular culture and feeds the audience the intestinal spillage, it cannibalizes the tropes and references that circulate through American discourse, and it re-presents them in digital-cardboard in order to create a new understanding. And it’s awesome. Thanks for watching.