How South Park Gets Trump Right – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on South Park’s Season 21 Episode 7 “Doubling Down”!
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Written by: Amanda Scherker
Edited by: Mark Potts
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
How South Park Gets Trump Right – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here. If you’ve been listening to our South Park podcast, Respect our Authoritah, you know we’ve been low-key obsessed with a really interesting problem South Park is facing this year: how do you make social satire when reality is already so absurd? In interviews, Matt and Trey have noted that liberals AND conservatives frequently praise the same episodes, each thinking that the show has secretly “sided” with them. Then, after Season 20 was all-but railroaded by the 2016 election, they made a new vow: avoid Trump-related narratives. “We don’t want to be CNN,” they told the Independent. But with divisive politics dominating our national discourse, can a show that prides itself on NOT taking sides continue to stay relevant?
Judging by their latest episode, which manages to take a stance without resorting to partisan talking points, the answer is ABSOLUTELY! In fact, this episode is one of my favorite indictments of Trump on television, and quite possibly one of the most nuanced. Of course, that’s not to say that they have anything uplifting to say. Because if there’s any one consistent message this season, it’s that we’re all f***ed. Welcome to this Wisecrack Quicktake on South Park’s Doubling Down. And as always, Spoilers Ahead.
But first, a quick recap. Heidi once again tries to end things with Eric, probably for something petty. “You called me a whore and pushed me in front of a car!”” As always, he ugly cries and emotionally blackmails her into staying with him. After watching Cartman continue to abuse Heidi, Kyle makes it his duty to rescue her, “We have a responsibility!”, and eventually realizes he’s fallen for her.
Meanwhile, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Mike Pence try to stand up to the president, but Garrison gives them a lil taste of his signature “f***ing people to death.” After some illicit courtship, Heidi dumps Cartman, gets with Kyle, and Cartman vows to take revenge on his least-favorite Jew. Things seem to be looking up for Heidi until her friend, make her feel like s*** for ever dating Cartman in the first place “I mean no offense, Heidi. But what the f*** were you thinking?” All the “I told you so’s” make Heidi feel hurt and resentful, causing her to double down on Cartman, who presumably gives her an offscreen lecture about the merits of anti-Semitism. “It’s hard enough without your people always trying to get ahead.”
Covered in blankets and bruises, Pence Ryan and McConnell commemorate Garrison’s first anniversary as president, and Garrison reassures them that the next three years will be worse. What’s so brilliant about this episode is how the A and B plots parallel each other. The main gist is: Just as Heidi is in an abusive relationship with Cartman, so too are Trump supporters in an abusive relationship with Trump. The parallel is hinted at early in the episode through subtly coded language. Kyle, wondering why Heidi’s staying with Cartman, asks: “How is she still SUPPORTING him?” Stan: “She loves him I guess. Kyle: “But she has to know he sucks. He clearly sucks. What the hell is going on?” Here, his wording is deliberately identical to the stock language critics use to question why Trump voters continue to support him.
Kyle then straight up asks Heidi what the deal is, and here is where the parallel falls perfectly into place. It turns out Heidi and Cartman, like President Garrison, are about to celebrate their anniversary!“I know you and Cartman have an anniversary coming up and and I’m just wondering you know, how do YOU think he’s doing as a boyfriend?” Kyle presses the point, again using language perfectly suited to Trump: “Some of us are thinking that, uh, maybe he’s not SUPER QUALIFIED to be with you?” Here, Kyle is pretty clearly playing the role of a liberal reporter interviewing a Trump supporter. “What are the things about Cartman that you find remotely redeeming?” This approach does NOT prove very tactful, and Heidi “doubles down” on Cartman. “He’s great. We’re doing great. You don’t know what Eric’s like when we’re alone, ok? He’s actually really good to me.”
Later in the episode, we see the exact same exchange in a more familiar context, “Speaker Ryan it’s the ANNIVERSARY of the president being elected how do you think he’s doing?” “Well, what do you mean? He’s great. We’re doing great…a lot of people judge him and just see the negative. People don’t know how great the president can be behind closed doors!” The irony becomes layered when, just as Kyle uses political polling lingo to talk about Cartman, Paul Ryan starts using language associated with domestic abuse to protect Trump: “Uh-huh and is that semen on your black eye?” “Oh. No, ehhh I tripped on a doorknob. That’s just… that’s doorknob cum.”
Later, Heidi finally admits to Kyle that she may have made a mistake. Here again, her description of falling for Cartman sounds like the description reporters use to explain how the white working class voter “fell for” Trump “Before we started going out I was in a really bad place. I felt pushed away by society. Then this guy came along who told me all the things I wanted to hear… and I just went with it. Does that make me a bad person?” Here, Kyle helpfully points out how Cartman, like Trump, constantly plays the victim to win sympathy. “We all wrongly see ourselves as the victim soemtimes, but Cartman sees himself as the victim ALL the time.” Meanwhile, Heidi’s essentially the perfect stand in for the regretful Trump voter who really doesn’t want to admit she was wrong: “I don’t know how I’m going to face people if I finally give up.”
This culminates in a beautiful montage that essentially sums up the episode: a dejected Heidi evaluates her relationshipand the took-er-jerbsdudes cry watching Trump on TV. The message is clear: Heidi represents the white working class voter who is struggling to accept that banking on Trump was a mistake. But a glimmer of hope appears for both Heidi and the Republican leadership: Respectively, a healthy relationship with Kyle, and Garrison’s dismal poll numbers. Will Republican leaders AND Heidi be able to escape their cycles of abuse? Not so fast. As Garrison says: “See I know something about societal psychology that you three turdballs don’t. Everything’s gonna be fine…” What is Garrison talking about?
First, to preface: Something unique about South Park is the nuanced way it critiques liberals, whereas, due to the generally liberal politics of Hollywood, most satirical shows tend to mock conservatives. That trend has been particularly true in the past year, when SNL and others doubled-down on Trump-themed lampoonery. Of course, these shows are unlikely to resonate with even a vaguely regretful Trump voter. This climate is part of what has made Matt and Trey reluctant to constantly take easy shots at Trump or his supporters this season.
Which brings us to the dinner with Heidi and her pals, who bombard her with an array of smug jokes about Cartman’s racism and sociopathic tendencies, “Heidi come here, I wanna kiss you with my tongue! Ultimately, all these antics do is put Heidi on the defensive, making her feel stupid. Matt and Trey seem to be critiquing the way Hollywood has essentially declared “Open Season” on Trump and his supporters. This is most clearly expressed through Kyle, who often acts as the meta-voice of reason for the show. “You guys shouldn’t criticize her so much for going with Cartman.” “Why not? Eric Cartman is a horrible person.” “Trust me, I hate Cartman as much as any of you. But just, give her some space you know? You can’t keep saying ‘we told you so’ because if you make her feel dumb, she just doubles down and tries to prove to herself that it wasn’t dumb.” Here, the show professes unambiguous disdain for Trump, but seems to be urging the liberal media to be less condescending towards Trump voters, less eager to feel smug and say “I told you so.”
The girls should have heeded Kyle’s warning because their comments during dinner make Heidi run right back to Cartman “I think maybe I am just stupid and I don’t know what I want and it ends up hurting people.” “No, you need to know something, Heidi. None of this is your fault.” At this moment, an isolated, insecure Heidi is primed to believe whatever radical, bigoted garbage Cartman wants to serve up: presumably like the voters she’s come to represent.
And a surprisingly well coiffed Kyle is in for a surprise. Just as Trump has convinced his base to blame the left for everything that goes wrong with his presidency, Cartman has convinced Heidi to make Kyle her… well, Jewish scapegoat. “You can’t help it.. it’s how you were raised…what you were taught. My heritage is Irish so I’m prone to being moody and your heritage…well… You know. You can be a little sneaky sometimes and not even realize it.” Now, a word on this episode’s treatment of anti-Semitism. Of course, Jew jokes have been Cartman’s bread and butter since before Kenny’s first death. But this episode felt a little different. Heidi’s final speech to Kyle is pretty shocking. It’s not loaded with the usual overt punchlines: All we get is Kyle, looking pretty devastated. “Dude! Did she just call me a dirty Jew?”
South Park’s mockery of anti-Semites has never looked so… dark, which may be the show’s way of acknowledging how fundamentally different Cartman’s character sounds since the rise of the alt-right. Has South Park consciously graduated from goofy, childish bigotry to genuinely ugly bigotry? It seems like it. In the meanwhile, things are worse than ever. Heidi is now completely controlled by Cartman and the Republicans (and the nation) are gonna get fucked with an even bigger strap-on. Things are looking pretty bleak. What do you guys think? Will regretful Trump voters be shamed right back into his voting base, or even worse? Is there any hope for Heidi, Paul Ryan, or any of us? Let us know in the comments. And thanks for watching. Peace!