South Park on 2017 – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on South Park’s Season 21 Episode 9 “Super Hard PCness”!
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Written by: Amanda Scherker
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
South Park on 2017 – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here. For those of you following our South Park podcast Respect our Authoritah, you know we’ve been reflecting on how, this season is focused more on people’s reaction to our modern cultural clusterf*** rather than the actual events themselves. Well this week, the show commented on people’s reaction to something very close to our hearts: South Park itself. It makes me feel old saying this, but many of you might not remember a little movie called South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut because it’s almost 20-years-old. This episode artfully echoes the movie but this time, things are a little different. Is South Park showing signs of a moral crisis? Well let’s find out.
For those of you who aren’t caught up on this season, Kyle falls for Cartman’s girlfriend Heidi, but after a brief flirtation, Heidi kicks Kyle to the curb, returns to Cartman’s sweaty, stubby armed embrace, and starts to match her bloated beau right down to his trademark assholery. Let’s start the discussion with Heidi and Cartman brawling in the hallway. Kyle goes to break up the fight, and of course, everyone hates that he ruined the fun.
From that point on Kyle is the butt of a thousand jokes, until he thinks he’s figured out what’s caused such a culture of meanness at school- His former favorite show, Terrance and Phillip. Those two Canadians have kept on farting into old age, and have even tooted their way into a brand new Netflix Original Series. The new show is a hit, but Kyle hates it, because, having been metaphorically farted on in school, he finds himself sympathizing with the people getting farted on in the show. Rather than let those loose bowled loonies continue poisoning the hearts and minds of children, Kyle takes a stand. He organizes an activist group called Millennials Against Canada. His protest leads to him shutting down the show, and eventually it goes all the way to the president. Garrison tells Kyle to stop the protest, but he won’t, and Kyle eventually gets Garrison, literally, turned on by the idea of nuking Canada.
Now, if that plot sounds familiar, congratulations, you, like us, have watched a lot of South Park. Turns out those jokes about Kyle being like his mom weren’t just empty insults. Kyle’s protest mirrors the behavior of his mother in South Park, Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Just like Sheila created Mothers Against Canada to protest the obscenity of the Terrance and Phillip movie, Kyle has created Millennials Against Canada to protest Terrance and Phillip’s new Netflix show.
The parallels are more than just conceptual. They lift entire scenes from the movie. On one level this isSouth Park’s way of playfully comparing Millennial hostility towards offensive mediato the parents of the 90s parents who blamed issues like drug use and Columbine on everything from Heavy Metal to South Park, but there’s something else going on here. The South Park movie features a movie in a movie, Terrance and Phillip: Asses of Fire. It was a meta stand-in for the South Park movie itself. Just as Kyle and co. were witnessing a cruder, R-rated version of an already obscene TV show, we, the audience, were similarly consuming a cruder R- rated version of an already obscene TV show. While parents were protesting South Park in real life, parents in the movie protested Terrance and Phillip. The Canadian duo has always been a riff on how people who’ve never watched South Park characterize the show as nothing but farts and poop jokes.The thing is, South Park is FAR from Terrance and Phillip these days. South Park has gotten increasingly topical and specific over the years, with the occasional return to their roots.
That means that old Terrance and Phillip, despite sharing initials with South Park creator Trey Parker, aren’t a perfect parallel to the show itself, but the idea that both shows are objects of both love and scorn in their respective universes holds up, so, with Terrance and Phillip’s Asses of Fire, Matt and Trey were asking us to go along with them as they wonder about their place in the cultural landscape. Were they to blame back then? Their answer was a resounding NO. Now, in the turbulent times of 2017, they’re doing it again, but this time the answer of whether or not they are implicated in society’s ills is not so clear. Once Kyle realizes that the person getting farted on has feelings too, he finds the show cruel and offensive. On one hand Kyle’s growing distance from Terrance and Phillip is a commentary on how Millennials’ new found awareness has rendered old-school South Park humor no longer relevant, which leaves Matt and Trey feeling as old as Terrance and Phillip look. On the other hand, this is the beginning of the show’s attempt at self-evaluation.
Kyle takes his concern to the new vice principal, Strong Woman. “You see there’s a culture at this school that embraces meanness and I believe now it comes from a Canadian TV show. All the boys watch it. I did too. We all laughed while they farted on innocent peoples heads. The thing is, I never felt for the person being farted on- until now.”
There’s no shortage of think pieces that suggest that South Park may have fostered this culture of meanness. But Strong Woman disagrees: “You want to blame farts? That seems kind ridiculous, doesn’t it?” “What?!” “I mean, it’s a slippery slope when we start pointing the finger for our own shortcomings,”,” she’s making a very salient point here, one that we can dig deeper into by again returning to Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
As the war with Canada rages, Kyle runs into his mother. She says it was all for him, but Kyle doesn’t see it that way. “I-I-I’m doing very important things!” “But Mom, you never took the time to talk to me. Whenever I get in trouble, you go off and blame everybody else. But I’m the one to blame, deal with me.” Sheila has started an entire war so she could avoid confronting the fact that she was simply a bad parent who didn’t pay attention to what her child needed. Just like his mom, Kyle brings about horrible things, not because of his principles, but because of his self-absorbed motivations. “What do I want? I want a world where laughter doesn’t come at someone else’s expense. Where people can live freely without fear of being farted on. I want a world, where you aren’t ridiculed for trying to help. A world where a nice girl that I liked isn’t turned into another Eric Cartman!”
Here Kyle admits the real reason for his actions, the shortcomings he was trying to hide. So, if Sheila was protesting the Terrance and Phillip movie to cover her own failings as a parent, and Kyle is doing it to hide his feelings of having lost Heidi to Cartman what does that say about South Park the show, since Kyle is so often the voice of the show? Well, maybe it’s this. Maybe Kyle’s sadness at losing Heidi, who has basically turned into a female version of Cartman, anti-Semitism and all, mirrors Matt and Trey’s sadness at creating a show that may have spawned a few real life Cartmans. They’ve always prided themselves on making fun of everyone equally, but now do they just come off like out of touch old people farting on minorities?
Now just to be clear, I love South Park and hate censorship, but this critical look in the mirror also reflects the show’s identity crisis. After a failed attempt at full on satirical serialization, we’re now in the midst of a season full of ups and downs and a mix of tones: the episodes range from Terrance and Phillip style fart jokes to failed political satires to successful ones and episodes that don’t make a lot of sense. Should they be a political show? Do they even want to? Can they still be as funny if people are now concerned that the people they’re farting on have feelings? Are we truly in a post-funny era of satire?
Knowing that Matt and Trey find a lot of 2017 to be miserable, just like the rest of us, it’s interesting that unlike Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, they aren’t giving themselves a free pass. Now, we don’t know for sure how that evaluation is going to play out, the episode ends on a real cliffhanger – what comes after the bombs land on Canada? Well we’ll just have to twiddle our fingers until the season finale. So what do you think, Wisecrack? Do you think the show is getting maudlin in its old age, looking back on its past like bleary eye-d former state football champion, or do Matt and Trey not give a s***? Maybe we’re overthinking it. Either way, let us know, and as always peace.