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Review – South Park Season 19, Episode 01: “Stunning and Brave”

After the disappointment that was Season 18, South Park returns to its roots and takes on PC culture in one of the most self-aware episodes yet.

Warning: Herein are spoilers for South Park Season 19, episode 01.

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Here is the basic gist of the episode: When Principal Victoria is fired from South Park Elementary (for making a joke about date rape and Bill Cosby), P.C. Principal is hired to take her place. He is a douchebag fraternity bro who pretty much bullies everyone — children and adults — into being politically correct. Nobody is happy about it, but Cartman, the eternal bigot, is the most terrified. He changes his attitude immediately, much to the chagrin, surprisingly, of his friends. Kyle becomes P.C. Principal’s main target, since Kyle was heard saying that he doesn’t consider Caitlin Jenner a hero. Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Butters beg Cartman to go back to his old ways and take on P.C. Principal, goading him by saying he should act more like his hero, Tom Brady. Cartman gives in, and attempts to frame the principal for child molestation. The principal becomes enraged when Cartman uses the term “spokesman” instead of “spokesperson,” and beats Cartman within an inch of his life, sending him to the hospital. Cartman once again vows never to return to his old ways, but is forced to break that vow in order to save Kyle, who is suffering worse and worse at the hands of the P.C. fraternity. Cartman tries to fight the fraternity off by sending in racial stereotypes, but all this does is cause more chaos. Kyle calls a halt to the madness, and tells everyone he agrees that Caitlin Jenner is “stunning and brave,” as everyone has been saying. This sates everyone around him, and the episode ends with the P.C. fraternity starting their own P.C. police force to oversee the city. Cartman has allegedly taught the P.C. bros that sometimes stereotypes and offensive humor can be used to discuss important issues, but Kyle is still dissatisfied, and points out that it seems that the only one who really won is Cartman. “And who does that remind you of, Kyle?” Cartman asks, referencing the boys’ earlier plea that he act more like Tom Brady.

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“Right, and what does Tom Brady do after breaking the rules?!” -Stan

“Deny and subvert.” -Cartman

Politcal Correctness (shortened as “P.C.”) has been an largely discussed subject lately, particularly by comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman. It’s only natural that it should be covered by South Park, the show infamous for breaking P.C. code in order to discuss important social issues. In essence, in this episode, Kyle is representative of South Park the show, who has issues with the politically correct state of the world. It’s important to note: Kyle is not a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, or any such thing. He’s actually a very sympathetic character. This drives home the point that Parker and Stone are NOT talking about actual bigots, but average and honest people who have the right to speak their mind, which doesn’t really harm anyone.

“I didn’t like Bruce Jenner when he was and athlete and on the Kardashians, and I don’t suddenly like him now.”

-Kyle

At the end of the episode, it is Cartman using offensive imagery to battle the ultra-P.C. frat boys, but all this does is make things worse. This is to show that two wrongs don’t make a right, and you can’t win by being a bigot, or by playing word police. Kyle is the one who has to make a sacrifice in order to calm things down. He knows he has to choose his battles in this situation, and has decided that this one isn’t worth fighting. He doesn’t want either side to win, so he ends the fight the only way he can think of.

Cartman uses racist stereotypes to fight the P.C. frat boys

Cartman uses racist stereotypes to fight the P.C. frat boys

South Park acknowledges that there is a difference between being a dick and just speaking your mind. Not everyone has to agree on every issue, and disagreement isn’t fair grounds for social conflict. Kyle is stuck in an all-too-real situation where the rest of the world has come to a certain consensus, and if you do not conform to it, you are ostracized. Let’s be very clear on one point: Free speech should be untouchable. At no point should anyone be able to force you to say anything against your will. In the end, for better or worse, it IS Kyle’s choice to do what he does. No one forces him to change his statements, although they tried vehemently throughout the episode: He makes the choice because he believed, in this case, it was the right thing to do.

The dark side of anyone being able to say anything they want is that you will hear from a great number of racists, sexists and homophobes, and their opinions will be treated as valid. This is a different case than Kyle’s: Certain people are out just to be malicious and spread hate and fear. This problem won’t be solved with word policing; it can only be solved with edification. These people must be taught that such beliefs are absurd, and the best way to do that, is through the kind of satire that South Park delivers.

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On the question of where this is going: It does seem that South Park is trying out another continuing story-line that will last all through season 19, much as they did in season 18. However, now they may have had the time to work out the kinks, and figure out where exactly they want to go with this story. The final exchange in this episode between Kyle and Cartman, I feel is a hint: If I had to guess, Cartman has a plan. He’s not done breaking the rules. Something is going on beneath his calm, kind exterior. It looks like this arc will continue, which means that there is plenty more time for the children to take on P.C. culture, and eventually win a victory for freedom of speech and expression.

This season, I’m going to try to review every South Park episode, each week. What were your thoughts on this week’s episode? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Comment below. Until next time, lie, cheat, steal, and hug your cats!

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South Park: Even When You Die, La Resistance Lives On

I may not be the only person who felt a tiny pang of panic when I watched South Park‘s Season 18 finale this year. To me, the thing was littered with hints and suggestions that, of all things–

South Park might end.

Season 18’s finale, entitled “#HappyHolograms” was many things, including premature, haphazard, confusing, and, some might say, pandering. Most fans didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t tell if it was a massive suck-up fest to the YouTube celebrities, or a veiled and elaborate “Fuck You” to them. One thing seemed clear to me as I watched it, however: It was, if nothing else, an admission of South Park‘s own mortality.

Simulation Ended.

Simulation Ended.

And it had to come sooner or later. I have seen a few favorite shows collapse beneath the weight of their own fame and longevity: The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live seem to only be on out of habit nowadays, for, although their fame has never been greater, the edge has simply been dulled. Rather than embracing the anarchic quality that, to me, is inherent in all good art, these shows now serve and pander to the Pop Culture. What was once Dada is now Pop Art. John Lydon is now Steve Jobs. Kalle Lasn is Stephanie Meyer. Bills Hicks is Carlos Mencia. In other words, instead of being whistle blower against the bullshit of the Pop Culture Machine, they became proponents of it, and all its units.

Having seen it happen to The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, I should have been on the look-out for the same to happen with South Park. I realized I wasn’t when I saw the latest episode, and it hit me harder than I would have expected. Viewing this episode was a depressing experience. Starting with the fact that it utilized a plot line I had stopped caring about seven episodes ago, the episode continued to put me off by not only an overall lack of many real jokes, but by ostensibly promoting the very things they attest to mock. I wasn’t asking them to condemn YouTubers or anything like that, but damn it, South Park, after almost two decades of enlightening us on how to cut through the bullshit Pop Culture throws at us every day, why have you done such an abrupt about-face to push the bullshit on us? As if you’re saying, “Hey, you know the statements we made over the last 17 years? Yeah, forget it, we don’t really care about it anymore.”

“#HappyHolograms” was seemingly a 21-minute tribute to the continuous de-evolution of Pop Culture, paired with the apparent message of “People would rather watch other people playing video games on YouTube than the intelligent and controversial humor we’ve been fighting for the right to put out for 18 years, but we don’t care, in fact we think that’s a good thing!” (Kyle’s hashtag notwithstanding.) It might as well have ended with everybody holding hands and singing “Que Cera, Cera” together while standing in a pile of pig shit.

The cast of South Park.

The cast of South Park.

South Park Season 18 was the first season to utilize a continuing storyline, with events no longer confined to a single episode, but rather stretching across the entire, ten-episode season. However, there was little pay-off. Many fans complained about the overall lack of jokes and absence of many favorite characters, including the four main characters. These staples were cast aside to make room for confusing tangents involving other, more obscure characters, or celebrity parodies. In sum, the latest season was a chaotic, slap-dash, half-baked attempt at a yet unrealized concept. Perhaps the idea will develop by the time next season comes around, and they’ll give the method another try. But when this season began, and the continuing storyline was first noticed by fans, there was the question: What are they building up to? I still can’t say, but I think I know.

I’m here to tell you that South Park will end, but I’m also here to tell you why it doesn’t matter.

Because, enough about what I hated about season 18. That’s NOT what I’m writing this article for: I’m writing this article because South Park changed my life, and, if you are an artist, or if you’re even just an American, it has changed your life, too, even if you didn’t know it.

Before Adult Swim, before Tosh.0, before Cop Drama uttered the word “shit” on network television, South Park made many blows on behalf of artist’s rights, and often with few supporters to back them up.

I'm looking at YOU, Simpsons! - The Simpsons' reaction to South Park's battle to air a controversial episode featuring the Muslim prophet Muhammed.

I’m looking at YOU, Simpsons! – The Simpsons’ reaction to South Park’s battle to air a controversial episode featuring the Muslim prophet Muhammed.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was, and still is, the greatest statement on artistic freedom versus censorship to be committed to (crudely animated) film. The movie manages to be a commentary on itself, discussing a situation as it is creating it. It may be easy to forget now, but the film was a groundbreaking work in many ways, stirring much controversy, but largely receiving support and critical accolades. It was a commitment and a testament: “This is what we believe, and we are standing by it, whether you’re with us or not.” You have to be ready for battle when you’re putting out content like this: Songs built around phrases like “Uncle Fucker,” a child smoking and calling God a bastard, bloody onscreen violence, and obvious blows against proponents of censorship. (I still am not able to believe that, to this day, I still hear about the “obscene” and “disgusting” proliferation of fart jokes in South Park, but absolutely not a word on the fact that they have a cut-out of Saddam Hussein in a homosexual relationship with Satan, Prince of Darkness. Seriously.)

The kids of South Park leading La Resistance against censorship.

The kids of South Park leading La Resistance against censorship.

Times have changed
Our kids are getting worse
They won’t obey their parents
They just want to fart and curse

Should we blame the government?
Or blame society?
Or should we blame the images on TV?

-“Blame Canada” (Shaiman/Parker)

South Park made enormous headway for future television shows, particularly in the world of animation. The fact is that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone stood up and fought for the right to artistic freedom from censorship, which benefited more people than had rallied to their side during the battle, and they did it simply because they had a right to it. I’m well-aware that every episode of South Park has not been a brilliant rallying cry for the forces of anarchy and freedom, but in a way it has, as each episode has been a perfect depiction of Parker and Stone doing whatever the fuck they want. Even that damn “Lice-capades” episode falls into that category.

Pictured: Matt Stone and Trey Parker doing whatever the fuck they want.

Pictured: Matt Stone and Trey Parker doing whatever the fuck they want.

I guess my point is this: South Park is starting to look weak nowadays. And it breaks my heart because I love the show and I can really say it has made my life better. It changed the world for artists, and for everyone. But no one is meant to carry the torch forever: Everything ends eventually, and, whether this season is a death knell or just a bump in the road, South Park will end, too, one day. So what do we do now that it’s ending?

It’s simple: Though you die, La Resistance lives on. Here’s how:

You must remember this.

South Park taught us that we have a right to artistic freedom from censorship.

South Park taught us that just because everyone tells you something is cool, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

South Park taught us that just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you know best.

South Park taught us that every human being and every organization is capable of making complete asses of themselves (some more than others).

South Park taught us to tolerate and love others, while not being so tolerant that we make ourselves blind to potential bullshit.

South Park taught us that whether you’re a disabled child, a Catholic, a Goth Kid, a Trekkie, a Feminist, a Jew, a Racial Minority, a Homosexual, an Elderly Person, an Atheist, a Transgender, a Policeman, a Christian, or anything else I haven’t thought of, you are a human being, deserving of sympathy and capable of mistakes, but also responsible for your actions, your actions, so don’t be asinine, cruel, or corrupt, and stand up for what you believe in.

In the end, it’s not what happens to the things we love that matters, because ultimately, everything dies: What’s important is what you do with the things you learned.