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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.