“CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE”: SOUTH PARK – (S/19) REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT
**This contains massive spoilers and offensive language**
Up until 2013 I had only watched a handful of episodes of the irreverent and scurrilous animated show South Park. But since then I have caught up with a hell of a lot of episodes and it has become one of my favourite ever TV programmes and a new season of Trey Parker’s vicious satire is always a highlight of my cultural year. Moreover, one of my most efficient and extensive blog articles was Respect My Authoritah which listed my favouritest seventeen episodes up to Season 16. Which if you can be arsed can be read here:
Seasons 17 and 18 have come and gone since I wrote that and they had some terrific episodes including my own personal favourites: Informative Murder Porn, Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers, Game of Thrones parodies Black Friday/Song of Ass and Fire, Freemium Isn’t Free, Grounded Vindaloop and #Happy Holograms. What these and many other previous episodes contained was a keen knowledge of cultural, social and political issues with two parodic fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist, ripping into many media and political targets. This of course was done while continuing the misadventures of Kenny, Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Randy, Sharon, Mr Garrison and other inhabitants of South Park.
What Season 18 did especially well was to link the episodes with call backs to previous events forming a narrative continuum as opposed to just funny stand alone episodes. This allowed for much joy to be had through individual and connected gags as well more satisfying storytelling. Trey Parker obviously felt this worked so he continued this trend with the whole of Season 19. In fact I felt that this season was the most complete and satisfactory in regard to the humour, themes, continuity and narrative. My teenage son says the earlier ones were much funnier and ruder and less political and perhaps he is right, but I defy anyone to find a more scathing and funny satirical show on TV at the moment.
Season 19 began with Stunning and Brave; and we got a brand NEW character in PC Principal. It’s risky to bring in new elements to an established show but this character hit the ground running with his muscular Jock-look, frat-boy speech and aggressive politically-correct motivations. The writing illustrated the apparent rise of left-leaning-liberal-movements in society and social media which while having decent motives, have become as fascistic in their application of their ideologies as much as right wingers. Indeed it could be argued people have become scared of saying anything in case it’s racist or sexist or offensive and positive discrimination has become so prominent to blind us to character deficiencies. Indeed, the episode parodies transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who has been proclaimed a societal heroine. However, one may argue she is essentially just another media whore seeking attention in any way they can.
Caitlyn Jenner would pop us a running gag and mate of Garrison in the next episode, Where has My Country Gone. The disgraced teacher Garrison is in despair at the Canadian immigrants spoiling his country, so he politicizes himself vowing to fuck all immigrants to death. Eventually he ends up in Canada where it has been revealed that Canadians have fled their country because a Donald Trump like “joke” politician actually won the Presidency. Garrison fucks fake-Trump to death and this “policy” propels him forward as a Presidential candidate with Jenner alongside him.
What Trey Parker does so well is highlight the ridiculous but dangerous nature of soapbox politics and so-called immigration perspectives. Of course, freedom of speech is important but when a wealthy man shouts loudest we must be wary that apathy and inaction by the majority are his weapons too. The use of the Canadians as the whipping boys of South Park is a recurring theme and of course they are merely symbols for attitudes toward all non-Americans. There’s also a touching “Romeo and Juliet” subplot involving the ever-innocent Butters and his Canadian love.
Having Garrison run on an anti-immigration ticket causes South Park to be ridiculed on television. The shamed residents led by Randy and the Mayor then attempt upward mobility and get a Whole Foods opened in the town. Such social snobbery satirizes the preposterous idea that where you shop makes you a better person. As such within the episodes City Part of Town and You’re Not Yelping we get some brutal satire at the expense of gentrification and narcissistic individualist behaviour in which people attempt to give their life meaning by elevating their social shopping status or writing pretentious restaurant reviews. As someone who writes reviews for their own enjoyment I did find it particularly hilarious when Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) disappears up his own arsehole while writing his Yelp review.
I personally loved the scathing critique of apparent “hipster” culture and gentrification which invaded this season. I don’t think it’s because I am old and the hipster is supposedly new and cool. No, it’s because they seem to try too hard to be right on plus why should SOMEONE else’s idea of style be all pervasive. Indeed, the episode Safe Space also rabidly attacks charity and the guilt-induced tactics used on Randy; can it not be free choice rather than a system of control over who one gives money to. Meanwhile, poor Butters suffers once again as he hallucinates via sleep deprivation having had to edit the social media accounts of Cartman, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and many more celebrities because of fat shaming. Of course, bullying of any kind is a wicked thing but what Safe Space says is that it’s part of reality and we must change our reality rather than simply edit out all that is negative about our lives.
The next episode Tweek x Craig (which calls back to the 3rd season episode Tweek vs. Craig) finds Trey Parker innovatively incorporating satire of Japanese yaoi art while examining the different parental perspectives when an offspring is thought to be gay. The episode is hilarious in the stereotypical portrayals of the Chinese but more importantly the ridiculous lengths people will go to appear non-homophobic. Cartman also ends up in “love” too as he finally falls in love with himself; not a pretty sight in the bathroom.
What the season arguably lacked was a great ensemble episode of the boys and their particularly brutally honest and funny interactions; however, we got that with Naughty Ninjas. Here Kenny and Token then Stan, Kyle, Butters etc. and then Cartman (and then not Cartman) become Ninjas but get mistaken for ISIS by typically idiotic and ignorant South Park residents. The subplot involving police brutality is hilarious as police methods are seen as barbaric and over-the-top in these times of tolerance. Yet, when a tough job has to be done such as clear junkies and homeless away from the Whole Foods, understanding will always needs a baton and jackboot to do its dirty work.
The final triptych of episodes — Sponsored Content, Truth & Advertising and PC Principal: Final Justice — dovetailed all the characters and themes of the previous seven into a wholly satisfying end to the season. Trey Parker’s main target was the oppressive and aggressive nature of advertising which, while a necessary industrial evil has become so sneaky it brainwashes us subliminally reading our search engines and attacking us at every window. The episodes had satirical digs at social-justice warriors and gun control, with a plot that revolved around Leslie a “human” advert that has gone sentient and was attempting to control South Park and the world. Full of fun surprises and nods to sci-fi classics like Bladerunner (1982) and The Terminator (1984), PC Principal ultimately ends up being a kind of action hero. Overall, the message seems to be that in controlled bursts political correctness is appropriate but we must be wary to avoid following trends and always retain an individual perspective.
Season 19 was a triumph of savage satire, cogent narrative, zeitgeist references, brilliant songs and of course, some gloriously offensive humour. It poses many questions in relation to political correctness and trendsetting progressivism. I personally feel that with the amount of morons and ignoramuses in the world who like nothing more than to oppress people due to their race, country of birth or colour of their skin, political correctness is necessary. However, it is important that such ideologies are not used to make everything homogenized and bland and that freedom of speech is permitted. Ultimately, we can check our privilege but definitely not check our humour because what’s life without it? Indeed what’s life without South Park: no life at all?