I have a confession to make: I used to watch South Park religiously. As religiously as a 7th-grader who’d just discovered Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams could possibly watch something. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were like Moses climbing up Mount Sinai, taking serious conversations I’d heard on NPR on the way to school and putting them into words I could understand. These guys saw the world as it was, and it was their moral mission to bring it to you unfiltered. I knew they claimed to produce each episode the week before it aired, and I viewed this as the ultimate badge of integrity. Jack Kerouac. Edward R. Murrow. Trey and Matt.
Then I grew out of it. I think it was around the 200th episode, the one with all the callbacks, where I just started to laugh less. And I went on with my life. Until now.
During the past few months, I’ve had sooooo many people—folks in my social circles, folks on social media, this bald man—telling me how “on-point” and “relevant” the new season of South Park is. Telling me it really sticks it to the politically correct tomfoolery going on these days, and that I need to check it out.
I wouldn’t have indulged this obviously bad suggestion, except part of my brain said something like, “What are you, chicken? Bock bock bock.” Relevant fact about me: I’m a white man who went to a progressive liberal arts college. I wasn’t the most “radical” person there or anything, but since I’ve been out in the real world, I’ve noticed that I tend to give people shit whenever they say something like “LOL ethnic people can’t drive” or “Lil Dicky makes good music.” I’m not trying to be reckless and burn bridges over it, but you could call me a “PC bro” if it makes you feel better.
South Park’s never really taken aim at me before this year (Smug Alert! came close). I’m a secular, straight, cis, white male—Comedy Central was never gonna dig too deep into their core audience. However, now that I’ve been enforcing the draconian speech codes of this hegemonic “PC culture” I’ve apparently been indoctrinated into, suddenly I’m a target. Could my coddled little mind take it? I decided against my better judgment to watch the entire season to find out. Here’s my account of what happened.
Episode 1: This episode introduces a new recurring character, PC Principal, who enforces PC dogma with an iron fist at South Park Elementary. Call someone a slur, perpetuate a microaggression, or make fun of Caitlyn Jenner, and he’ll sock it to ya! What an efficient way to skewer the #BlackLivesMatter activists and feminist social justice warriors who have taken our newsfeeds hostage. What a…
Alright, he’s a white guy! And all the members of his PC frat are white guys too. I guess this is a clever way of making fun of white dudes (heyhey) that claim to represent the interests of groups they don’t belong to. They’re just like the rapist frats they claim to hate! So it’s lampooning these dudes and not the primary stewards of social justice activism (women, people of color, LGBTQ folks). Not a bad start, but where’d the PC bros get their ideas from? Hit me with those oppressed groups, yeah?
Episode 2: This one’s a Donald Trump/immigration riff where Mr. Garrison runs for president on a platform of “fuck all the immigrants to death.” I’m thinking this one’s longevity might have been a victim of timing. This far into Donald Trump’s campaign, jokes about him tend to have to be darker and less silly than this to land with me/most people. The immigrants in question?
Yeah, Canadians! You know, our English-speaking, majority-white neighbors to the north. Gee South Park, almost offended me with the jokes about “dirty immigrants,” but then I realized it was Canadians and I wasn’t mad anymore! Then I started thinking, “Why would I chafe at a joke about real people in desperate circumstances, but not a joke about a fictional influx of immigrants who don’t experience those issues?” Then I told myself, “That’s a dumb question.”
Episode 3: This one tackles gentrification. After Mr. Garrison embarrasses South Park with his immigration comments, the town decides they need a Whole Foods to regain the world’s respect. But to impress the Whole Foods rep, they need to make the town prettier with some shifty urban planning and new restaurants. There are some funny jokes about “progressive” people who only care about their reputation. The lower-income people they develop this new real estate around? Kenny’s family!
Come on, really? Not that I came here to laugh at marginalized groups, but I thought that was the whole idea of this season. You’re really letting those anti-PC people down.
Oh, alright. A terrible ethnic stereotype who reacts to reduced business by exploiting child labor (aka “char ray-buh”) to stay competitive. Great job, I was starting to feel like I was in Bizarro World. For anyone who’s interested, here’s a good article on struggling restaurants in Oakland’s Chinatown.
Rating: PRETTY OFFENSIVE
Episode 4’s primary target is Yelp reviewers who threaten to give bad ratings unless restaurants offer them free food. It ends with restaurateurs forming an alliance and smearing boogers and cum on the Yelpers’ meals. God, to be in middle school again!
This episode’s also notable for giving us our first new named person of color, something I thought would happen sooner given the season’s theme. David (pronounced Daveed) is a Latino kid from Idaho whose family has just opened a new restaurant, and Cartman uses his power as a Yelper to bully him into saying things like, “I ride my tiny bicicleta to school.” But he doesn’t complain about microaggressions or anything like that. This one feels like a break from the overarching PC theme, but I’m sure we’ll see much more of David in the episodes to come! (spoiler: we don’t.)
Episode 5 is called Safe Space. Ooooh, yeah! Bring it on, Trey and Matt! Make fun of liberal pansies and their safe spaces!
Safe Space starts with Cartman complaining to PC Principal that people have been calling him fat on social media. In response, PC Principal gets Butters to start filtering out body-shaming comments on not just Cartman’s feed, but everyone else’s too. So this episode is really only mocking the idea of safe spaces for non-normative body types. Alright, that might still offend me. I’m sure some shots will be fired at current body-positive role models like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Meghan Trainor, and Lena Dunham, right?
Well…Lena Dunham gets name-checked…Demi Lovato and Gigi Hadid are in it for 5 seconds, but I barely know who those people are…the celebrity who gets the most screen time of mockery is Steven Segal, the 90’s action star who nobody remembers. Trey and Matt are really violating social norms, stepping on toes, and taking no prisoners with this one.
For those keeping track, we’re now halfway through the season with no women, PoC, LGBTQ folks, etc. complaining about discrimination based on race/gender (and then being made to look like entitled fools or whatever). What gives? I don’t want to watch horribly sexist/racist garbage per se, but my tolerance for said garbage is what I was trying to test by watching this show. I can’t get mad at Steven Segal jokes!
Rating: FOR AN EPISODE CLAIMING TO MAKE FUN OF SAFE SPACES, PRETTY FUCKING TOOTHLESS
Episode 6: The town thinks Tweek and Craig are gay because their Asian schoolgirl classmates keep drawing yaoi (NSFW link) of the two of them. Apparently Tweek x Craig yaoi is an actual, crowdsourced phenomenon, which is mind-boggling and awesome. The PC theme comes back in that PC Principal and the rest of the town are too busy preaching acceptance of Tweek and Craig’s relationship to realize that the two aren’t actually a thing. I found this to be the funniest episode of the season, because the humor was more random and unexpected, not really focused on a social message. I mean, PC people don’t preach acceptance of nonexistent relationships, and nobody really thinks they do…right?
Rating: NOT OFFENSIVE
Okay, I’m going to stop summarizing episode-by-episode, because I’m bored of it and you might be getting bored of reading it. It’d also be too hard at this point: the last four episodes form a cohesive, convoluted story that tries to satirize PC culture, gentrification, and clickbait all at once, along with smaller digs at police shootings, freedom of student presses, and gun control. It’s basically about sentient humanoid advertisements using PC culture as an insidious tool to sell things.
Overall, I came out of this season a lot less offended than I expected to be, but not very amused either. I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s fun here. If you thought the last season was funny, hey, different strokes. I used to think South Park was funny too, and I can still laugh at some of the old highlights. Some people think The Big Bang Theory and Friends are funny. I don’t, but I’m not trying to get in anyone’s face over it. There are moments of lucid satire in this season: the Whole Foods stuff, the gun-safety jokes in the finale. But if you think this season resembles anything like a pointed critique of modern political correctness, that’s ridiculous.
There are plenty of images here that would make many people uncomfortable, but ideas-wise the episodes are confused and innocuous. They somehow manage to be vocally anti-PC while focusing most of their “biting satire” on white men. If there’s one theme that all the current social justice activism/culture in America shares, it’s the idea that the voices and needs of people of color, women, and LGBTQ folks are not being heard by white men and white male institutions. To have a season of TV promoted as “satire” of these movements without one character representing a non-trendy, non-bandwagon, non-white-male social justice activist is like…huh?
If Trey and Matt had really gone after folks like DeRay Mckesson or Anita Sarkeesian in this season, that would have been one thing. If they had shown those folks in a positive light and made it clear that they were only mocking hypocritical white knights, that would have been another. As it is, it feels to me like they’re giving bigots and #gamergaters ammo without getting their hands too dirty. They’re poking fun at SJWs without showing their hand on the question of, “Does systematized oppression exist?”
Even if you take the most self-unaware, hypocritical, and obnoxious social justice bro and follow the thread of where he got his ideas, you’re not gonna find another white guy at the end of that thread. For whatever reason, Trey and Matt didn’t follow the thread. Maybe it’s because they’ve run out of jokes about oppressed groups. Maybe it’s because they’re shitting money and don’t have their ear to the ground like they used to. Either way, I’m not even gonna try and figure out what “PC is a verbal form of gentrification” means if they’re not gonna do the work to contextualize these movements.
I called this piece “The Cartmaning Of The American Mind” because I thought it was a decent pun, but on reflection this new season is more like Butters: weak and noncommittal. South Park doesn’t have anything interesting to say. In other news, milk usually goes bad after a couple of weeks, and if you put a fork in a live electrical socket you’ll hurt yourself. Please stop telling me to watch this show.
Kells is an Oakland native with a sad compulsion to put his opinions online. He hopes that you like them, but what’s really important is that you like yourself. @awkeller510