ambiguity

April 23, 2010

Further Analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 12:09 pm

When I was a teenager first discovering the wonders of South Park, I always suspected there was more to the show than just the unnecessary violence, or the occasional toilet humour, or the constant use of profanity. It was so overbearing, almost the central plot of the series. It felt like someone had made a delicious peach cobbler, and then poured an entire sack of icing sugar on it.

Bearing that analogy in mind, it eventually became clear that in order to enjoy that cobbler, one had to first scrape the icing sugar off, maybe just leave a tiny bit of it on, maybe get some whipped cream on top, perhaps some fresh peaches… South Park is a brilliant cobbler; people just have to know how much sugar to leave on, and how much of the other stuff is really necessary.

But what really makes South Park a special show is not the superficial. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t smirk at South Park and proclaim it to be an unintelligent program that only achieved fame and recognition by sparking controversy. While it is true that controversy has been a recurring theme for Parker and Stone, their design is in no way unintelligent. Au contraire, it happens to be one of the most intellectually stimulating programs around.

South Park recurring themes

1) Swearing Children

The idea of kids being demure and innocent is flawed. There’s a reason why William Golding made his characters from “Lord of the Flies” children. Children are easily influenced, learn quick, and are original, possibly because they haven’t seen enough of the world to conform. Parents, however, choose to view their kids in a different, and deluded manner. Parker and Stone’s little buggers look like angels, but swear like sailors, and that comes as such a shock to first time viewers, they can’t help but be intrigued. It isn’t just an addiction strategy, nor is it purely for entertainment’s sake. Parker and Stone expose the potential impact of society on kids, and the consequences that follow. They remind us that what we believe may not necessarily be real, and what’s real may not necessarily be pleasant.

2) Controversy

Think about the number of times you’ve watched a South Park episode and said to yourself, “Oh boy they’ve really done it now.” Have you ever wondered why? Why this blatant disrespect? Why this utter disregard for one’s pride and reputation? And why target celebrities, politicians and religion? Perhaps it’s because they are the big trio, the three musketeers who, consciously or not, are causing serious damage to society. Have you considered that it really isn’t that easy to taunt those three categories? Two of them have the power to summon lawyers, while the remaining one has magical deities watching its back. It takes not only courage, but an extensive knowledge of current affairs, a wicked sense of humour and a razor-sharp wit. And have you realised that they’re just saying what we are too afraid to?

3) Underlying Tones

A very good example of this would be the two latest episodes. There is something important to learn in almost every episode. Parker and Stone merely employ the main storyline as a decoy, and when the lesson is revealed, the entire episode, however ridiculous it may have seemed at first, starts making sense.

The two latest episodes, however, raise the bar. Possibly the best episodes I’ve seen in a long time, “200” begins with Tom Cruise accusing young Stan Marsh of ridiculing him by calling him a “fudgepacker”, even though Cruise really is packing fudge into boxes. He eventually leads a group of celebrities who have previously fallen victim to South Park residents’ ridicule and vows to sue the town unless they hand over Mohammed, who he believes has the power, or “goo” that allows him to be immune from ridicule. As the episodes stretches on, more and more characters from the past emerge, sweeping regular viewers off their feet with a gigantic wave of nostalgia. The episode eventually ends with Jesus and a bunch of religious figures, who are superheroes in that universe, rescuing everyone.

Parker and Stone have outdone themselves this time, not merely because the episodes were hilarious, but because they succeeded. They had accomplished what they had in mind.

The Plan

1) Lay the trap

The mere mention of Mohammed’s name marks the first step to the setting up of the trap. While Lars Vilk and Jyllands-Posten paid a small price for their cartoons of the prophet, the prospect of seeing an animated Mohammed would surely be too much for Islamists to take.

2) Spring the trap

The revelation of Mohammed, but behind a black “censored” bar, is the spark that sets the fuel alight. As if slowly testing the strength of the Muslim resolve, Parker and Stone patiently release bits and pieces of Mohammed. First his voice, then the bar, then him in a bear suit. And to top it off, the South Park characters break the fourth wall by questioning whether every little bit would get them into trouble. It was pure genius, and it worked like a charm. Revolution Muslim gladly trod into the meticulously laid trap.

3) Comparison

This is quite possibly Parker and Stone’s masterstroke. I’d like to name a few of the characters mocked in those episodes.

Paris Hilton – Coughs out semen

Tom Cruise – Famous Oprah scene re-enacted

Barbara Streisand – Depicted as a metallic Godzilla-like monster

Jesus – Addicted to internet pornography

Buddha – Snorts cocaine

Krishna – Transforms into Neil Diamond

Then, there is Mohammed, who besides being portrayed as a black “censored” bar, doesn’t really make an appearance at all (since the person in the bear costume was really Santa Claus). Yet, the only ones who seem ticked off are the Muslims.

Parker and Stone have hit the jackpot. Because of Revolution Muslim’s reckless threat, they have now revealed, on a gigantic scale, the dangers of Islam. Not that it was ever ambiguous before. Parker and Stone have successfully demonstrated that in order for freedom of expression to be present, in order for creativity and satire to flourish, the most offensive and oppressive entity must go. It is a stark, and very bleak comparison, that the Muslims would issue death threats over the mere idea of their prophet being animated on a television program while the Christians laugh at the image of Jesus on his laptop.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, Comedy Central then took the liberty of bleeping out Mohammed’s name, and the entire closing dialogue, thus shooting themselves in the foot. Parker and Stone have managed to not only bring forward their point on the qualities of Islam, they have successfully illustrated, at Comedy Central’s expense, one of society’s most glaring faults: we would rather shoot ourselves than be politically incorrect. We try to remain neutral in the face of such terror, simply because it is easy and convenient.

What happens now remains to be seen. The threat from Revolution Muslim is unambiguous: they want blood. Besides the photo of the late Theo Van Gogh and the warning on their website, they have also listed Comedy Central’s New York headquarters, the cable television channel that broadcasts the show, and South Park’s production company, accompanied by this chilling statement.

“You can pay them a visit at these addresses.”

Still think you can afford to sit on the fence?

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2 Comments »

  1. Nope, South Park is definitely one of the most intellectual shows around. I suspect that the liberal use of profanities helps to deliberately blunt the possible fallout from their actual messages by predisposing viewers to dismiss it as being childish or inane.

    What I’ve personally found is that almost every episode has an insightful message to convey about the present state of society.

    And the hidden cultural and literary references, such as that to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in this episode are golden.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britney%27s_New_Look

    Comment by Melbourne — April 26, 2010 @ 1:10 am

  2. Very good. I can see the profanities helping to ease viewers into the actual message.

    This episode, one of my personal favourites, satirizes immigration policies, and being a citizen of a country whose leaders freely exploit our extremely liberal immigration policy to jack up GDP numbers, amongst other circus acts, it certainly brought, along with a bunch of laughs, an odd sense of resignation.

    Comment by theinkhorn — April 26, 2010 @ 10:09 am


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