Research Paper: South Park & Controversy
If you have ever heard of the TV show South Park, you probably thought it is a stupid animated show filled with toilet humor and obscene jokes. And I wouldn’t blame you. However, South Park is a lot more than just over the top humor. What some people fail to realize, that it is actually a satire, meaning that they cleverly poke fun at a wide range of topics. However, because of this, South Park has been a subject of controversy as well. This show has been criticized and shrouded in controversy since its creation in 1997. A lot of people believe this show has a poor taste in humor, and the way they make fun of people or groups of people are classless. However, no one is safe from South Park’s crosshairs. The show has made fun of everyone, even went as far as pulling off a prank on its own fans and viewers. Nearly every group of people or a famous individual has been made fun of (Delingpole, 2010). People shouldn’t take South Park too seriously, in the end it’s just a satirical show, and everyone is subject to the show’s satirical humor.
If you have ever watched an episode of South Park, the first thing you will notice is the foul language and its poor taste of humor. Things you’ll typical see in an episode are the four main characters; Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman, up to some random antics. They would usually be a heavy usage of bad words, a lot of toilet humor, Cartman teasing or annoying Kyle for being a Jew, and most of the time one of the main characters, Kenny, would randomly die a gruesome and comical death, with Stan crying “Oh my god! They killed Kenny!” (Delingpople, 2010) which would be a running gag throughout the show. Because of this, many people condemn the show. They would usually say the show just has a poor and immature taste in humor, and it’s just a pointless TV show. Or is it? Some episodes, actually do convey a message, and it’s not a dumb and stupid message like you would expect, they would actually put out a meaningful message, or one that would make you think. If it’s not a message, then it would be a satire, making fun of someone or an issue that is relevant when the episode first aired. In a way the stupid sense of humor and the foul language is really just a shell, with the clever theme hidden within it (Martinez, 2003). However, some just can’t get through its shell, and it’s easy to see why. For example, in one episode, the word shit was used a total of 162 times, uncensored, with a counter in the lower left corner counting how many times it was used (Rodman, 2012, pg. 47). Co-creator Matt Stone said of this “No one cares anymore, the standards are almost gone (Dudak, 2013). The show was at its most vulgar during its first season, since it was new and it was something that people have never seen on TV, with almost every episode in the first season dealing with some sort of controversy (Dudak, 2013). It shows that South Park just isn’t for everyone. While some can handle, some just can’t. The best thing to do for South Park’s critics is to not watch the show, or not to pay any attention to it at all. Its controversial status is one of the reasons why it has become such a popular TV show.
South Park has also touched on some very sensitive issues. However they have done so in satirical fashion. One of the more sensitive issues they have touched is religion, and South Park has a long history of mocking religions. In fact, some of the most popular and fan loved episodes were also infamous for touching on this topic. One of the first instances is when they mocked the religion of Scientology during the episode “Trapped in the Closet.” After this episode was aired, it was met with a lot of negative attention. One of the show’s cast members, Isaac Hayes, who portrayed the character “Chef”, left the show since he too was a Scientologist. Tom Cruise, a Scientologist who was one of the celebrities mocked in the episode, even went as far as trying to pull the show off the air (Dudak 2013). In another episode “All About Mormons”, it mocks the Mormon religion through song, which would be a running gag throughout the episode (Dudak, 2013). However, when it came to controversy over religion, “Cartoon Wars Part 1”, “Cartoon Wars Part 2”, “200”, and “201” were the most controversial (Dudak 2013). This time however these episodes touched on the religion of Islam. What made it so controversial was the depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (Bourguet, 2012). When “Cartoon Wars Part 1” aired, it was met with some controversy, since it implied that Muhammad would be depicted. When the episode was over, it was left on a cliffhanger, encouraging viewers to stay tuned to see if Muhammad was actually depicted or not in the next episode (Bourguet, 2012). When it was followed by “Cartoon Wars Part 2”, Comedy Central censored the scene where Muhammad was depicted. Both Matt Stone and Trey Parker thought it was ridiculous due to the fact they have depicted Muhammad in an earlier episode called “Super Best Friends”, where many religious prophets were portrayed as a league of superheroes, much like The Avengers or The Justice League. In this episode, Muhammad was depicted with no controversy whatsoever (Bourguet, 2012). Both Stone and Parker would revisit this controversy again in episodes “200” and “201.” Both these episodes made fun of and revisited nearly every controversy and memorable moments throughout South Park’s history and packed them all into 2 episodes, with the Muhammad issue again being the hot topic (Bourguet 2012). Comedy Central and both Matt Stone and Trey Parker even received death threats from Islamic extremists if they went through with the depiction of Muhammad (Dudak 2013). Co-creator Matt Stone had this to say about the death threats “Cartoonists, people who do satire – we’re not in the army and this is our time to do the right thing.” (Delingpole 2010) Both Stone and Parker intended to have Muhammad appear in the episode “201”, but he was censored out by Comedy Central once again, out of fears that Muslim extremist might actually take action. Ironically during the episode, one of the meanings that the creators tried to get through, is to not to give into fear and not let terrorism win (Bourguet, 2012). However, people can understandably be offended from these episodes. Many Muslims were offended just by the implications that Muhammad might be depicted and the audacity of the creators to do so, and called for an apology (“South Park Controversies” 2004.). Because of this, these episodes have also touched on the issue of censorship and free speech as well, due to the fact that South Park’s creators intended to have Muhammad depicted uncensored, just like in the episode “Super Best Friends.” After this issue, both “201” and “202” were not able to be seen on South Park Studios, South Park’s official website where you can re-watch previous South Park episodes. The episode “Super Best Friends” was pulled out as well, and in the Season 14 DVD it shows the censored version of the episode “201”, instead of the original uncensored version (Bourguet, 2012). Although South Park’s mockery and issues with religion is extremely sensitive, the creators do have the right to free speech, given to us in the First Amendment.
South Park is just an animated show that is a satire, everyone gets made fun of and we shouldn’t take this show too seriously. There were many occasions where people have. Some people just see it as a show that is too vulgar for TV. This show has even mocked some very sensitive issues, from political beliefs to religions, this show has mocked it all. It has even mocked a couple of famous celebrities, with some of these celebrities trying to sue them or get the show off the air. I still stand by my belief that we shouldn’t take this show seriously. Most of South Park’s critics and victims can’t even see past its crude humor and language and see that the show is actually pretty clever, which is the reason why there are many people; myself included, who are huge fans of the show. People have even taken it too seriously to the point they have given death threats to its creators and Comedy Central. It’s their show, and it’s their work, and they deserve to do whatever they want with the show, even if it offends people, the show’s creators are entitled to the rights given to them, especially free speech.
- Dudak, C (2013, September 23). South Park: A History of Controversy. February 19, 2014 from http://www.mandatory.com/2013/09/23/south-park-a-history-of-controversy/
- Delingpole, J (2010, May 3). South Park: The most dangerous show on television? February 19, 2014 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7671750/South-Park-The-most-dangerous-show-on-television.html
- Martinez, G (2003, March/April). South Park TV satire skewers John Edward psychic pretensions. February 19, 2014 from http://ezproxy.fhda.edu:2219/psychology/docview/219283907/CB49151A48054EF3PQ/1?accountid=38235
- Rodman, G (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006). Mass Media in a Changing World: Fourth Edition. New York City, New York. Mcgraw-Hill
- Bourguet, G (2012, February 19). Studying South Park [Web log post] from February 19, 2014 from http://studyingsouthpark.wordpress.com/
- South Park Controversies (n.d.) In Wikipedia retrieved March 2, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Park_controversies