The Propaganda Behind South Park
Length: 1236 words (3.5 double-spaced pages)
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It all started in 1995, when filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone were hired by a Fox executive who paid them $2,000 to make a video for him to send it as a Christmas card. The video was called "The spirit of Christmas" and showed an imaginary fight between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. The video circulated around and soon the cable channel Comedy Central offered them a weekly series. It took fewer than six episodes to emerge as Comedy Central's biggest hit. South Park is the story of four third-grade boys, Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny, growing up in the small mountain town of South Park, Colorado. The show is a loose interpretation of the term "cartoon", which appears to be made with construction paper cut-outs (although it is actually done with computers now). One has to see it to believe it .and once he does, he will either be hooked or want it banned.
South Park contains adult language, animated violence, and very suggestive material (episode titles such as "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson", "Not without My Anus" or "Cartman's Mom is Still a Dirty Slut" are just the tip of the iceberg). Every race, religion or culture is made fun of or stereotyped. One viewing, and the watcher will either love it or want it taken off the air. Many viewers think that these rude boys are worth their time.
South Park's setting and characters are simple. In particular, each child has its own character which portrays propagandistic elements in various ways. Stanley Marsh, widely known as Stan, is a "normal" average American messed up kid. He has an aging grandfather, who continuously pressures Stan into killing him, and owns a gay dog named Sparky (played by George Clooney). In every episode Stan announces Kenny's death by saying "Oh my God, they killed Kenny". On the other hand, Kenny (whose full name is Kenny McCormick) is the unlucky one. He is poor and lives in a run-down shack with his violent and drunken family. He muffles when he speaks, and we are left only to guess at what he has said. Eric Theodore Cartman always gets bullied by his classmates because of his weight. He weighs about ninety pounds but denies his being fat by saying that he is only "big boned".
Unlike the rest of the children, Cartman does not have a father and lives with his hermaphrodite mother. Last but not least, we have Kyle Broslofski. Although, he is the "smart" one, everyone makes fun of him because of the fact that he is Jewish. Kyle is the one who shouts that Kenny's killers are bastards -- "You Bastards!"--. Apart from these four main figures of South Park, there are also some others appearing with similar and/or more serious problems and are as funny as the four main characters. A gay teacher, with a manic disorder, that thinks that his puppet is his best friend and allows him to reveal the bad side of his character. A black chef who constantly thinks that everything involves around sex, and Kyle's adopted brother, who happens to be Canadian, and is constantly treated in a vile manner: "kick the baby!" and "Kyle your little brother is a dildo!".
Way ahead of their time, these quick-witted, foul-mouthed, smart- assed third-graders ever to attend school have already figured out the purpose of life. South Park is probably the only show that pulls the whole country apart. It spares no one. With all the profanity, twisted, scatological references and comical portrayals of everything from happy talking turds to euthanasia, gay issues and bellicose, hypocritical do-gooders out there, it's sure to be the religious right's and parent's groups target across the board. Bob Smithouser, a representative of the Evangelical Christians, calls the show "extremely mean-spirited" and "deplorable". He adds that South Park's own tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, at the start of every episode, may be the most accurate warning of all: "Due to the content of this show, it should not be viewed by anyone". The Christian Family Networka group whose mission is to advance Christ-centered values, restore morality, and protect life for the individual, family, and community goes even further. It has prepared a South Park Education / Action Guide to "help make people aware of South Park and its potential affect upon our youth". "Working together" the authors write, "we can help protect our youth from vile trash like South Park". There also many schools that have advised parents to stop their children watching this cartoon. Martin Horrox, school development director in the King's School in Ely, Cambridgeshire, has warned parents that South Park "contains obscenities, swearing, lavatorial actions and filth of a most unsavory nature".
That's what many people think about South Park. But others feel otherwise.
South Park's propaganda is loaded with moral content, which is achieved by a very difficult-to-use comedic tool that is satire. First and foremost, the series tries to impair several stereotypes. Despite being chock-full of obscenities, atrocities and the occasional blasphemy, or perhaps because of them, the show manages to be both hilarious and thought-provoking. For example, a stereotype that the series tries to undermine is that of the typical American family. As tragic as it may seem for an eight year old child to have a harlot as a mother and an unknown father, South Park has exposed this taboo and mercilessly has left this burden on Eric Cartman's shoulders, as well as all the public opinion that constantly opposes him. In the episode "Cartmans' mother is a dirty slut", Cartman searches for his long lost father only to discover that his mother is a hermaphrodite and therefore to ascertain that his mother is both his parents.
Another example that illustrates the social commentary which South Park achieves is the way it makes fun of celebrities. Most episodes contain at least one dig at a famous personor, sometimes, at someone who just wants to be famous. Characteristic is the episode in which Christian Children's Fund pitchwoman Sally Struthers gets caught stuffing herself on food meant for famine relief. Most of the shows with "guest" celebrities drive home the point that actors are just people who are paid to pretend.
South Park is no ordinary cartoon. Its jokes, ranging from the token flatulence and sex jokes to rather sophisticated humor, make social commentary easier to swallow and reach every demographic person. Since it spares no group from verbal scorn, it cannot be accused of pointed racism or intolerance. It is a refreshing departure from repressive, stifling political correctness. Like any cult classic, South Park episodes lend themselves to being watched over and over again because every time you watched an episode you notice something different.
As funny as it may seem, South Park is a caricature of all the things we find to be wrong in our society but never dare to complain, doubt or even go up against our oppressed fears of belonging somewhere or not, and a summarized viewpoint of the things each society "judges" as outcasts. Through its propagandistic means, South Park has managed to leave its mark and pave a way for reaction and doubtfulness to all the things we consider as "status quo".