In the world of “South Park,” the only cardinal sin is self-righteousness — the attitude that personal beliefs and convictions are completely unassailable. Whether it’s religion or race, politics or personality, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“The Book of Mormon”) always manage to blur the lines between sacred and immoral, showing that both sides of any debate are odious.
As Donald Trump skyrocketed to national attention and eventually the presidency in 2016, the creators of “South Park” were wary of being too critical of one figurehead. For “South Park,” the self-righteousness of Trump fanatics is just as bad as the self-righteousness of liberals. But as a cartoon version of Trump literally blows torches at a scientist with a potential cure for the coronavirus, the new “South Park” sends a clear message: They are done straddling the fence, they are done poking fun at “both sides,” they are calling it for what it is and they are not pulling any more punches.
Satire in the Trump era is a difficult endeavor. It’s hard to poke fun at both sides when the stupidity is so one-sided. Despite this, the Season 24 premiere of “South Park” still manages to shed criticism on both Trump and his opponents with limited success. The premiere especially focuses on the “abusive relationship” between Trump supporters, Democrat politicians and Trump himself. Before 2020, this seemed like a successful formula. However, in 2020, be it police brutality, the pandemic or economic implosion, doom-scrolling is a fact of life and Donald Trump is the cause of roughly 90% of it. Responding to the changing times, South Park has done something it has never done before: It has picked a side.
In the first few moments of the pandemic special, it is clear that things are going pretty poorly for the residents of “South Park.” The entire town is at each other’s throats as businesses close and social isolation slowly drains the town of its sanity. In this special, Donald Trump is (tellingly) absent, save for two scenes. In the first scene, Stan Marsh (voiced by Parker) tries to call the President for help in dealing with the crises in “South Park.” He responds that the chaos is his plan. Creating a villain so purely silly and evil is definitely unorthodox for “South Park,” but in this political environment, it’s extremely fitting. Considering the importance of our current events, “South Park” chooses to be extremely explicit.
The “South Park” pandemic special is the first episode in what might be a new era for the long-running animated series. Instead of endlessly critiquing “both sides,” the show is actually standing on a set of principles and giving the audience a clear and specific message. 2020 is a year that has already changed many aspects of our society. In light of the horrific consequences of Trump’s action and inaction, the time for criticizing both sides equally is over. The new “South Park” makes that clear, and does not hold back at all.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.
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