I can still remember the first time I saw
“South Park.” In fact, I ended up watching it on a VHS
tape my friend had recorded for me because my parents still
hadn’t broken down and gotten cable. It was the episode where
the volcano threatened to destroy the snowy little town and all of
its inhabitants while the boys were out learning to hunt with their
uncle. Even based on today’s standards, it was absurdly
violent, profane and disturbing all at the same time.

Jason Roberts

I was instantly hooked.

And, apparently, so were a lot of people, as the phenomenon that
was a little animated show about four third-graders made out of
torn construction paper will soon be going into its ninth season on
Comedy Central. At its inception, a lot of people — critics,
worried moms and a few fans alike — saw “South
Park” as simply an envelope-pushing dick and fart joke. I
wondered, as I watched my very first episode, “How can a show
like this possibly last?”

It’s happened before. Shows like “Family Guy”
and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” were just too
edgy and controversial for their time and couldn’t withstand
the abuse they took, eventually giving in to outside pressure.
“South Park,” however, has been able to weather —
and continue to weather — that storm of disdain critics throw
at it on a daily basis. What makes the creation that is
“South Park” something that’s been able to
withstand the tests of time?

In many of the interviews with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the
minds behind “South Park,” they have been asked about
their political views and how they translate those into the
messages that each show provides. They have always brushed it to
the side, saying that they are creating a show that is supposed to
entertain, not change people’s perceptions. In fact, in an
interview with The Michigan Daily last week regarding their new
puppet-based satire “Team America: World Police,” Stone
said that “We know about making movies, but I really
don’t know anything about politics more than anything else
… I don’t think anyone should take their political
views from me or Trey, ’cause we’re pretty fucked up
people.”

This kind of attitude toward politics has made many commentators
dub them as apathetic toward issues affecting the world today. It
certainly may seem that way with their treatment of both the left
and the right in “Team America.” Not only, as the name
implies, do Parker and Stone depict a team of American heroes
saving the world from potential terrorism while destroying historic
landmarks in the process with unabashed vigor, they have an
overweight mustard-and-ketchup stained Michael Moore portrayed as a
half-crazed suicide bomber.

This attack on both sides of the fence, however, can also be
read a second way, in a way that I would argue, is the reason for
the success of “South Park” and “Team
America.” Parker and Stone, preach, whether consciously or
not, the good word of common sense. Take that last sentence in for
a bit as it may come as a shock. In fact, most people would have to
agree that in this day and age, when we can go to a
McDonald’s, spill hot coffee on ourselves and then sue the
establishment for damages, common sense is all but dead.

In the most recent edition of Rolling Stone, Stone said,
“What we are trying to do is represent the rest of America
— those who believe that Bush is an idiot and that Michael
Moore is an idiot too. We’re kind of just in the middle
going, ‘I don’t pretend to know this shit.’

My friend and I were once talking about how we hated when tell
one group of people (group A) that you do not agree with them, they
automatically think that you must be a part of group B. Take, for
instance, the Republican and Democratic parties. If you were
approached by one of the College Republicans and you told them that
you didn’t agree with their values, they would automatically
think that you were a Democrat.

No. That’s not exactly the case. I’ll choose option
C.

Breaking out of these pre-defined molds is exactly what Parker
and Stone are doing with their work. That’s why critics have
had such a hard time pegging their political persuasions. They may
simply call it “entertainment” but, in actuality, what
they’re doing is much more. It’s not apathetic to take
a look at both sides of an issue, filter out what makes sense and
what doesn’t and make a judgment based on the results. Parker
and Stone have been preaching this mantra since “South
Park” first hit the airwaves in 1997 and they’ll
continue to do it until they piss off enough narrow-minded
thinkers.

In a society that seems fixed on classifying people into
per-determined groups — whether it’s by ideology, race,
gender or otherwise — it’s often difficult to see
beyond these borders. It’s not a radical idea that Parker and
Stone have taken in the creation of “South Park” and
“Team America.” They’ve undertaken a very
complicated task, a task of breaking down boundaries between
accepted societal norms, and personified it through the eyes of
four, foul-mouthed youths from the snowy Colorado town of South
Park.

 

Don’t let Jason fool you. He’s in it for the dick
and fart jokes just like everyone else. Share your political views
with him by contacting him at
“mailto:jasoner@umich.edu”>jasoner@umich.edu.

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