South Park has always been my guilty pleasure. When I couldn’t count on anything else, I could just go on Hulu, pick a random episode and actually enjoy myself. When I wasn’t watching The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, The Daily Show, or The Colbert Report, Sarah and I spent our afternoons pulled up to our desktop computer binging through all of the South Park episodes the Comedy Central website had to offer. The past two seasons, the show was actually on to something. Season 19 was the smartest season of the show to date, actually taking down how “activism” and advertising tie together. Going further, Season 20’s look at Member Berries and the power of nostalgia, was actually going somewhere really cool until the show imploded from the Trump upset. Last season, there were a lot of brilliant ideas being thrown out, and even interesting commentary about how internet trolls operate. As Matt Miller puts it in Esquire,
“You have to give Parker and Stone credit for trying to serialize Season 20 amid the most unpredictable news cycle in recent memory. But it just didn’t work. Ideas were started and abandoned. Story lines fizzled out (What happened to the gentlemen’s club? What exactly happened with the Member Berries?). The stories that were completed either made no sense or seemed like they were forced together, as if Parker and Stone tried to shove a puzzle piece into the wrong spot. (Why was SpaceX involved? What were they trying to say with Cartman’s girlfriend? What was the deal with Star Wars and J.J. Abrams?) It was a season of half-thoughts and glimmers of brilliance that never amounted to anything.”
With the end-of-season title, “The End of Serialization as We Know It”, there was a lot to expect from the premiere of Season 21. It was clear that they were going to give up the serialization experiment. No more interconnectivity of episodes, no big message, but that never stopped South Park before. Even before serialization, they’ve been able to tackle issues like buyouts and panic from the recession in Margaritaville and the trend of handheld camera horror movies in Pandemic Part 1 and Pandemic Part 2. So there was a lot to expect from a show that is always able to capitalize on trends and critique the world we live in, right?
Apparently not. Because last night, we got a South Park episode empty of any meaningful commentary whatsoever.
[NOTE: Spoilers under the cut]
The Content of the Episode
Even by giving the local rednecks tiki-torches and Confederate flags to wave, they somehow stripped both those things of meaning. Instead of angrily watching Fox News, the rioters aren’t blaming immigrants or DACA or anything you’d expect, they were chanting,
“You will not replace us!”
at the virtual assistants Alexa and Google Home. Of course, after Randy convinced the town to hire all of the disenfranchised as digital virtual assistants, 25 minutes into the episode, it was only then that the ringleader actually blasts off racial epithets. But after all that, the “race problem” was finished when Randy was able to remodel a kitchen to have a more open living room and kitchen plan. All is well for the racists and they wave their conservative flags inside, as opposed to during Randy’s TV show.
For a show that has always parodied both sides of the aisle, the major issue of the show seemed to be that you can see racists now. The solution? Remodel their homes so they’ll stay inside. On the other plot of the episode, Cartman breaks up with the only remnant of the last failed season, his girlfriend, because he thinks she’s abusive because she’s not compliant and obedient like Alexa.
What Was the Point of All of This?
What were they trying to say? That, these riots don’t have any power and that we just need to find them a way to be racist in their homes again because it makes white people look bad? Randy wasn’t angry at the marchers for being white supremacists, he was mad because it made his brand “White People Remodeling Homes”, a show that benefits from his whiteness, look bad. And what’s the point of making Cartman’s obsession with technology or the fact that he’s an asshole, front and center? Everything Cartman did is something we already know about Cartman. He doesn’t care about people and he loves technology. Maybe if we had Stan or Kyle obsessed with Siri, Alexa, or Google Home it would be one thing, but this behavior is something we already know about Cartman. If there was a time to parody Her and put Cartman in a relationship with technology, it was in 2013.
South Park, when choosing Charlottesville as a topic, actually had a chance to say something, really anything about the news cycle, white supremacy, and just anything about the world we live in.
It’s Not Like They Didn’t Have Material to Work From
In fact, there’s never been a better time to bring back Stan’s bullsh*t vision. “You’re Getting Old”, from Season 15, is perhaps my favorite Southpark episode. In it, Stan realizes as he’s becoming more cynical, that everything he sees from what people are saying, to movies, and TV, is actual sh*t.
At the end of this episode, Stan, in fact, starts drinking in order to deal with everyday life. With Americans are drinking more than ever, and especially with Women being encouraged to drink more in particular, it would be an amazing subject to tackle. As news coverage and the political climate get worse, everything is looking sh*tty. While South Park has covered alcoholism before, that would have been better than empty commentary. Maybe Kyle or even Butters could wake up to the bullsh*t, but instead, we got an episode full of it.
Instead of Two Sides, There Was No Side
That being said, I’ve never 100% agreed with everything South Park has tried to say. I don’t and I have never agreed with their approach that both extremes, liberal and conservative, are equally bad. But at the same time, that was always the thing about the show that I loved. They were always going to make fun of every single opinion and bring a different perspective to light about the conflict they were parodying. As Trey Parker said in a 2006 interview in Reason,
“To some degree, South Park has a simple formula that came from the very first episode [“The Spirit of Christmas,” which featured Jesus and Santa fighting over who owned the holiday]. There was Jesus on this side and there was Santa on this side, there’s Christianity here and there’s Christmas commercialism here, and they’re duking it out. And there are these four boys in the middle going, “Dude, chill out.” It’s really what Team America is as well: taking an extremist on this side and an extremist on that side. Michael Moore being an extremist is just as bad, you know, as Donald Rumsfeld. It’s like they’re the same person. It takes a fourth-grade kid to go, “You both remind me of each other.” The show is saying that there is a middle ground, that most of us actually live in this middle ground, and that all you extremists are the ones who have the microphones because you’re the most interesting to listen to, but actually this group isn’t evil, that group isn’t evil, and there’s something to be worked out here.”
For example, while I think calling out racism in the PC culture they were parodying in Season 19 is important, I can respect the commentary that through neoliberalism we are being sold activism. Even with serialism, we can expect them to be saying something. We can expect them to bring something to light. We can expect commentary on the world we live in. As Peter Coffin puts it,
South Park went from saying “both sides are bad” to “there are no sides, we have nothing to say.”
— Peter Coffin🔑 (@petercoffin) September 14, 2017
While we knew they weren’t going to deal with Trump this season, I still can’t get over the fact that they chose Charlottesville, and barely mentioned racism or white supremacy, they just did a weird commentary on technology. It’s like when they stipulated that manatees were writing Family Guy. This tweet perhaps puts it best:
remember when south park said family guy was written by manatees? now sp is too but the Idea Balls are current events
— Ebil 🐸⚾️💥 (@elpardack) September 14, 2017
They just took random crap like Charlottesville, HGTV remodeling shows, and Amazon’s Alexa, threw it into a pot and said, here’s an episode. For the past years, I’ve been able to look to Southpark as smart commentary on Neoliberalism and the world we live in, and now, like a lot of the Democratic senators I used to watch on TV when I was in high school— they’re saying a lot of nothing.
Now, like Stan and I don’t know if I can watch this bullsh*t without a bottle of Jameson either.