“You see, I learned something today. Throughout this whole ordeal, we’ve all wanted to show things that we weren’t allowed to show. But it wasn’t because of some magic goo. It was because of the magical power of threatening people with violence. That’s obviously the only true power. If there’s anything we’ve all learned, it’s that terrorizing people works.”
– some famous and typically quite shocking cartoon kid (probably a clinically depressed fecophiliac on Prozac), in some typically quite shocking cartoon show’s almost but not quite atypically shocking episode that we’ll probably never see again, at least not without the above-quoted speech bleeped out
Pretty heady stuff from a South Park episode I have so wanted to see – not because of any of that political/philosophical @#$%, but because it contained the true answer (so far, unless they’ve thrown another curveball) to who was Eric Cartman’s father, and had Scott Tenorman’s surprising return for come-uppance of his unafraid-of-using-Titus-Andronicus-caliber-violence nemesis.
In their defense, Comedy Central were scared stiff for the safety of Matt Stone and Trey Parker when this Part II episode and its equally scandalous previous episode came out on South Park in 2010. I remember reading that danger feared toward them came not only from the threat of fanatics claiming to defend Islam, but from the Scientology community, too, for the satire directed at Tom Cruise. (Isaac Hayes had left the show four years before based on his own religious objections, despite previously having been okay with South Park being an equal-opportunity offender.)
It’s all very complicated, and very much self-referential. It was what the two-part episode was addressing with its satire, after all. If there’s one message for which I’m most thankful to Trey Parker and Matt Stone for bringing to society’s attention, it’s that even though “political correctness,” “offen-sensitivity,” and related subjects that inspire us to activism in our modern-day crusades, often “for our children,” can lead us to ridiculous behavior and make our attitudes ridiculous, the sharp, double-edged sword of satire and comedy can move with uncharacteristic deftness, and, in the hand of a genius like, yes, Trey Parker himself, it … can .. go … too … far. So far, in fact, that I remember clearly reading that Comedy Central actually needed to hide Matt & Trey, somewhat, from the angry Scientology folk and the threats they were making. The Scientologists. Not those other religious fanatics. But I really don’t know how much of that is true – nor do lots of people, apparently. Some still believe it was all an elaborate publicity stunt, despite public statements of both creators and producers to the contrary.
What do I feel about all of this? I, who will watch Ricky Gervais without blinking, and then think nothing of responding to a friend’s posting of the Green Acres/Beverly Hillbillies Thanksgiving picture with my own post-hijacking polemic about Southern culture and political manipulation?
I answer with a seeming almost nonsequitur: I think I am happy that TV networks are trying to be politically sensitive in lots of ways. The BBC’s Doctor Who comes especially to mind, with three of the most recent incarnations, or alleged incarnations, of The Doctor being a woman, Black, and a Black woman. Yes, it seems like they are deliberately trying to get their diversity/political sensitivity tickets punched. Over the top, almost. Companions have been LGBTQ+, and I suspect a future Gallifreyan manifestation might come out as being so, at least in that particular manifestation. They came somewhat close with Thirteen and Yaz.
And yeah, I think that’s nice. I think that when a production company and writers and directors and actors all want to do what pleases the fans, that in itself can go to far, so that they also can benefit from stepping back and looking – here’s my hobbyhorse again – at the moral philosophical basis behind what they do. Actors, directors, producers, and networks are all in it for the sales. For repeat viewing. For the sponsors. So for them to step back and, no matter how ham-handedly (98% of television is ham-handed; and Doctor Who is proudly ham-handed in many ways), to try to do something for SOCIETAL and CULTURAL benefit, or to try to stem the tide of bigotry and oppression in the name of “traditional entertainment” (that yes, still shows up in lots of our jokes and stories) – yes, that’s commendable. It’s no more shrewdly done, lots of the time, than when I remember back in the 60s they did a polyunsaturated approximation of what rock-and-roll music and culture for us crazy kids was like, and it was excruciating to hear and to watch. And don’t ask me how long it took for Blacks and LGBTQ+ and women to get good representation on screen.
So, yeah, South Park and 200/201… I appreciate that we can’t see that episode, or even if we could, we couldn’t hear Kyle’s “lesson learned” quoted above. I do appreciate that. But I also do appreciate that Matt & Trey constantly, deliberately have pushed the envelope, even more than their bosses want them to do, and that they have asked for forgiveness rather than permission in all of this … just like I appreciate and applaud Ricky Gervais for artistry and sheer BALLS – while in all these cases, reserving the right to say, as Lewis Grizzard used to put it, “Damn, son, I don’t think I’d-of told that.”
As Tevye once replied to a villager who said “He’s right, and *he’s* right? How can they both be right?” …
“You know, you are ALSO right!”