Pop Culture

[Cultural Attachment]

Almost two decades in, ‘South Park’ remains a relevant critical vehicle

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South Park is still going strong … despite sometimes making our stomachs weak.
Smith Galtney

In case you aren’t keeping up with what’s happening at Yale lately (and with all the recent headlines, it’s okay if you haven’t), there’s been major fallout from a sh*tstorm involving the insensitivity and over-policing of Halloween costumes. It started when a few students complained that university administrators were being overly strict on what and what not to wear. A professor addressed the issue with a carefully articulated email, and students immediately demanded her resignation. The professor’s crime? Taking a stance that was intellectual, not emotional. (Shocking, right? Coming from someone who teaches at an institute of higher learning?) But mostly, she had the gall to ask, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious ... a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

The answer is yes, thankfully, every Wednesday night on Comedy Central (or anytime you prefer on Hulu) when a new episode of South Park premieres. Currently wrapping up its 19th season, South Park has stuck it out way longer than anyone could’ve possibly predicted. In fact, all those Yalies telling a faculty member to “be quiet!” and “step down!” on YouTube have never known a world without Eric Cartman. By any law, a show nearing its third decade should’ve jumped multiple sharks by now. Yet South Park feels particularly sharp, wicked, rude, gross and fun this year.

Telling a serial narrative as opposed to stand-alone stories, this season began with Principal Victoria getting fired (the reason why isn’t entirely explained) and replaced by PC Principal, a frat-bro in Oakley sunglasses whose mission is to strong-arm South Park Elementary into practicing new rules of awareness and compassion. Kyle is given two weeks detention for saying Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero. PC Principle sends Cartman to the hospital for using the word “spokesman,” not “spokesperson.” The principal’s backup is a posse of beer-chugging frat thugs who get rowdy anytime anyone comes close to referring to Jenner as anything but “stunning and brave.”

From there, it’s open season on a number of buzz topics—gentrification, Internet-shaming, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, Syrian refugees—as the usual celebrities step up for a beatdown. (A Canadian presidential candidate, a parody of Donald Trump, literally gets f*cked to death.) And co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are still pop culture’s unrivaled champs when it comes to gross-outs. Not only do they end an episode about restaurant owners exacting revenge on Yelp reviewers with some truly disgusting visuals, they set it all to a catchy showtune that I’ve been singing for weeks!

Topical satire and potty jokes aside, Cartman is still the funniest thing on television. You’d think 19 years down the line, I’d have grown accustomed to the sound of his voice. But still, anytime I hear him say “school” or “cool” or “you guys,” or see him dressed up as a ninja, or watch his alter ego Cupid Me fly through the air naked (the fat rolls, that itty-bitty penis), it’s like somebody stuck a finger in my belly button and made me giggle. Note to self: Purchase Cartman plushie doll and hold it tightly throughout the next “what the hell is happening to the human race” news cycle.

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