“South Park” is one of those intriguing phenomenon of television. It is one of the few television shows I can think that had a dramatic shift in storytelling, attitude towards others and characters, yet still managed to draw people in by the droves. Thousands of anticipated people would watch the stop-motion-esque animated show to find out who they would talk about next.
Yet, I find myself unable to get invested in the show anymore.
Let’s start at the beginning. While I did not watch “South Park” from the very beginning, I did catch it on Comedy Central from time to time. I saw these four little boys go on adventures in a town full of unique yet captivating characters. Each character had some redeemable characteristics, with Stan being the voice of reason, Kyle being the blunt yet straight to the point one, Kenny the quiet one who always died in horrific ways and Cartman was the troublemaker.
These personalities were not too exaggerated in the early seasons, which made it much easier to connect with their journeys. It was the towns people who were weird and over the top. To look at the first few seasons of “South Park” from the perspective of our four main characters, is to see the world from the point of view of child. Stan and Kyle believe they are the sane ones in a world of crazy and sometimes stupid people. That they are the ones who are always right. As flawed as that may be, it is something that most children can relate to.
It is for these reasons that I felt the first eight seasons or so of “South Park” were well handled, funny and treated its audience with maturity and dignity.
Yet around the start of the ninth season, something changed. The tales of “South Park” became more about what was currently in the news. Not so much about what was going on in South Park, but more about the world and its state of affairs.
Instead of episodes about the local police officer learning to read so that he could figure out what a ransom note says, we would get an episode about how the paparazzi has made Britney Spears go crazy and want to kill herself. Instead of Cartman buying an amusement park only for himself, we get Cartman pretending that he has Tourette Syndrome so that he can say whatever he wants and get away with it.
My problem with this change in perspective is not that they are talking about what is currently in the news, but how they are treating it. For example, in the Britney Spears episode, they show her attempting suicide many times and treat the paparazzi like a secret cult.
This stops being funny because it is only the negative, only the rotten parts of our society. What they are doing is a biased perspective on the world that only intends to point out how much our world sucks. There is hardly ever a positive light on something, or even given a fair balance of positive and negative.
This brings me to my next point on their main source of comedy: Insult comedy. Whether we like it or not, around season nine, “South Park” switched to from suburban comedy, like “The Simpsons,” to insult comedy.
There is an incredibly thin line in insult comedy, between “funny” and “distasteful.” If you go overboard with the insults, odds are it will stop being funny and feel more like a direct attack on whoever the insults are directed at.
The key to insult comedy is respect. Admiration for all human beings and the willingness to forgive when others admit mistakes, yet still willing to criticize. To be willing to point out the positives as much as the negatives, if only to give a fair and balanced portrayal.
One of my favorite comedic television shows of all time is “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In that show, the main characters are forced to watch the worst movies ever made and, to survive, they rip the movie apart, cracking jokes at the absurd situations, bad acting and poor filmmaking choices.
The reason this show works so well for me is because the creators’ respect flies off the screen. Even if they make fun of a bad movie, they still respect the movie and understand how hard it is to make a film. That a movie getting finished is a bit of a miracle, and they don’t want to fully ruin that miracle. Their jabs are always directed at the movie, never the people who made the movie. They have the utmost respect, even if they don’t like the movie.
The same cannot be said for “South Park.”
Most of the comedy comes across as hateful or unnecessary, like an episode where all of South Park loses internet connection and suddenly the families turn into a parody of the Joads from “The Grapes Of Wrath.” As if the episode is saying this is what we turn into with our precious internet. A group of dimwitted, single-minded buffoons who can’t function without computers or access to social media.
As simple as the early seasons of “South Park” were, at the very least they weren’t trying to call people out. They were not attempting to insult others. Just merely tell the tales of four boys as they grow up in an absurd place.
It almost comes across like the creators of the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, look to see that someone is on a higher pedestal than themselves and wish to either knock those people off their pedestal or put themselves on a higher pedestal. To me, that is disrespectful and tasteless.
If you want to do insult comedy and talk about celebrities, the government or trends in society, that’s fine. But you should also be willing to give a fair and honest portrayal of whoever you are insulting. Don’t just talk about how much they suck, but also what they’ve given to the world or how they’ve affected it.
At the very least, be willing to show that you don’t think you are above these people. Crack a joke at yourself, or be willing to admit to your own flaws. To my recollection, this is something “South Park” does not do, so they are guilty of that as well.
Above all else, show that you respect and care about those around you. Treat them like you want to be treated and not simply as joke material. If you don’t do that, then it makes you look an asshole. If that’s the case, why should I care about what you have to say?