South Park iconoclasts
Kenny, engrossed with his hand-held game, gets hit by an ice cream truck. The hooded South Park character is flattened, but he doesn’t die. This event sets off a panic in the spiritual realm because gaming whiz Kenny is the ultimate weapon in a war between heaven and hell.
Kenny ends up on life support with a feeding tube in a March episode of the Comedy Central show. My son and I watch a recent rerun. In hell, Satan and the Grim Reaper fret about over Kenny’s future. If the boy dies, he’ll be able to fight for heaven. The Devil needs to keep Kenny alive.
“What are we going to do?” the Reaper asks.
“We’ll do what we always do,” Satan replies. “Use the Republicans.”
Cut to conservative politician giving speech, repeating catch phrases whispered in his ear by an invisible demon.
My son weighs in.
“Are you sure you want to be watching this conservative show, Mom?”
He’s being wry. I’m reading Brian Anderson’s book, South Park Conservatives and repeating its premise to friends and family.
“So South Park,” I ask, “a bastion of conservatism?”
I get blank stares. The taboo-breaking show is rife with explicit talk about sex. It pokes at traditional religion. In one episode, Starvin’ Marvin doesn’t get fed by missionaries unless he accepts Jesus. Speaking of the Savior, in a December 1999 episode, Jesus plots his comeback, hiring Rod Stewart to do a Vegas show.
This show ain’t for Dobsonistas.
But conservatives are a mixed bunch.
In Reno, the Nevada Independent Conservative Political Action Committee hopes to breathe life into Republicanism. Much on the group’s Web site (www.nvconservatives.com) sounds reasonably libertarian. Thumbs up to “unabashed” capitalism. No mention of abortion or homosexuality. Opposition to “any attempts to infringe on personal liberties.”
South Park conservatives? Perhaps.
The concept apparently originated before Election 2004 in an online essay, “South Park Republicans.” In it, Stephen Stanton wrote about new conservatives who hope to distinguish themselves from the uptight right. They appreciate liberty, personal responsibility, limited government and “the tight abs of Britney Spears or Brad Pitt.”
Stanton’s case for equating this “movement” to South Park is repeated in Anderson’s 2005 book. The reasoning: South Park is conservative because it’s ridiculed multiculturalism, left-wing celebs and anti-discrimination policies. It ran an episode called “Butt Out” in which tobacco execs “are models of reason and decency,” Anderson writes.
In “Rainforest, Schmainforest,” the kids go on a field trip. After being lost and bugged by insects and bandits, all crave civilization. Roll song: “There’s a place called the rain forest that truly sucks ass. Let’s knock it down and get rid of it fast.”
For starters, let’s address the concept of irony, which my dictionary defines as “an utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.” Often, it’s a “literary style employing such contrasts for humorous effect.’
That said, even if South Park writers were taking jabs at A doesn’t mean they believe B. Being anti-liberal doesn’t automatically land you in the conservative camp.
South Park writers are equal-opportunity mockers. Given its reputation, the audience is an open-minded one. That, by some definitions, equates to liberal—just not the overwhelming, guilt-tripping sort that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker love to loathe. Show creators leave no ideology unscathed, be it religious conservatism or fundamentalist corpora-phobism.
It’s not surprising that the show appeals to 20-somethings. Many are disgusted by the partisan blabbing, fist fights and self-righteous hubris of left and right. Stone and Parker take nothing too seriously, including themselves. Under the show’s layer of profanity lies an appealing honesty.