Carnivalesque humor and “Bad Words”

One of the main focus points in Ethan Thompson’s piece “Good Demo, Bad Taste: South Park as Carnivalesque Satire” is “The all permeating bad taste and offensiveness with which South Park transforms historical reality into animated TV.” Thompson then goes on to explain how groups like the Parents Television Council have publicly criticized South Park for the frequency and extent to which they use “bad words” in a very short amount of time. For example, the Parents Television Council counted 166 instances of “shit” in one evening’s program with 162 of those coming from an episode of South Park interacting with society’s dismay over “bad words.” Thompson does make the point, however, that the perceived offensiveness that South Park deals with so frequently has constructed a different way for dealing with cultural events and issues.
I think that these points are really interesting, especially in the context of carnivalesque Comedy Central shows like South Park that are often viewed without much critical thought by primarily male viewers. The idea that profanity and crude situations can be used to illustrate often complex ideas and make a point is one that I haven’t really thought of before, but it does make sense. I think that it is generally really effective for shows and media in general to engage with audiences in that way, especially because a lot of people wouldn’t be able to critically consume hours of more ‘hardcore’ or serious political and social media.
I also think it could be argued that the critiques of South Park could be explained by Bakhtin’s idea of “heteroglossia” which is the idea of competing discourses in dialogue. Because South Park has created a world where swearing and acting crude is the accepted reality in which to deal with current issues, the show itself is very starkly contrasted to the world that the more conservative members of groups like the Parents Television Council deal in. Because the worlds are so different, people take offense to what isn’t very much like the world they live in, which is very reflective of carnivalesque humor and culture in general.
Do you think that carnivalesque humor is more effective than other types of humor at making people actively think about their beliefs? Or is it simply a way to tune out more serious issues in favor of humor? Do you think that using frequent “bad words” delegitimizes the content of the media or does it allow the viewer to engage with it more thoroughly because swearing in some ways makes it more accessible?


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