The Beautiful Complexity of South Park

Throughout the last two weeks of reading, we have encountered several articles that detail the complexities of the humor that we see every day. Last week, we were introduced to the idea of reductio ad absurdum, where a show twists a real life situation to such an absurd extent that it can be ridiculed. This week, we look at carnivalesque humor as well as charged humor. Each of these three comic facets can function independent of each other; however, the show South Park has somehow managed to combine the three, which have allowed it to become one of the longest running series TV shows in the history of cable.

South Park, as explicitly stated in the article, is renown for its use of carnivalesque humor. This can be seen from most any episode, as the show is well-known for its use of both disgusting scenes having to do with the lower genitalia (i.e., Cartman eating his own underwear to stop Wendy from beating him up, Mr. Garrison’s penchant for BDSM, and the episode where Cartman shoves food up his ass and shits out his mouth). However, one of the lesser-noticed functions by parents who are focused on the grotesque nature of the subject matter is that of charged comedy. One of the typical characters who appears in each episode is Token (a clear reference to the phrase “token minority”, where a TV series uses a single minority character to promote diversity), who is commonly advocating for the positions that most of Black America align with. Additionally, an episode at the end of Season 18 was done over institutional racism with police forces, clearly focused on a major issue that has caused a great amount of turmoil among races, even within Minnesota.

Finally, this show performs a phenomenal job of portraying reductio ad absurdum, which allows for the ridiculousness of a situation to show the strange social forces at play behind specific issues. One of my personal favorite episodes of South Park is called “Child Abduction is Not Funny”. Throughout the course of this episode, the parents of South Park are trying to protect the children from being abducted. This protection occurs through many different means: obstructive tracking devices that the children wear, building a wall around the city (which is done by the only Chinese person in the town), and eventually, banishing the children to live in the forest with the Mongolians, where the parents can no longer hurt them. By creating an absurd atmosphere where the only way that the parents of South Park can save their children from abduction is by having them fend for themselves against animals, it shows the true ridiculousness of overprotecting children, because no matter what decisions you make, there will  always be some amount of risk.

These points show the ways that South Park has truly revolutionized comedy programming. Yes, they are profane, grotesque, and at some points (i.e., human centipediPad), just downright disturbing. But behind all the farts, shits and giggles, the show performs a very important facet within our society: providing alternate perspectives. By encouraging the audience to understand a point of view that may be different from their own, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, through every Jew joke, seek to create a little bit more social awareness and understanding in the world.

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