South Park has had an everlasting debate around it since its inception in 1997 on Comedy Central. Some people find the show to be humorous, playful, and beneficial in a way, while others see the show as junk and inappropriate. Every episode is a continuous narrative following around four (never-aging) kids: Stan, Kyle, Eric, and Kenny. The writers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have an eye for starting and escalating controversy. One reason for this can be due to the fact that an episode takes six days to make, so they can always stay on top of current events in the show. There are different sides to this South Park debate, however, I see it as a beneficial show that engages audiences and helps audiences learn about current issues through forms of parody and humor.
When people are about to watch South Park they know what they are about to watch. In its 17th season it has made the news on several occasions and almost everyone knows what South Park is and does (crude humor and parodies). The creators of the show understand what topics will cause controversy and frequently flirt with the fine line that makes the topic appropriate. “South Park's frequent forays into taboo subject matter and an almost gleeful willingness to rely on shock value for shock value's sake have made it a ripe target for criticism in its own right.” (Strachan, 2011). The issues that South Park will touch on include, racism, sexism, LGBT, feminism, obesity, religion and many more. It is impressive that a show with so much controversy circling it has managed to stay around for almost 20 years.
Audiences are clearly engaged while watching South Park, many times there is controversy before the episode even comes out, people get upset at what they hear the episode is going to be about. For example, in 2010 South Park decided that it would have an episode depicting the prophet Muhammad, in a humorous parody. This lead to strong protests from radical Muslim groups, in which death threats occurred because of the severity of the issue. (Comedy, 2010) Episodes like these start controversy, which in turn leads to discussion, in my opinion. When people are able to debate a topic and listen to both sides of an argument I think that is important. South Park allows this to happen and I think helps educate and benefit society.
Many viewers of South Park are teenagers and young adults. Some are up to date on current events while others may not get any news whatsoever. Even though South Park is a comedy program, there are many ways in which someone could benefit and learn from every episode. Usually the boys get caught in a pickle relating to real world events and they have to find a way out. David Carr of The New York Times writes, “Part of the reason ''South Park'' remains a durable, dirty pleasure for many of us is that beyond the annotation of bodily functions, there is always a parable, often summarized with a little speech that begins with, '’One thing I've learned is...’'' (Carr, 2009). I think this is the most important part of the show. If there were no parable, or moral lesson than I can see why this show would be considered humorous junk. Whether the boys are learning about the NSA, religious affiliations, or even Santa and the Tooth fairy they always get something out of each experience. David Carr understands why South Park can get away with so much and still be successful, he says, “Animation can be enormously lucrative because it creates a Neverland where your stars never go on strike, demand perks and raises, and most important, grow up.” (Carr, 2009)
There is another side to this debate however. Emily Ravenwood of Ohio State University says, “South Park may have defeated its own aspirations to high art by appealing too much to the source of its vulgar and popular images, namely children.” (Ravenwood, 1999) The show usually comes on around 9 o’clock, so there are still plenty of younger kids up to watch the show. And if they are not still up, the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, put all episodes online with good quality (all you have to do is watch an ad first). This can be problematic because it is not intended for young audiences and yet many people think that kids are the main target audience for the show. Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television, famously labeled South Park "dangerous to the democracy." I thought this is a bit excessive because if it is that much of a problem than people can use their own rights and change the channel.
South Park is a beneficial show that engages audiences and helps audiences learn about current issues through forms of parody and humor. For seventeen years South Park has been setting the bar on the comedy scene. They have shaken things up with their controversial episodes and characters in these episodes. Alex Strachan said, “Whether the viewer will find any of this funny or not depends, of course, on one's tolerance threshold for fearless but frequently offensive humor.” (Strachan, 2011) Offensive humor has been South Park’s bread and butter and I do not see them straying away from this as the series continues. They have been exceedingly successful over the past 17 years and still have a desire to put the kids in new situations. If you haven’t seen South Park then I would give it a go because it is worth seeing what all the fuss is about.
Carr, David (2009). “South Park, A Vision and a Payoff.” The New York Times. Retrieved from global.factiva.com
“Comedy Central Censors ‘South Park” Episode After Muslim Site’s Threat.” (2010). Asian News International. Retrieved from global.factiva.com
Ravenwood, Emily. "The Innocence of Children: Effects of Vulgarity in South Park." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 1.2 (1999): <http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.1038>
Strachan, Alex (2011). “On the Seventh Day, They Rest.” The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved from global.factiva.com
Strachan, Alex (2011). “South Park Still Offends; Germans Latest Victim of Crude Jokes.” The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved from global.factiva.com