You ever have a show that you know you used to just love, and when you watch it now you expect to love it but find that you can't get past how fucking awful its writers apparently are? That's me with many shows, but it especially rears its ugly head with South Park. Recently the subject of their ridiculously problematic "life lessons" came up, and swarming throughout my head came memories of several times when South Park's messages have been extremely oppressive.
I'm not talking their entitled casual use of slurs, their overall offensiveness, their stereotypical characters, swearing, or any of that usual stuff. South Park is the kind of show that explicitly intends to have a political moral... and that moral is usually bullshit that specifically appeals to privileged young people. In other words, the one part of the show that isn't meant to be offensive is the part that is the most problematic.
When White People Can't See Racism, It's So Heartwarming
In the episode "Chef Goes Nanners," It is revealed that South Park has a flag. And, well, that flag is pretty obviously racist, depicting four cheering white figures lynching a black figure.
The town winds up embroiled in a battle over whether to keep the flag or design a new one, with Stan and Kyle fighting on the side of good and right, as usual.
Naw, I'm just kidding, they're totally on the side of keeping it the way it is.
Here's the part that just had me speechless, though. In the end the boys are "redeemed" because it turns out the only reason they didn't understand it was racist is that they're "colorblind" and didn't even see the figures as black and white. Huzzah! A win for antiracism! Gleaming endorsement from Chef! They then redesign the flag, keeping he lynching theme (because there's totally nothing problematic about that) but making the people doing the lynching multi-racial and holding hands.
The assumption here is that being so-called "colorblind" is the appropriate way to challenge racism. I have literally met no anti-racist activists who think in such a shallow, non-constructive manner. This is the sort of "non-racism" championed by, well, racists. It's the exact attitude I encounter time and time again when white people insist that their racist behavior isn't racist because "oh, their race doesn't matter."
Well, yeah, it does. The only way to usefully challenge racism as a white person is to be aware of it and how it colors your perceptions and your actions, not blissfully ignorant. But predictably, the writers of this show chose the "moral" most appealing to whites.
Hate Crimes Legislation is like Totally Discriminatory
Speaking of racist bullshit promoted as anti-racism... there's an episode called "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000" in which Cartman throws a rock at Token and is charged with a hate crime because Token is black.
This was the first time I saw South Park use the "fabricate a minority character to say something appealing to majority viewers" tactic. The boys attempt to get Cartman out of prison by questioning the effectiveness and fairness of hate crimes legislation. The basic lesson is "all crimes are hate crimes."
I have conflicting opinions on hate crimes legislation due to the faulty nature with which we deal with crime anyway. I'm not going to go into detail with that here except to say that there are plenty of issues with hate crimes legislation that need to be addressed, and that I can't really get behind them. These issues were entirely avoided in the episode by setting up a case which was very clearly not a hate crime. They made the issue out to be "if a majority just so happens to commit a crime against a minority, that's a hate crime." That's just not how it works.
But the kicker here is that the idea of fighting against hate crimes legislation comes from Token's father, so despite the episode being written by a white man the episode makes it appear as though there is a consensus among people of color regarding this issue, and as if by magic it's the same opinion expressed by so many privilege-blind whites! Hooray, racism is solved!
There's also another ludicrous level, which is that the Cartman character has a history of doing just ridiculously bigoted and often very illegal things, such as killing a kid's parents and cooking them into chili and leading an unwittingly neo-Nazi group. If any of the children of South Park belong in jail, it's Cartman.
Vegetarianism Makes You a P**sy
All my personal issues with vegetarianism aside, the episode "Fun with Veal" is a great episode to watch when you want to feel great for having done absolutely nothing. The kids go to a farm and realize that veal calves are treated cruelly. They liberate the calves and hole them up in a bedroom, where Stan decides to go vegetarian. He becomes very sick, later finding that he was growing tiny vaginas all over his body which would eventually turn him into "one big p**sy." They eventually wind up stopping everyone in town from eating veal, having had the name changed to "tortured baby cow," but vegetarianism is dismissed as effeminate and unnecessary.
This type of advice is pretty typical of non-critical animal welfare slacktivism. There are plenty of animal industries which engage in unethical treatment of animals besides the veal industry, including conventional beef, but it's easier to just not eat something most of us don't eat anyway than make real lifestyle changes. But hey, that's OK, wouldn't want to be a p**sy.
Being Called Out For Racism Is Like Racism
The episode "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson" got a lot of praise, which I actually understand for the same reason that "If Heterophobia Were Real" video making the rounds got so popular. The idea of flipping oppression on its head looks really good on paper, but in practice it's an ineffective message for pretty much anybody who didn't already get the message in the first place.
Randy goes on "Wheel of Fortune," where the puzzle was "N_GGERS" and the clue was "people who annoy you." This eventually leads to Randy being verbally abused by people who begin calling him "that n***er guy." He even winds up being chased by a gang of socially progressive rednecks. In the end he organizes with other people in his situation to get the phrase "n***er guy" banned.
There are so many things this episode just fails at. First, it makes calling people out for racism into an equivalent to being racist, which it absolutely fucking is not. Although it's clearly not meant to suggest that the two are equivalent, it was written in blissful ignorance of the fact that white racists and other people with privilege already make this very comparison. Consider for instance anti-queer bigots who piss and moan about how legislature protecting queer people from discrimination is "oppressing them."
It also ignores--and this is something that's true across-the-board for flip-around comparisons such as these--that people who are unreceptive to that sort of message (*ahem* the majority of South Park viewers perhaps) are either going to misinterpret that message or reject it entirely anyway. There simply is no real equivalent for most of these cases.
The Boy Scouts Shouldn't Discriminate But Making Them Stop Is Mean
The episode "Cripple Fight" features a long-time stereotypical gay character named "Big Gay Al." He is the leader of a troop of scouts called the Mountain Scouts--meant to represent the Boy Scouts--and gets kicked out for being gay.
Eventually Big Gay Al sues the Mountain Scouts for discrimination and wins. But in the end, he gives this speech about how it's the Scouts' right to discriminate if they want to and that he doesn't want to take that right away. So they decide to keep discriminating, which is apparently a big win. Vomit.
This was, by the way, the second time I saw Trey Parker fabricate a minority character with the intent to make them say something members of that minority wouldn't necessarily say. How many LGBT people are there that actually think the Boy Scouts should be free to discriminate? The fact that they have been given the legal go-ahead to do this is seriously undermining to nondiscrimination legislature.
Some would argue that the scouts should be treated more like a church, because they're a "religious organization." First off, bullshit. But regardless, the Boy Scouts gets ample public funding, both explicit and implied, something which actually does make discrimination on their part illegal, regardless of what fucked up libertarian capitalist views you have. But oh, it's OK if a fictional gay character supports it, right?
Transgender People Must Worry About Everyone Else First
The last three come from what is for me the most infuriating South Park episode Trey Parker ever barfed up, "Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina." I was going to give it one section, but in the end I realized that my infuriation with this episode comes from three distinct but related "life lessons" targeted toward transgender people.
The first came when Mr. Garrison decided to transition into Mrs. Garrison (Why "Mrs.?" Fuck if I know.). She returns home to her boyfriend, Mr. Slave, who begins bawling and chides her for not considering how her family and friends will feel about it.
Which is seriously awful advice, but which people still regularly give to trans people.
"Oh, you need to wait until your kids are out of the house!" "You need to at least wait until your grandmother dies!" "Don't you know how this is going to affect them?" "You're so selfish!" Am I getting the point across how disgusting and irresponsible this "life advice" really is? Trans people are on a regular basis called "selfish" for pursuing our medical needs. We don't need more of this bullshit. And the worst part is that this isn't the worst part of the episode.
Transgender People Have No Idea What They're Doing To Their Bodies and Wind Up Mutilated
Alright, Trey, seriously, bro, do you do no research whatsoever? Do you give yourself an alphabet soup enema and shit on a page?
Mrs. Garrison freaks out because she suddenly realizes, after the sex change, that she can't get a period or have children (or an abortion)? Have you met any trans people ever? Because we already know this. You aren't teaching us anything new. One of the things my therapist brought up over and fucking over again was that if I had any suggestion that I might want children in the future I needed to freeze my eggs.
And yes, there are trans people who lament not having a functional womb or testicles that produce sperm, but that doesn't change the fact that we know what we're getting into. The medical establishment makes sure of that because they're incredibly anxious about the process we go through.
In fact, the rest of the episode was mostly dedicated to driving the "mutilated, cosmetic-only, and non-functional" point home. Kyle decides to get a "negroplasty" to become a black man to play basketball only to find that the surgeries were "only cosmetic" and that his attempts to play result in him becoming seriously injured. That's not how sex reassignment works, though. It isn't just cosmetic. It's emotional, psychological, and hormonal. We don't generally fall apart or injure ourselves attempting to do stuff generally associated with our gender identities. The entire concept is ludicrous.
Transgender Bathroom Privileges Require like So Much Work For People
hypocritical trans people who hate on therians. There was one part of the Gerald-dolphinplasty situation that was telling and infuriating, though.
Gerald goes to a sports game and needs to go to the bathroom. He then starts demanding the organizers give him access to a bathroom with a pool of water of sufficient size to properly evacuate.
Wait, what? Did they just make an analogy to transgender bathroom rights? Really? Where do I even start with that? Do I even start with that?
Does Trey Parker actually believe that transgender people require radically different venues in a bathroom? Is he expecting trans women to demand urinals or something? Considering the rest of the episode is so clearly meant to be an offensive transgender-related hyperbole, I have a really hard time believing he wasn't trying to say something with this. But whatever he's saying is obviously shit.
Unfortunately, this is nowhere near the end of brain-warping messages found in the South Park series. There are several I don't remember well enough to write something useful about, and I haven't watched it very often in a while so there's a perfectly reasonable chance they've ascended to new levels of arrogant Libertarian bullshit in the past couple years.