The second half of my South Park responses from my Research Writing course looking at how comedy is used to discuss political and social issues.
On the surface level the episode titled “ManBearPig” is one of the more ridiculous ideas for the series, and yet at the same time its quite genius. Often I’m in awe at how exactly Trey Parker and Matt Stone come up with all this. Airing about a month before Al Gore’s novel and documentary An Inconvenient Truth were to come out South Park decided it was time for them to give their take on the subject of global warming just as the idea would reach a peak within the public and media. But rather than being overly preachy as the show can sometimes get, “ManBearPig” is relatively un-preachy with the message simply being Al Gore is over blowing things for attention rather than necessarily global warming doesn’t exist. The episode consists of former Vice President coming to the small Colorado town of South Park and trying to get the kids to believe in his delusional tale of a “half man, half bear, half pig” creature.
The interesting take on this concept is that all three of those animals do exist, albeit not as one being, which goes to show Parker and Stone aren’t saying there is no such thing as global warming. It’s when the animals are combined it becomes fake, which represents Al Gore’s need for attention and a comeback after his political defeat. Yes global warming might very well be an issue, but Gore is obsessing for perhaps the wrong reasons, jumping to the conclusion that there’s a single creature that is made up of the three animals. It tells the viewer subtly that the episode isn’t as much an attack on the issue of global warming as much as it’s an attack on Al Gore and his fixation on the subject.
The episode expertly parodies Gore’s lack of exposure for some time, as the children of South Park have no idea who this once big political figure is. He’s desperate enough that a small town elementary school can easily book him as if it’s no big deal. It’s clearly not an audience that will understand any of Gore’s points, but it’s an audience and that’s what counts to him. At this point he’ll talk to anyone and throughout the episode Stan goes along with what he says simply because he feels bad for him. Gore has no friends and takes his loneliness out by chasing after a fictitious creature he makes up. This comes off as a great take on the thought that Gore’s passion for global warming comes out of his loss in the 2000 presidential election.
As stated the episode avoids getting overly preachy as the second act of the episode switching to a less political view with the kids getting trapped in the caves. The silly but humorous plot of Cartman eating the gold in attempt to avoid sharing with his friends serves no purpose to the main political plot, but rather works in attempt to dilute the moral of the episode and keep the audience reminded that although they are watching an intelligent show with a message, it’s still a comedy at heart.
“You Have 0 Friends”
When you think about it’s kind of surprising that it took South Park so long to dedicate an entire episode to the massively popular social networking site Facebook, yet at the same time it feels fitting as without any explanation Facebook has taken over the small Colorado town. In many ways this is how the site took over with the world, with the site being founded in just 2004 and yet it already has over 600 million friends. Facebook didn’t slowly move into public conscious yet, rather it exploded into it. In the same way everyone in South Park is suddenly obsessed with the site. The episode was most successful in pointing out much of the stupidity that appears on Facebook, while also exploring the complications that come with it.
As usual Stan is the voice of reason (and the creators of the show) as he attempts to stay away from Facebook. A task that becomes impossible due to his friends creating an account for him. This resonated with myself as I didn’t actually create my Facebook profile myself, rather my best friend made it explaining I had to get one back in the fall of 2006. I knew about the site as my college brother had been on it for some time, but I couldn’t see the use of it for me personally. I didn’t use the account for the first few months it was up, but after awhile I started logging on and soon it became a daily thing. But after a certain point a lot of its use becomes doing things for the sake of doing them. Stan friends his dad and grandmother because he has too, not because he wants to. He comments on people’s posts because he feels forced to, rather than him posting because he has something to say. This is exactly the feeling I have when it comes to birthdays on Facebook. I find myself writing “happy birthday” on someone’s Facebook wall out of obligation, almost as if it would be rude without it. Yet this makes the birthday message incredibly insincere and the communication pointless as there’s no emotion behind it.
The chat roulette scene acts as a great display of what that site is like. It played well portraying the two types of mindsets that people have on the site. It’s either funny and entertaining (despite mostly being men’s penises) like Cartman thinks or it’s stupid and a waste of time like Kyle states. But my favorite bit is Cartman’s video podcast segment Mad Friends, a hysterical parody of the show Mad Money. In the age of social media having as many friends/followers as you can is key and acts almost as a currency that determines your social status. The more friends you have the more popular and valuable your account is. This is a pitch perfect representation and by far one of the funniest bits in the episode.
Where the episode doesn’t succeed as much is it paints Facebook in a one sided role as a time waster when there are actually good and useful aspects to it. Typically South Park does a good job at balancing issues, but in this case they took the easy way out in just bashing on the social media website. The Tron parody also felt kind of weak as it never really lead to anything. It seemed more of like it was a cool idea that they liked and was thrown in quickly without any true purpose to it. Showing the inside of Facebook as a Tron like world didn’t do anything to further the commentary on the site other than the simple notion that the profile takes over the user, which is something that already came across pretty well in the way the townsfolk acted.
“It’s A Jersey Thing”
When I finished watching this episode and went to write this response my immediate reaction was the same as Mr. Garrison, Chef, and South Park Jesus: “I’m not going to touch that with a twenty foot pole!” Of course I actually am, but it’s hard to have any other response at the sight of the suicide planes and ending assassination. The first half of the episode seemed like typical South Park fare. An outside comes to South Park, interacts with the townsfolk, an issue appears between them, and soon the issue blows into an entire town affair. The topic this time covering the recent coverage of trashy New Jersey based reality shows such as Real Housewives of New Jersey and Jersey Shore.
The show successful tackles the issue showing how much these shows have taken a hold the media with their quick rise to cultural fame as Jersey seems to spread rapidly out of no where. One character arrives in South Park and right after a ton of New Jerseyans show up representing how one show became big and then all of a sudden there became a bunch of them. The issue of New Jersey taking over also happens hastily just like the out of nowhere popularity of programming such as Jersey Shore.
The episode takes a huge divergence with the introduction of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden who upon seeing the horror of Jersey Shore realize they have no choice but to team up and help America. It felt like an odd addition to the show, one that is instantly political, and yet in the instance it’s used, not very political at all. Little meaning appears on the surface level to be meant with the addition of terrorist organizations, except other than saying this excuse for “entertainment” is so terrible that it’s in ways worse than terrorism.
It was shocking to see South Park be so grateful and thankful to Osama bin Laden, declaring him a hero for stopping New Jersey’s invasion, but by killing him off at the very end acts a null and void of what came before it. Randy enthusiastically proclaims, “We got him,” the moment bin Laden is shot showing nothing has really changed. It comes off almost as if Matt Stone and Trey Parker were trying to be shocking but at the same time not create too much of a controversy. By killing bin Laden they avoid creating a message saying terrorists aren’t that bad and we should just team up with them. It feels almost like a safe way out and the whole idea of terrorists stropping the spread of New Jersey feels a bit like a cop out, albeit surprising and quite funny.
One final thing to note is that many of the people spoofed in the episode have responded positively to the episode in real life finding their South Park versions quite humorous, thus proving Mrs. Broflovski right, “You can’t just tell people from Jersey you don’t like them. No matter how obnoxious they are, they will convince themselves that you all actually think they’re cool.”