Who wants to live in South Park?
By Alison Dellit
South Park, originally commissioned as a video Christmas greeting, now boasts the most viewers of any cartoon in Australia, and is the highest rating program on SBS. More than a million people tune into South Park every Monday night, most of them aged under 25. More than 100 South Park-themed sites can now be found on the internet, most of them designed by young people.
The success of South Park has provoked a storm of controversy, with critics declaring the program obscene and sexist, racist, homophobic and downright evil.
True, the eight-year-old students at the centre of the program are not little Greg and Marcia Bradys. Kyle's favourite catch phrase is "Kick the baby", Stan throws up whenever his girlfriend approaches, Cartman (the fat kid) is the source of constant sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, and Kenny mumbles comments such as "I like girls with fat titties".
However, to describe South Park as simply racist or sexist or homophobic — or anti-baby — would be to miss the point of the humour.
The comedy of South Park is the comedy of release. We laugh at Cartman and Kenny because they show us a reality usually denied by mainstream society — children (like adults) can be racist and sexist, do want to kick the baby and do delight in the macabre.
South Park shows up the hypocrisy of a society that sets up ideals it is impossible for real people to meet. The exaggeration in the script only enhances the humour.
Some of the more subtle humour in South Park comes from the negation of the attitudes of the children as well. We know that Kyle loves the baby. Cartman's sexist comments deny his total adoration of and submission to his aggressively independent mother. The boys may swear and make crude comments, but in the end the "goodies" generally win over the "baddies".
However, stereotypes are not totally absent from South Park. The women and girls are, without exception, one-dimensional characters. Wendy is an annoying know-it-all, the mayor is a brainless opportunist, Mrs Cartman an overprotective mother. In an on-line interview, creator Trent Stone said that the minor characters appear as the boys see them.
This comment gets to the heart of South Park. Stone and his partner Trey Parker have created an accurate, if exaggerated, picture of the world which many children inhabit. What they have failed to do is show where these racist and sexist attitudes come from.
Illuminating the hypocrisy of society is not enough. It needs to be critiqued as well. South Park fails even as an accurate mirror of society, let alone a hammer with which to change it.