South Park and Satire’s State of Affairs

Trey Stone and Matt Parker are now, without argument, American television’s foremost satirists. With Colbert gone the way of national late night and Stewart the way of retirement, we’re left with a crude cartoon about 4th graders to poke fun at an entire nation’s hypocrisy. Aptly, this season, the show’s 19th, is preoccupied with the function and relevance of its own genre: satire. With the national climate becoming growingly politically correct, the show asks: where does satire–thriving on the impolite or the outright offensive–fit in? And South Park, an equal-opportunity offender, answers with its unique brand of irreverent, sharp comedy.

Messrs. Stone and Parker aren’t concerned with the merits of sensible sensitivity. Instead, they create an absurdist universe in which those who plead for and champion sensitivity are those who understand it the least. This new South Park is a place for us—all of us—to come and laugh at ourselves, and to laugh so much it hurts.

In the show’s original conception, each episode was isolated from one to the next. The team of artists and writers would pick some things to lampoon each week, get their licks in, and move on. But in the past three or four seasons, the tenured cartoon has been experimenting with more serial themes, culminating in this season, where each episode needs to be watched in order. It also needs to be watched, period.

At the start of the 19th season, South Park is struggling with this new cultural environment. To turn the narrow-minded mountain town and South Park Elementary around, the school hires “P.C. Principal,” a very caricatured, tight t-shirt and Oakley wearing, frat guy.

P.C. Principal is the emblem of South Park’s, the town’s, newfound hypocrisy. Tolerance becomes tangible. P.C. is made into a fraternity, filled with more stereotypical frat guys just like P.C. Principal, who are similarly self-endowed with an authority on acceptance. Progress is a Whole Foods Market opening a new franchise in the town. But all this new tangible tolerance just makes the town blind to their own ignorance. Everyone is ‘bona fide tolerant.’ And if you already know everything, why bother learning anything?

This season has a few missteps, a few spots that were in poor taste, but, overall, a season that could’ve been heavy-handed and reductionist has been focused and pointed so far.

Stone and Parker are satirizing where this new concern for sensitivity could go, not where it is. They’re not minimizing Black Lives Matter. They’re mocking self-lauded, self-entitled Yelp reviewers. They’re lampooning Randy asking for a safe space from the Whole Foods Market cashier who’s shaming Randy for not donating to starving African children. They’re on a crusade against the ridiculous, though probably inevitable, future where cultural sensitivity becomes just another movement appropriated by upper-middle-class white people.

Grade: A. For sustaining satire in a world that doesn’t want it anymore, but that desperately needs it.

*A previous version of this article mentioned a lawsuit filed by Yelp
against South Park. The suit was a farce.