Making Sense of South Park, or Is a Snuke in a Sniz more than a Snuke in a Sniz?

Curator's Note

South Park has parlayed crude animation and crude content into a highly efficient mode of producing social satire. Episodes can be generated in less than a week, meaning the show can be far more topical than the vast majority of narrative television. And while SNL, TDS, or Colbert Report may take satiric swipes at controversial material, there seems to be something about immersing controversy in a narrative context that is…special? What about South Park as an episodic narrative distinguishes its form of satire, vs. nonnarrative programs like TDS or Colbert?

At the same time, the program bears many characteristics of the carnivalesque. The boys curse like sailors; bodily functions are out of control and fart jokes are numerous; the kids have more sense than the adults; and, ultimately, its all-pervasive bad taste is about generating laughter—engaging culture critically, but not somberly. In doing so, it has successfully connected with audiences despite its controversial content, appealing across political divides. The journalist at the end of this clip from CNN says South Park fans just want to see “any symbol violated.” That viewpoint, which suggests that South Park is essentially apolitical, seems consistent with the notion that South Park’s mode of representation is essentially a carnivalesque pastiche, which recycles contemporary discourses, submitting them to an aggressive “bad taste” without articulating any coherent criticism. In short, without meaning anything.

Does it make sense to read beneath South Park’s surface of carnivalesque parody/pastiche? Is a show that is so excessive—in terms of its violations of good taste, its piling on of cultural references and parodies—one that should be read symptomatically? Or is the surface all that matters?

Comments

Avi Santo's picture

Interesting questions,

Interesting questions, Ethan. I have never thought of South Park as apolitical, merely non-partisan. I wonder if what we are seeing in this CNN clip are tentative steps toward abandoning older models of citizen participation centered around right/left republican/democrat dichotomies but not yet a full recognition that the imagined South Park viewers participate fluidly in politics based on particular issues and seem to construct their political identities anarchically in opposition to authority figures at all costs. This strikes me as highly politicized, just not in the traditional sense of the word.

Jonathan Gray's picture

The clip is shocking for the

The clip is shocking for the remarkably stupid last few seconds: “But will it influence young people to vote?” poses that voting is all that matters, as if politics and political involvement weren’t about *thinking* first and foremost. In this sense, the clip shows the painfully restrictive frames within which satire is usually trapped in the press — will it make us vote? are we watching it instead of watching the news? why is hillary spoofed and not obama? — and in this regard proves why shows like The Daily Show can win best achievement in news awards, since Jon Stewart, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, etc. seem significantly more capable of asking truly provocative questions that engender thought and make one care about the answer than CNN’s hackneyed reporter asking stupid questions

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