South Park’s Ironic Whiteness
by Ted Gournelos — University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
January 14, 2008 – 01:09
As scholars like Richard Dyer and George Lipsitz have pointed out, one of the difficulties in studying “whiteness” in the U.S. and Western Europe is its presence both as a dominant and a silent (oppressive) norm. Irony, however, allows a text to rely on the process of the construction of the dominant itself and a knowledge of its insufficiency or undesirability.
In this clip from South Park’s first episode of their eleventh season, we see Randy Marsh (often used affectionately to point out social hypocrisy) negotiating the politics of race and political correctness. Although it could be seen as a reactionary critique of “reverse racism,” the cultural references here destabilize such a viewpoint, as they allude to the construction of victimized whiteness juxtaposed with films that engage U.S. racism (e.g. A Time to Kill (1996) and Training Day (2001)) as well as recent historical examples of racial scandals (i.e. Michael Richards, Trent Lott, and Mark Fuhrman). It thus renders visible (and ironic) both the presence of whiteness and the active silencing of white privilege by dominant institutions, particularly in media and the legislature.
In this way South Park deploys irony as a targeted mode of critique, disrupting traditional binaries through which race is seen and reinterrogating the very process of constructing tolerance and victimhood in a time of neoconservative/neoliberal dominance. Rather than eliminating polysemy, it relies on multiple viewpoints held at the same time, accentuating dissonance in cultural production/reception and opening lines of discourse foreclosed by both the mainstream left and the right.
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