Southpark's Satire and Critical Humour
As a provocative and anti-politically correct television series, South Park offersits viewers an alternative space to critically think about and discuss contemporary issues. Contrary to its reputation for potty-mouth humor, South Park often has insightfulperspectives on complicated topics in present-day culture. The writers of South Park are acutely aware of the racism and racial prejudices in contemporary society. This is demonstrated through their satirical representations of non-white groups as well as through jokes directed at racial prejudice itself.
The episode ―With Apologies to JesseJackson‖ is important because it aims to answer the question: how do we, as youngpeople in the 21st Century, discuss racism? But with further examination, a critical eye uncovers that the episode actually endorses racial misconceptions that give any conversation about racism invisible. If you are not already acquainted, welcome to the world of South Park, a show which follows the life of four white eight year old boys as they navigate through the contemporary predicaments of their quiet mountain town in Colorado. The writers of the series, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, satirically tackle the issues of modern-day culture by allowing the viewer to see these quandaries through the eyes of the (not so) innocentboys. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny play somewhat naïve fools who look at the town they live in and shake their heads; they do not understand their parents, their school teachers or the events that shape their lives. It is through their investigation of contemporary society that its foibles are critiqued.
Each episode goes head to head witha broad range of contemporary dilemmas (South Park covers the politics of immigration, the electronic social world of Facebook, and everything in between), concluding with areflective (and somewhat insightful) solution from the main characters. With Apologies to Jesse Jackson deals with the conflicts of three significantcharacters: Stan Marsh (South Park‘s voice of reason), Randy Marsh (Stan‘s liberal, yet child-like father), and Token Black (The token African-American kid in South Park, and the wealthiest as well). A fourth character, Eric Cartman (the animated, child version of Archie Bunker), appears in the episode as well, but his conflict is not a focus of this article. The conflicts of the episode all happen (directly and indirectly) from Randy saying “Niggers!” on Wheel of Fortune. Randy struggles with the stigma of being knownas the Nigger Guy‖ (a white guy who uses the word nigger), while Stan and Token conflict over the power of words and what it feels like to be discriminated. Meanwhile, when Mr. Nelson, a Little Person, is brought into school to discuss the power of words, Cartman cannot control his laughter, resulting in a bloody fight between the two.
The episode ends with Stan recognizing that he will never understand how it feels to be discriminated against. Consequently, Token forgives him (and literally thanks him).
The writers, Parker and Stone, connect these conflicts under the liberal notion that one mustempathize with the discriminated to solve racism. They challenge this notion bycongratulating Stan for realizing that, as a white male, he will never understand how itfeels. Though I agree with this message, I challenge the writers in the way they choose toend the episode, as if the aforementioned epiphany that Stan has is the solution to racismand an end to the discussion that needs to materialize. In this paper, I will critically check particular scenes that involve Randy‘s struggle as the Nigger Guy and those that depict the conflict between Stan and Token. I will start with Randy‘s crisis, pointing out the intended messages within each scene, while specifically emphasizing the implicit messages that were subconsciously created by the writers, and thus received by theviewer in the same way.
These messages are subconscious as a result of our socializationinto the radicalized world we live in today. Once perceived, these messages reaffirm stereotypes and misconceptions that we must rid ourselves of if we aim to fight a systemof inequality. Then I move on to Stan‘s conflict with Token, analyzing how Stan iscontinually stripped (by the writers) of any responsibility to face racism. This episode, contrary to its intention, actually limits a productive discussion about racismbecause it essentially eliminates the role and responsibility that white people have in this discussion. An episode like this can only exist because we still live in a society constructedaround race; the episode depends on the fact that racial tension and inequalities still permeate our contemporary culture. The viewer is not surprised (and rather amused)when Randy has to guess what N _ G G E R S will spell under the group of People Who Annoy You on Wheel of Fortune. Recognizing the socialized taboo of the wordnigger, Randy hesitates at first but then confidently bellows it out, only to be heavily disappointed when the buzzer goes off indicating his incorrect response – the correct word was (obviously?) ―NAGGERS.
Here the writers intend for the viewer tosympathize with Randy because, honestly, their minds‘ were directly linked to nigger aswell, and only when the real word is revealed are they a little surprised. The viewer does not see Randy as racist here, but as a naïve (and stupid) guy who just wanted to win$30,000. Parker and Stone intentionally play with the existing insecurity around political correctness, so when the viewer laughs at Randy, they are also shielding theirnervousness around the possibility of this event taking place in life. They (we) are safe to view the conflicts that occur from this mistake within the shelter of the cartoon. “Hey look honey, there’s that Nigger Guy. ”
When Randy apologizes to Reverend Jesse Jackson for saying the N-word onnational television, the viewer is exposed to three common misconceptions about racerelations. First, the viewer is presented with the stereotype that there is one person whorepresents all black people. As a political leader, civil rights activist, and Baptist, minister, Jackson appears a likely candidate for the role that Parker and Stone createwithin this scene. But of course no one person can represent an entire people, nor speakfor them. The writers shove this in the viewers face, blatantly making fun of thisstereotype for its absurdity. They confirm this again later when Token yells at Stan:JESSE JACKSON IS NOT THE EMPEROR OF BLACK PEOPLE!.
Yet, this satirical humor undermines the fact that many black people operating in all or majority white settings, like Token, are representatives of their entire race everyday, not by personalchoice, but because white people assign them these roles subconsciously. Second, when Jackson accepts Randy‘s apology by pulling down his pants and coo-ing for him toliterally kiss his black ass (where Randy follows through), the writers are alluding tothe notion that white people feel they need to or are expected to suck up to black people to meet the status as an anti-racist person (or to be down as Randyputs it). These two stereotypes are widely recognized and comprehensible to both a white and non-white audience, but the dialogue between Randy and Jackson endorses athird fallacy about how to actively work against racism. Here Jackson affirms the misconception that cultural tourism will allow white people tounderstand black culture, giving them an opportunity to unlearn they’re racist views.
Contrary to this assumption, black feminist author Bell Hooks holds an entirely different(and oppositional) place. In her essay Eating the Other (1992), Hooks talks about the white notification of the darker Other and what she calls imperialist nostalgia. As Hooks illustrates, Randy‘s quest into African-American culture‖, seemingly absent of feelings of domination, would mirror the position of the traveler/colonizer‖. Hooksreminds the reader that European colonizers traveled‖ into Africa in the same way. to physically and economically exploit the colonized under a façade of benevolence. More important than playing spectator to another‘s culture is recognizing the power white people actively and passively assert over black people, that simply by expressing theirwish for intimate contact with black people, white people do not eradicate the politics of racial domination. Jackson‘s suggestion to Randy actually gives him permission tomimic the process of conquest, a process that leads him further away from fighting racism (and possibly making him more of a “Nigger Guy” than he will become by theend the episode). The viewer of South Park interprets Jackson‘s suggestion as anacceptable solution to Randy‘s racist outbursts, unaware that the idea of samplinganother‘s culture is itself a product of white supremacy.
When Randy is perpetually discriminated against for being the Nigger Guy, theviewer witnesses his appropriation of black culture to express his pain. In one scene, Randy performs spoken word, a style of performance poetry (stylistically similar to hip-hop) that emphasizes tone and body language. Though I agree that Stan should recognize that he will never know how racialdiscrimination feels, it is by no means an excuse to withdraw from the discussion. Throughout the episode, the writers continually (subconsciously) show Stan trying torelieve himself from any constructive conversation about racism. In the two scenes examined above, Stan resists this discussion to an extent that he never listens to whatToken is really saying. Coincidently, Token had tried to tell Stan that you just don‘t get it‖ from the beginning, which implicitly reflects the way many black voices go unheard or are not taken seriously throughout society. Though the writerspresent Stan‘s simplistic realization as an acceptable solution to the conflict that transpired at the start of the episode, this place actually helps Stan continue to avoidany serious discussion.
By internalizing Stan‘s action, the viewer assumes that the onlynecessary obligation that white people have in this situation is not to actually try to understand, but to admit that they don‘t get it, and that anything beyond this realizationis out of their hands. This approach is outrageous, especially because the writers intentionally acknowledge and emphasize (specifically in the Congress scene) how muchpower white people have politically and institutionally. This stance actually limits anyproductive discussion about racism because it reaffirms the notion that white people have no place in this discussion, shifting this burden back to non-white people. Furthermore, the absurdity in having Token thank Stan as the last line of the episode creates the abruptillusion that Stan‘s realization was worthy of praise; that Token actually owed him a smile and a thank you. This last line leaves the viewer to assume that everything will goback to normal, that everyone lives happily ever after, but does not shed light on what Token is literally doing. thanking Stan for his ignorance.
Though is it is important for white people (as well as non-white people) to recognize their ignorance when it comes to racism, there is always room to learn and to understand how and why racism is still aliveand well within the United States and the world. By concluding the episode this way, Parker and Stone remove all obligation from white people to take part in a discussionabout racism, further establishing the idea that because white people do not suffereconomically or socially from racism, they do not have to care about it. In With Apologies to Jesse Jackson‖, the viewer is exposed to blatant stereotypesand misconceptions about racial dynamics as well as subconscious messages that reaffirmstandardized racial roles that we have been socialized to believe are innate.
Though the episode circles around such topics as the power of words, the politics of the word nigger, and race relations between black and white people, the last message challenges thenotion of racial empathy. The writers conclude that is necessary for white people tounderstand (as a part of their privilege) that they will never experience what a non-whiteperson experiences when it comes to racism. Though this argument is profound(challenging the liberal put-yourself-in-their-shoes‖ strategy), it presents the viewer withthe option (and validation) to opt out of a conversation about racism and dangerouslyasserts the idea that, if the viewer is white, it is not their place to discuss racism at all.
This message actually digresses any action to work against racism because it furtherrelegates the problem to non-white people’s. Because of the tremendous privilege thatwhite people have (which is not at all their fault), they have an important role in helping to fight racism, which is still heavily prevalent in contemporary society. In South Park, the importance of this role needs to be acknowledged, as the show influences (and in Cueva 14 ways, represents) the white, liberal, and anti politically correct voice of young people in America.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below