After a brief hiatus, South Park returns to television for its 19th season of lovable mockery. Premièring last night on Comedy Central, the first episode tackles various topics, including Caitlyn Jenner and Tom Brady’s deflate gate, which creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have probably wanted to parody since they ended the show’s previous season.
Called “Stunning and Brave”, the episode keeps the momentum going from last year in that we’re seeing some more cohesion between episode story lines that began appearing in the episodes of the previous season. After 18 seasons, it’s interesting to see a TV show gradually move from the episodic format to one that’s more connected, as it now regularly features virtually permanent changes to town of South Park. The episode begins with an assembly notifying the students of South Park Elementary that their principal, who has been in the show since season 1, has been fired. Replacing her is a young new face who’s simply referred to as ‘PC Principal’ and wants to make some changes around the school. The character pokes fun at the show’s past offensive material, bringing up such heinous events as Chef’s spiral into insanity, and when half the town pretended to advocate transgender rights solely for the purpose of getting specially-made bathrooms. He begins issuing out frequent detentions, leading to the focus of the episode when his sights land on Kyle. PC Principal hears that Kyle told a fourth grade girl that Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero, an inexcusable offence in the eyes of the new educator. This of course brings various forms of chaos into the quiet mountain town, with lots of humour coming from Randy Marsh’s side of the story, and a hearty teasing of Tom Brady and the NFL to top it off.
The season premier shows that South Park hasn’t lost its fearless politically incorrect stylings, and the episode raises some interesting points. In a culture that is becoming increasingly more PC and with some people seemingly going out of their way to get offended at ‘micro-agressions’, is it possible to have any discussions that bear even the slightest hint of offensiveness? That appears to be the overall message Stone and Parker are referencing, not that the desire to spread awareness about other people’s feelings and backgrounds is inherently bad, but rather that it’s easy to let this ideology get in the way of having a proper conversation that examines a topic without the fear of looking bigoted. Otherwise it’s effectively assuming the exact same role that people on the opposite side of the PC spectrum would fill – blocking opinions that differ from the local commonly held beliefs in the pursuit of not becoming ostracised. The only difference is that people who subscribe to this lend their rabid lust for misinformed attacks towards people who don’t appear to be “accepting” enough, which on the surface sounds like a good thing. Surely we should spread the idea of understanding and tolerance for every race, creed, sexuality, or gender, but the problem lies in that ideal being generalized. When people believe they know enough about a ethnic group’s background to rhetorically defend them, not realizing that they’re placing entire groups of people in a box the exact same way someone who’s racist would. When people don’t allow others they deem ‘too privileged to understand’ to enter a discussion, ultimately breeding more ignorance and mistrust between the very groups they claim to want equality for. The social justice mindset is a surprisingly dangerous perspective that can very quickly lead to nothing more than finger pointing and hang ups on which group is more oppressed instead of actually looking for ways to band together and fix the problem.
The only thing I’m disappointed in is the episode didn’t explore these ideas as much as I would have it liked to. South Park had always supported the message that you can make politically incorrect jokes and still fight for human rights for a long time. It’s been explored numerous times through varying lenses in prior episodes, so when it shows up again now, it feels a little like they have run out of jokes to make. The episode keeps its scope quite broad, and while ‘outrage culture’ is certainly more prominent now than it was in the previous years, the theme still comes off as a bit repetitive for fans of the show. At one point, Kyle briefly mentions that he isn’t against Jenner, but rather he thinks that she shouldn’t be called a hero just for coming out as transgender, saying furthermore that we really don’t know if she’s even a good person. But the episode never expands on this, leaving something to be desired. It almost takes away from the overall message, highlighting that while political correctness can at times be overwhelming, we are in fact watching a TV show which bases its entire aesthetic on going against PC ideals after all. However I wouldn’t doubt that this is intentional, especially considering Cartman’s line at the end about ‘having your cake and eating it too’. It’s a subtle way of representing both sides of an argument, but it ultimately came off a little flat. Maybe the themes touched on will resurface along with Principal Victoria in the next episode.
Nonetheless I’m excited for the forthcoming season and I highly suggest that you watch the episode for yourself. Episodes are available to stream on Much.com, so go nuts.