South Park and why we need satire

BY COLE WHITE | Opinion Editor | The Statesman South Park, Comedy Central’s long-standing animated show, has been called many things. Most of those things haven’t been positive.

From lewd to offensive, the critics have derided the series from the start. But regardless of how you look at the television, being lewd and offensive does not allow for a cable television show to stretch into what is now their 19th season.

So how did they do it? They managed because while they may be lewd and offensive, that’s the entire point. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators, have nailed down one of the best social satires of our generation.

Satire isn’t meant to be polite. It isn’t meant to be politically correct. The goal of satire is to hold a mirror up to who we are as a people and start a dialogue.

Let’s go back to March of 2015. There we saw social media blow up with the hashtag #cancelcolbert in response to Stephen Colbert’s announcement on the Colbert Report he was founding the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Out of context, it does seem terrible. But the entire point was to highlight the callousness of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s reaction to Native American communities’ request that the team name be changed.

Yes, South Park at times says terrible things. But what we need to take away from good satire is that those lines are delivered through characters you’re not supposed to side with in the first place. The horribleness that is often exhibited isn’t just a group of writers in a darkened room wondering how to offend people. That horribleness is our national I.D. If we ever hope to change any of that, we have to acknowledge that it’s real.

No other show has had the audacity to broach such real-world problems, ranging from depictions of Mohammed in the media to class struggles, 9/11 truthers and criticisms of Scientology with such fearlessness. These are real discussions that we need to have if we hope to move forward, but we’ve entrenched ourselves in cultural divides and pretended that we don’t need to acknowledge them honestly.

We try to talk about them but most efforts fall flat. Any group that has tabled in Kirby Student Center for a cause knows that the majority of students will walk by and avoid eye contact.

Therein lies the power of satire. It is engaging. Love it or hate it, satire opens discussions that the mainstream media often times can’t. It allows us to look at what we really are rather than what we pretend to be. Satire is a tricky balancing act, but a series doesn’t get to 19 seasons without executing it flawlessly.

Political correctness can only go so far. We need an outlying voice to remind us we still have a long way to go. We can’t continue on a path that simply says, “We’re not going to be prejudiced anymore.” These are deep-rooted societal entrenchments.

We need provocative satire, and to that end, we need South Park. To those who hate it, be angry. Be outraged. But know it really isn’t just that particular show you are outraged with.

Deep down, that outrage is aimed towards all of us.

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