I was a late comer to the South Park train. While a lot of kids were watching it all the way back in ’97, I was aware of the show, but never seemed to see it. Comedy was a big part of my life growing up, though. I remember watching things like Mystery Science Theater on Comedy Central late at night and Comic View on BET when I happened to be over at my sister’s late enough.
I had a healthy appetite for comedy.
South Park was edited and aired in syndication around the time I was in high school, I think. By then I was old enough to get a lot of the jokes and the movie had come to cable, which I had seen a few times. I had a South Park shirt and considered myself a fan of the show. I thought the guys writing it ‘got me’–that they were the kind of guys I wanted to be like. I didn’t just want to not care on a personal, emotional level. Not caring needed to be the default reaction when faced with almost anything.
When you’re fifteen or sixteen it’s easy to see how this world view applies to you. It’s hard to find somewhere to fit in and when you’re already attending a school where graduating classes numbered under fifty students there was a good chance that you might not have the friend group that even outcasts had at bigger schools. Not caring seemed like a good way to deal with the pressure. What you don’t care about can’t hurt you.
South Park takes that to a deeper level. It poked fun at everyone, a thing I once greatly respected. It reinforced my notions about the world, or it reinforced the notions that I figured I should have: gays are weird and okay, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, but you’re not doing any disservice by calling people faggots as an insult. The younger generation is past racism completely, so all that’s left is to let all of the older people die off (there’s no way that racism is still really affecting us!). The choice between Presidential candidates means nothing, they’re both horrible.
From about ages fourteen to twenty I probably held some version of these beliefs and others that lined right up with the show. I didn’t mind when they took aim at targets that I cared about or liked or believed in. It was okay because they were making fun of EVERYONE, right?
As long as you’re indiscriminate in your fun poking, what’s the harm?
Fast forward to I’m thirty and I still love comedy. I still can’t get enough crude humor as evidence by being able to quote Louis CK and Hannibal Burress’s albums like scripture. Until a few months ago I thought South Park had been canceled. No one had mentioned the show in years around me (probably a testament to having friends that are ‘keepers’).
The internet was set on fire by this past years South Park seasonal target. PC culture, the new boogeyman of the Alt-Right, Brocialists, and just your garden variety bigot. This isn’t to say that there isn’t problems with hard-left liberalism, but to hear some people talk about it liberals are to blame for terrorism, the break down of the American family, and pretty much everything else under the sun.
To see South Park make season long antagonists out of PC culture seems less like the brave thing that people always claim that the show is and more like the expected thing for an audience that grew up watching the show. A lot of them became the adamant Bernie Sanders supporters that refer to Hillary Clinton as ‘a cunt’ every chance they get and don’t understand why it’s sexist (and unwarranted). They are the ones who refuse to look at race, sexual orientation, or gender even when it’s undeniably a factor (Elliot Rodger shooting, for instance).
I was a lot more moderate the right leaning when I started watching the show and I would say that I was more easily offended back then. Me now still has a bit of that don’t care attitude. But I care when it counts. I care when you’re selling me a value system that’s flat out wrong and trying to reinforce views that don’t really work.
Yeah, it’s just a show. South Park isn’t the news or some politically commentary, except that it’s being used that way this past season and people have cited it before in the past to refer to their views. There are still some moments from the show that I can relate to, everyone expecting me to just like Family Guy because of my sense of humor (spoiler alert, I’ve hated Family Guy for almost the entirety of it’s run), but I think that I outgrew South Park years ago. I’m kind of glad that I did.
Some things are important to me and I don’t see that as a fault. Equal representation of all races and genders (at least in the sense of how they’re portrayed, because not all situations would have all types of people there) is important to me. Caring about politics is important to me, being well informed, and who gets elected is all important to me. PC culture isn’t such a dangerous thing that you need to go on about it for thirteen episodes or how ever long their seasons are.
And yeah, maybe the nearly one thousand words I spent on this was too much care, but I think it extends to more than South Park. And more importantly, it’s something that is relevant, because we live in a world where people actually don’t care enough.