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Both the show and film versions of South Park have quite the reputation for its vulgarity and often absurdist humor that somehow also includes relevant social critique.The film effectively exposes numerous hypocrisies within American culture, including our aversion to sex and swearing but our innate love of violence, our supposed hatred of ignorance while simultaneously being ignorant, and at the root of it all, how parents want to raise their children versus what children really need. These examples are examined in-depth due to South Park’s strategy to make us laugh, lowering our guard and allowing us see problems in our world that we either didn’t realize or didn’t want to acknowledge.
America has some odd ideas on censorship in our media. Cartoon violence, exemplified by classic shows like Tom and Jerry or Family Guy is perfectly okay for younger children, and even modern shows like Game of Thrones display incredibly graphic and gory depictions of mutilation, death, sex, and even some pretty disturbing combinations thereof. While that’s an extreme example, as journalist Stephen Holden writes, most movies for the general public “allow almost unlimited violence while remaining petrified of anything reeking of smut.” (Holden) Many TV shows can have intense physical violence but are only allowed a certain number of swear words. If the idea of this is to protect younger watchers, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. They’ll learn swears at school, from friends, or online, so banning them from television doesn’t really matter in the end. The excess of violence displayed in our media, over time, desensitizes us to it. In a way, the film aims to try and accomplish the same effect, disrupting “ notions of suburbia, authority, the body, sexuality, war… through its pervasive intertextuality and its vulgarity.” (Halsall) Its characters spout creative, rapid-fire curses so often that eventually, the audience becomes immune to a phrase like “ boner-biting, dick-fart, fuck face” which would probably cause a stir otherwise. It’s just another line amid hundreds of similarly crude lines. By doing so, South Park shows its audience exactly what the desensitization of violence is like and how ridiculous it is that it’s allowed to be so mainstream while we force limits on arguably less important things like profanity. While the film does a great job of clearly showing their thoughts on this particular sample of hypocrisy, it also succeeds in showing America’s backwards behavior regarding parenting and education as well.
To clarify, South Park develops the parent characters as trigger-happy, self-righteous and most concerningly, unable to properly parent their children. They form an anti-Canadian coalition and stir up a frenzy to go to war over a film that “corrupted” their children without first attempting to safely fix the unwanted swearing. This ties along with the censorship issue. While parents nobly want to limit their children’s exposure to anything we deem ‘adult’, they often go about it the wrong way. The South Park creators make clear that they believe the “pompous, hypocritical rhetoric about protecting children from basic if unpleasant realities” (Holden) is doing more harm than good. In fact, the overzealous acts of the fictional parents mirror real-life parental movements to keep children away from weed – and not other worse drugs like heroin or cocaine or anything else for some reason – as well as swearing, sex, gluten, video games, and so forth.. The film paints a clear picture of the “desperate, paranoid grown-ups who long for an impossibly sanitized environment” (Holden) that we see so often but rarely think about. Interestingly, the “sanitized environment” Holden describes forms a pretty realistic metaphor for parenting in real life. Some parents keep their young kids in very sterile environments, which at the time seems good because they don’t get sick. But when they get older, they’re exposed to common pathogens that their immune systems have no experience with and they become badly ill, and more often than their peers. While the parents certainly had good intentions, they just don’t understand that children need some level of real world exposure, whether it be for the benefit of their immune system or their general understanding of the world. Too often, the overprotective behaviors eventually damage their children, because they involve a lack of trust, invasion of privacy, and negligence to provide essential information that children need.
Amusingly, South Park uses Stan’s questions about the clitoris to highlight this aspect. While the children seem to have a rudimentary idea of sex, most everything they’ve learned is from the media, so it’s not necessarily comprehensive or correct. His misguided attempts to understand female anatomy highlights a fundamental issue in our country regarding parents’ hesitance and, to some extents, refusal to thoroughly educate their children in subjects they consider taboo. Shielding children from the truth can be beneficial in some situations, but Stan is clearly at an age where he deserves an explanation to his questions. Keeping information from children excessively is just keeping them sheltered, and it can easily backfire when they receive the information in a manner like Chef gave to Stan; somewhat informative, mostly confusing. Alternatively, they just never properly learn about something incredibly basic regarding sex. For instance, parents relying solely on schools to teach sex ed can have some awful consequences in abstinence-only education states. They learn about the horrors of not using condoms without being taught how to use them. And most concerningly, they don’t learn anything substantial about sexual safety besides “chlamydia is out there and it will find you”. However, teenage sex continues to happen regardless, and their STD and teenage pregnancy rates soar because they aren’t educated properly. Parents’ insistence on preserving the innocence of their children ultimately causes them harm, and that truly reflects the “simple-mindedness of the adult population obsessed with the corruption of innocence.” (Halsall) It’s not uncommon for children to experience a loss of innocence early on in their life without their parents knowing, and subsequently trying to protect something that isn’t there. Where parents should be in a supporting role, they often take the enforcing role instead, inadvertently forcing their children to learn from somewhere less trustworthy… which is what the parent was trying to avoid in the first place. It’s a careful balance between what parents offer and what children need, and too many parents can’t find that balance because of their internal hypocrisies.
Overall, the film’s message is that militant parenting and overprotecting children through censorship and enforced ignorance is absurd. Naturally, the creators love to push content that’s shocking, edgy, and current, and they’ll mock celebrities and politicians just as intensely as common American stereotypes. While that explains why they’re a little biased to feel so strongly about censorship, their point is still true. Our gravitation towards hypocrisy becomes pretty clear from every level of society, which illustrates that it’s kind of like human nature at this point. It’s seamless in our lives, and more often than not, we get away with it. Especially in politics, not to any names. Back to the focus of the film however, the hypocrisy issue comes to a head when the parents are involved. They leave their children in the dark about important lessons, who then must learn it the hard way, and then they go on to do that very same thing to their children, because that’s the way their parents did it. It’s a vicious cycle that’s in our best interests to disrupt, for the benefit of a generation. South Park, a film featuring Satan in a romantic relationship with Saddam Hussein, also has some great parenting tips. Teach the kids about safe sex and their bodies, and let them be exposed to some of the real world so they’re ready to handle it at full force when they’re adults. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another set of poorly educated and media-saturated people who have difficulty establishing independence. In the words of Eric Cartman, “screw you guys, I’m going home.”
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