Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

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Lessons from South Park

View the article, “Remembering 2000-2010… Through South Park

If years from now, future generations wanted to understand American culture from 1997 through the present time, they merely need to view the Comedy Central series South Park.   Though not a genre unto itself, scholars and essayists have written academic pieces elaborating on this notion; but don’t worry…I’m not taking you down the highbrow path.  I’ll leave that for Brooklyn University’s “South Park & Political Correctness” class. However, if I were to package South Park’s 13 seasons into categories, I’d break it down to two:

Pre-9/11: The Arrogant Years. Remember the late 90’s?  The beginnings of major de-regulation left Americans flush with cash.  Graduating college seniors were scouted early and often by organizations, complete with massive signing bonuses.  Things were so good for us, South Park needed only to scratch the surface when holding up the cultural mirror, focusing on how Americans put forth and then manage themes that made us unique and wonderfully ridiculous: vast corporate expansions, alien abductions, mean kids, overprotective parents, assisted suicide, gay rights, religion, crushes, conservation, and sex education/ repression/ harassment.  We’d watch South Park on our new perfectly color-coordinated Crate & Barrel sofas, chuckle and think: it’s true; there IS a Starbucks on nearly every corner!

But in the Post-911 era, things got complicated. South Park ushered us through this transition with the episode: “Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants,” a tribute to the old Looney Tunes vignettes where Bugs Bunny (in this version, played by Cartman) dresses up as a woman to foil the villain.  It starts out with the kids – Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny – at the South Park bus stop dressed in gas masks.

Kyle asks: “Remember when life used to be simple and cool?”

“Not really,” Cartman responds.

Fear reigns, confusion prevails and extreme thoughts are shared.  Adults drool and mutter as they obsessively watch the news, and after a mix up of good-intentions gone badly, the kids wind up in Afghanistan working with their young counterparts to overturn the Taliban.  Mission complete and seemingly enlightened, they all meet up to say good-bye.

“Well, looks like bin Laden and the Taliban are finally out of power,” says one of the Afghan children to Stan and Kyle.

“Yep,” says another, “You don’t need us anymore.”

Stan replies: “You guys should know one thing: most people in American are good people, we just try to live day by day like you guys do.  Maybe if you took some time to see all the great things about our country, you’d see we’re not so different after all.”

Afghan child: “That’s fine.  But we still hate you.”

Stan: “Oh, well, I guess maybe someday…we can learn…to hate you, too.”

Afghan child: “Maybe…in time.”

Kyle: “I’m confused.”

And somehow, this was comforting.  We were still shocked, still processing, and still looking for some way to articulate our thoughts while feeling hopeful.  But mostly, we were confused.

And we’re feeling this way again.  While post-9/11 era episodes dug deeper and forced us to look more cynically at ourselves, we were soon able to respond by laughing luxuriously at how we were able to adapt to the new world order.  We may be destroying the planet, we thought, but we drive Hybrids, so that cancels it out, right?

Now, we find ourselves once more in the fear zone – this time over the economy.

And that’s what brings me to you, Young Money readers.  Nearly all the episodes focusing on money have the kids executing get rich quick schemes.   During the 12th season there is an episode titled: “Pandemic.”  The pandemic in question is not of the physiological disease variety; rather it has to do with the spread of Peruvian Pan Flute bands.  With the exception of Kenny, the boys hate this intrusion on their town.  The bands are everywhere: malls, street corners, outside their homes.

The boys decide to start their own band to compete.  Dressed in indigenous clothing and playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the boys launch in South Park’s busy town center.

“How cultural!” passersby exclaim as they fork over $10 for the boys’ CD: “The Llama Brothers: Tapas and Moodscapes.”

The point is, we’ve all had those “Ah HA” moments – that instance where a thought pops into your head and you think, “what an awesome idea!”   I’m pretty sure I was the first person to ever think up a mechanism to browse and download individual songs. But while I was extremely busy clocking out of my job at 5:30 and sidling up to the bar at 5:35, Shawn Fanning was developing Napster in his dorm room.

In this economic downturn, I empathize with college students.  With limited hiring and job growth, where does one go to turn on your mind, make a living and develop beyond the structure of school?  But recently, I’ve started to wonder about the opportunities.  Without that traditional career path from college to immediate work, I am hopeful we will see an era of innovation.  One in which young twenty-something’s spend time playing with these Ah Ha moments, pooling resources and bringing fresh analysis, products and services to the market place.

Or maybe we’ll see an increase in volunteerism.  Nonprofits can benefit greatly from your talents.  Conceptualize, pitch and execute a program for free; you’ll be making an impact and it will build your resume and showcase your initiative and leadership skills.  And who knows…if successful, it could get funded and leveraged elsewhere as a model.

Whatever it is, just go out there and do it.  But if you make it big, don’t be surprised if we’re mocking your future South Park avatar from our now 15-year old sofas.

View the article, “Remembering 2000-2010… Through South Park

Jennifer Tress is a freelance writer based in Arlington, VA.

Image courtesy of Comedy Central.

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28 Responses to Lessons from South Park

  1. Warren says:

    Great piece. I propose South Park and this article be placed in a time capsule NOW!

  2. Pingback: Remembering 2000 - 2010... Through South Park

  3. Michael says:

    Glad to know all those years watching South Park weren’t in vain. I’ve been part of a social movement! Thanks for your insights Ms. Tress.

  4. Wendy says:

    Great article. We need more outside-the-box thinking like this (and South Park!). Sometimes human behavior is so ridiculous, it just needs to be called out. Times are changing faster than ever these days, and we cannot rely on how things used to be. Good for you ending on a note of hope. We need that, too! Thanks.

  5. Rehana says:

    After living in the U.S. for over 20 years, I still struggle to understand aspects of American pop culture and humor . . . what’s up South Park – the kids just belch, fart, and curse . . .why a massive following over this !!?? You’ve helped me bridge the gap. There’s meaning there . . .mmmmK . .. lots of it, that’s a big part of the why!

  6. Birgitta says:

    Brilliance! It’s funny because it’s true.

  7. Amina says:

    This is a delightfully written article with well thought out concepts. I hope all young readers will take Jennifer Tress’ words to heart and really pursue those great ideas. In addition, Ms. Tress is an amazing writer, I would love to see more of her work!

  8. Liz says:

    Great article! You really can’t go wrong when you use South Park as an analytical tool.

  9. Amanda L says:

    I learned something today (that Jennifer Tress should be given more assignments). Also, while I’m unable to view an entire episode of any animated program (it’s my curse; I blame The Smurfs), I LOVED the YouTube clip of Kyle taking back the Margaritaville Maker to Sur La Table. Try walking into that place and not ending all your words with “able,” the Frenchation. But I digress. We’re in America and this article is able to make me smile.

  10. Cece says:

    Well done!!
    South park has been on the cutting edge – but you need to be hanging on and crawling up that edge to know.

  11. Jen says:

    Michael, I like it. Part of a social movement indeed…

  12. HS says:

    Love the article!! Makes you go “Hmmmmm”

  13. Jen says:

    Thanks everyone for the nice comments! I’m really amazed that after 13 seasons, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are still able to come up with clever ways for us to look at ourselves.

  14. Brad says:

    I once saw Trey Parker in Aspen, which is close to South Park. That’s why I like this article even more. Well done, entertaining piece that draws some good conclusions from a seemingly crass cartoon.

  15. marci says:

    If I could know now what the next “Facebook” breakthrough would be, I could be the next to be mocked on a cartoon bent on spewing social commentary through farts and hand jobs. Ah, aspirations.

  16. Annie says:

    I’ve never been a big South Park fan but did appreciate it for what it was …though this article makes me look at SP in a different light as well as wanting to be mocked on there. Thanks and props to the author!

  17. B Spice says:

    A very layered and timely piece.

  18. Tara says:

    Great article! I often seem to enjoy reading analysis of pop culture more than consuming it. My tastes are too narrow and limited. Why don’t you write something about Law and Order — maybe I could come up with an intelligent response.

  19. Ria says:

    I always knew I liked south park, but now I know why! Great piece!

  20. Super Bram says:

    South Park is the official historical documents of the good ole U S of A.. Respect my Authori-tie..

  21. frankie says:

    Way to bring it home, Mrs Tress. It is the time of innovation on all fronts and the box should no longer exist. First, the war and second, the economic crisis has forever changed the face of the global market. Maybe you’ve got some ideas to to save the world and could write about in the future?

  22. Cynthia says:

    Thanks Jen for the great article and insights. I agree with you; the words “traditional career path” scare me and I think that this can only breed creative new approaches to living a more fulfilling, purposeful and self examined life. Love to see more of your work.

  23. jaime says:

    relevant + funny = great article. to be honest, ive always thought south park was crass and annoying, but this definitely made me think of the skits differently…good insight by the author!

  24. Jen says:

    I’m loving the thoughts YOUR comments are all provoking.

  25. Matt says:

    Great article. Someone will write a Ph.D. thesis on South Park someday. Along the lines of this piece, the “Canada On Strike” episode was genius. “The internet has money! Give us some of the internet’s money!”

  26. Emily says:

    Once again, JT, you’ve brought humor and intelligence to what the untrained eye (an uneducated brain) may think is simple and banal…keep it up!

  27. JG says:

    Jennifer Tress is brilliant and always has a fresh take; I’ll stay on the lookout for her commentary in the future.

  28. ismokeweed420 says:

    it was actually seth green who created napster. he told that to mark wahlberg when they were robbing edward norton. but this is extremely well written. i was sitting in my room thinking about how everyone attacks south park, but then i realized how there’s always a lesson at the end of every episode. i’m not gonna go on about my theories on why or how that came to be, but i thought of the term “south park lesson”. so i went to see if it is an official term, and someone wrote about the south park lesson. this doesn’t really pertain to the whole idea of the south park lesson, this is more like a bunch of different lessons from different episodes. nonetheless, job well done sir. maybe you could address the whole principle of the south park lesson in your next thing or whatever.

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