What Gives South Park the Right to Make Fun of Legitimate Cultural Issues?

Following the most recent South Park episode, I became curious why South Park is able to get away with turning legitimate cultural issues into jokes. If you have not seen it, the season opener of South Park last week made fun of Colin Kaepernick’s public protest of kneeling during the National Anthem by changing the audio of the loudspeaker to offer his protest to the entire crowd. You can see the scene here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voSzc2vgOLA

While this scene barely scratches the surface of what South Park has taken aim at, it begs the question of why they have consistently been able to make light of problems that are impacting the world. I don’t have a specific answer to the question, but below I will discuss the reason why I think South Park tends to get overlooked when it comes to their over the top, raunchy comedy.

Do you think the perception be different if South Park were a live action show? The first reason I think South Park may get away with all that they do is because it is a cartoon. Does the delivery of these jokes from the body of a cartoon change the perception of how the joke is received. Personally, I think it does, yet the content is still the same. To me, there’s a very interesting difference between the way people perceive a cartoon versus a real person delivering the same or a similar message. Even in the situation where it is a live comedian delivering these jokes, the reaction tends to be “did he/she really just say that?” whereas when it happens during South Park, the more common reaction is “whatever, it’s just South Park.”

With the most recent episode taking aim at Colin Kaepernick’s very real protest of racial inequality-whether you agree with his protest or not-it’s pretty interesting and apparent that South Park is able to get away with their brand of comedy more than others.

-Tyler Bolander


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5 Responses to What Gives South Park the Right to Make Fun of Legitimate Cultural Issues?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I think you make an excellent point. Because the characters on the show are not real people, the viewer does not associate the controversial viewpoints with a “real” mindset. Shows like South Park, Family Guy, even The Simpsons at times are all able to, as you said, get away with it for this reason. I also find them to be making jokes about real issues, like Kaepernick, just for the sake of making jokes instead of taking a side one way or the other. Do you (or anyone else who comments) think that makes the joke any less controversial? -Kristina Kokkonos

  2. mediaphiles says:

    you raise a great point by questioning how people would respond if South Park wasn’t a cartoon and it was a real show? I think this connects back to the dialect sitcoms we read about and how the eventually they were removed because of the controversy. South Park seems to fly below the radar because it is a cartoon and virtually “not real people” although they are addressing eal issues.

    Meghan murphy

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I disagree – I don’t think that it’s the form of a cartoon that lets the creators “get away” with controversial standup, but a medium that enables them to make those jokes more effectively. South Park is on a network filled with crude and politically incorrect standup sets, clip shows like Tosh.0, etc.

    I think part of the argument that is missing over South Park is the longevity aspect. The creators started with crass and controversial topics in the early days that were not political, like boredom during the summer and other random plotlines, and starting dipping their toes into the political waters once it was clear they had a hit show on their hands that would not be cancelled. The perspective of children perhaps makes some jokes more palatable, and the cartoon medium allows those characters to stay the same age for the 20+ seasons it has been on.
    Making political issues sacred, even ones that are morally defensible, makes censorship a norm. Even though offensive, it’s important for comedic freedom to flourish and for nothing to be safe.

    Except rape jokes. Those are not funny.
    Elyse Conklin

  4. marymdalton says:

    I can’t wait until we have the lesson on South Park. It has always fascinated me that the chapter on transgressive comedy is written by a priest! I think the series has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I don’t watch it as often as I should.

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I agree that the fact that the characters are cartoons allows for less tension and a sense that what they are saying cannot be taken seriously. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily agree that they are getting away with anything or let off the hook. South Park is known for its brutally honest humor and providing comedic relief for the tensions of society. I believe you have the option to watch whatever shows you want and are of course entitled to your own opinion, but to suggest South Park should become more politically correct seems a bit meticulous.
    -Kendall Fischlein

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