South Park is a show now on its 15th Season and has had some spectacularly irreverent episodes that have made viewers laugh as much for the humor as for how unflinchingly crude it’s capable of being, specializing in something like a ‘shock (and awe) treatment’.
South Park is also a show that is capable of making impressively poignant statements about the highs and lows of popular culture, politics, sociological and ecological movements that have come and gone on our favorite news stations since 1997; ranging from the obscure (John Edward, the ‘psychic’) to entirely unavoidable parts of our nation’s history (9/11).
There are people on two ends of the spectrum who say that the series creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone are either champions, or abusers, of the Second Amendment; while perhaps still a third group might argue that no matter what South Park is using the Second Amendment to talk about, it’s going to be just like that one episode where they totally trashed Scientology.
Or maybe like that old episode where they bashed exploitational talk shows like Maury Povich.
Or maybe like that other episode where they slammed the Disney Channel. Yeah!
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have demonstrated their audacious sense of humor time and time again. I’ve always wondered if people watch the show for the laughs, or for the unique perspectives of Trey and Matt’s particular breed of ‘let’s-think-this-through-almost-logically wisdom that is utilized to solve nearly all of the problems that confront the sleepy Colorado town.
Others might watch the show to laugh at Trey & Matt’s hybrid mixture of filth and funny, though I’m not sure if that’s why I watch South Park anymore. I seldom find myself laughing out loud at the show, unless it’s at Randy—who I appreciate more and more as the series continues. Instead, I find myself watching South Park to see what the boys’ opinion on any given subject will be; I watch for the application of Stan & Kyle’s (Trey & Matt’s) combined logic. Sometimes I agree, sometimes not; but I never doubt that whatever stance South Park will take, it’s absolutely what Trey & Matt think. I appreciate that in a television show—especially these days, where opinions are left out of entertainment in much the same way that politics should be left out of the workplace. It’s much more desirable to keep your opinions to yourself in an industry that strives for the biggest audience tune-in. It’s far more advantageous to keep your viewpoints as broad as possible so as not to exclude any of the sacred-cow viewers at home; networks have a certain reputation for ratings that needs to be upheld, regardless of things like ‘feelings’ or ‘individualities’.
Not to say that Trey & Matt aren’t motivated by ratings; it’s pretty hard not to be when it’s your job. But apparently, judging from their Season 15 Midpoint Premiere episode “Ass Burger” (which itself is a continuation of the previous cliff-hanger episode; “You’re Getting Old”), they aren’t afraid to be honest—even if it means being honest with themselves, and the condition of the show that propelled them to fame all those years ago.
In “You’re Getting Old,” Stan learns that soon after turning 10, things that used to be fun are now… well… shitty (what might be a figure of speech for some is a literal fact for others). Also, as anyone who grows up must learn, change is an integral part of getting older. In Stan’s case, he begins to grow apart from his faithful friends Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, while also watching his family undergo the beginning stages of divorce. It seems as though Stan’s life is being turned upside down with little hope of returning things to how they used to be.
Oh, and there’s a lot of shit. Literally and figuratively.
At the onset of “Ass Burgers,” we’re shown that Stan still deals with all of life’s shit on a daily basis, is depressed, and feels alienated from his faithful childhood friends of 14 seasons. It’s revealed that Stan’s recent, sullen mood is due to Asperger’s disease he contracted by way of school flu immunization shots. As is tradition in the town of South Park, the parents get a little too angry and a lot too involved leading to Stan’s diagnosis and treatment.
Then, over the course of the next 20 minutes, we are treated to a re-hash of every South Park plot worth remembering—its strict formula becoming part of the episode’s primary joke that transcends parody into alarming self-reflection since I’m not sure that ‘joke’ is necessarily the right word in this instance. South Park uses this Season 15 premiere episode to ridicule itself, the same way it’s made fun of probably everything else you can think of.
It’s clear that Trey and Matt are entertaining themselves by pointing out their own creations’ redundancies. And it’s funny—though not in a ‘ha-ha’ way; funny in a sad way—if such a thing is possible.
One of the shows’ staples has always been its tenacity at pointing out what is stupid about the world we live in while also offering a fairly decent reason as to why it’s stupid (which is a fairly noble endeavor, considering how often and easy it is to criticize anything without bothering to explain why). In “Ass Burgers,” Trey and Matt turn that same tenacity upon themselves. If we do laugh at the points they raise, it’s because we’re in on the joke, which means a part of ourselves have to admit that it has become cliché in the worst way: pointing out the cliché’s of others has been the cliché that defines South Park.
By using the same tricks to expose the absurdity behind all pop culture nonsense for the past 14 years, South Park has fallen into an inescapable pattern. The formula Trey and Matt have used so stridently for so long was finally been allowed to turn upon itself. And as we watched, we knew its truth. And we should be glad; it means that the creators of one of the greatest animated television shows of all time don’t have any delusions about the show’s shortcomings. They also aren’t lying to themselves; their boredom with the cliché is palpable.
It’s inevitable that they would become bored eventually. It’s conceivable that we, as the audience, would as well. It’s responsible that Trey & Matt able to admit it to themselves. It’ll be encouraging if they’re capable of doing something new with the show that will remove it from the stereotypical South Park hole they’ve dug themselves into.
They have time to figure it out; their contract to produce new episodes doesn’t expire until 2013. It’ll be exciting to see if they can rediscover where exactly South Park exists, and re-imagine the personalities who have populated it for so long.