South Park is the home of fart jokes, where no one is sacred, and everyone from Tom Cruise to Barack Obama can expect serious ribbing. But with the humor, the expletives and the disregard for all that is moral, comes a surprising amount of life lessons, a skewed view on society and an eerie predictor for just how far we will fall.
Ubisoft, in conjunction with South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, just released "South Park: The Stick of Truth" video game.
So far, if you try and play the game in Australia or Europe a number of scenes have been censored due to local laws about decency. In typical South Park fashion rather than simply cut those scenes, you get to view a crying koala bear or a facepalming Michelangelo with a blurb telling you that you’re missing out on an abortion scene.
In honor of the devious and twisted minds of Parker and Stone, we have created our very own Shticks of Truths where we look at the life lessons and predictions South Park has shown us over the years.
1. Shtick of Truth: South Park predicted politically correct hysteria where Christmas might get banned
In 1997, during Season 1 of South Park, we had the “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo,” episode. Yes, we’re at the poop jokes already, but this is South Park so it was only a matter of time. Mr. Hankey appears to comfort Kyle who is feeling lonely as "he's a Jew at Christmastime.” Kyle's mother starts a campaign to make school more "Jew” friendly and Christmas gets banished. Seems funny, and like a little bit of an overreaction. But that overreaction is a reality for many people nowadays. In December 2013, a Texas elementary school banned red and green decorations. In their rulebook they wrote, “No reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday, and nothing that will stain the carpet.” Carpet clean, Santa far, far away.
However, they did this in spite of Texas's “Merry Christmas law” (seriously). This law was passed in Texas and in Indiana and Missouri to allow Christmas decorations to be used in schools. So many complaints and actions had been taken against "Christmasing" schools, that even with the 2013 law, not all Texas schools were following it. They were scared of how the schoolboard might respond. To quote Indiana Sen. Jim Smith, "Christmas is under attack. That's just crazy that we even have to move a bill like that, but I think it's very well needed in the state and in every state." Yes, that could have been written into the episode, right? South Park predicts real life.. unfortunately.
2. Shtick of Truth: We are signing our lives away and we don’t even care: Human Centipad
We know that we should read the terms and conditions when we make purchases, but unless it’s a rental agreement we rarely do. And honestly, who has the time to scroll through a bazillion pages when you sign up to the app store? The consequences of this don’t tend to be all that big..or so we think. In the "Humancentipad," Kyle falls afoul of the iTunes store Terms and Conditions. He is forced to be a real life HUMANCENTiPAD where he is connected to two other people who have become victims of the T&C’s and is attached to them - mouth to rear end (yes, a mockery of the very disturbing "Human Centipede" horror movie) and the trifecta are used to power an iPhone and iPad.
Sure, this would in reality be an unlikely outcome, but the problems of not fully reading T&C’s can’t be stressed enough. Recent examples would be Instagram’s “right” to sell any of your uploaded photos (which they retracted due to public outcry)
and Twitter selling your old tweet data (which you have no rights too).
Companies try and say that you are agreeing to various right violations as you could “opt out” of their service, but in reality, opting out of using an app which is given access “to post to your Facebook wall, to monitor your location and to read your contacts” (too many to name) is standard for any apps. Opting out then is not feasible, and knowing just how many rights you have given away is equally scary. No answer to this, just fear.
3. Shtick of Truth: South Park highlighted transgender issues with Mr./Mrs Garrison
Transgender issues are a hot topic nowadays, as many who identify this way are now owning it in public. Examples would be model Carmen Carrera and known whistleblower Chelsea Manning (who formerly used the name Bradley Manning). But in 2005 there was little in mainstream media about transgender issues and Season 9 episode, “Mr Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina” showcases Mr. Garrison having gender reassignment surgery and henceforth being referred to as Mrs. Janet Garrison. Well, until season 12 at least.
A lot of people were unhappy with Mr Garrison's portrayal as a trans person. Pretty much every organization who has a voice was angry about it, from right wing-ers who felt it was evil, to trans communities who hated how they were portrayed. But that’s kind of the genius of South Park. It indiscriminately upsets people and pulls no punches. But it does provoke discussion, and though this is not why transgender rights are so prominent nowadays, in some small way it helped make the conversation bigger.
4. Shtick of Truth: Whale Whores episode helped STOP Japanese whaling (kinda)
In South Park’s Whale Whores episode we saw Stan trying to save Japanese whales after seeing them in an aquarium. He went to join the "Whale Wars" crew on their ship (riffing off the Animal Planet show) and grew disenfranchised with their publicity seeking ways. When some of them die, Stan takes charge and effectively starts campaigning against the Japanese and saving more whales.
This 2009 episode inspired the TED talk Reddit co-founder Alexis O’Hanian gave regarding Greenpeace’s Save the Whale campaign. Greenpeace had asked the public to vote on what to call the whale they were tracking and much to their dismay, the name “Mr Splashy Pants" (a name they had created in the list to add humor to it) topped the poll. They disliked this, so they redid their poll - and the name "Mr Splashy Pants" won with an even bigger margin (due to votes from Reddit, who were enthusiastic about the name). This was in 2007, two years before the South Park episode. The internet buzz made Mr. Splashy Pants the whale so popular that the Japanese actually called off their whaling hunt that year. Two years later, South Park used humor around whaling to help make some serious change - feeding into the bigger internet culture of humor, with the knowledge that change can happen.
Japan has not directly acknowledged any influence from Reddit or from South Park, but when two huge forces in today’s pop culture gang up on you, well, change happens.