Poor and Stupid (14.8) – Pass!
Plot: Cartman dreams of becoming a Nascar driver, but he fears he isn’t poor and stupid enough to do so. With Butters’ help, he gets rid of his money and swallows Vagisil to make himself poor and stupid. His stupid actions fuel stereotypes about Nascar fans in the media, but they get the attention Vagisil CEO Jeff Hammel, who presents Cartman with a Nascar car with which he will compete. Angry about his unearned rewards and his spreading negative stereotypes about Nascar fans, Kenny attempts to stop Cartman from winning, but fails to do so. Instead, Hammel’s wive enters the course in the last minute and defeats Cartman – and Vagisil – in the race.
Analysis: The theme of this episode is a simple classic moral: Life isn’t Fair. But, more specifically, it sheds light on classism and uses humor to debunk common myths about being poor, such as that poor people are stupid, that it’s easy being poor, or that the poor deserve their poverty while the wealthy earned their wealth.
Cartman equates being poor and being stupid throughout the entire episode. While many of the Nascar fans are likely poor in reality (like Kenny), Cartman is the only one that’s actually stupid. He plays up many stereotypes about poverty, like that the poor purchase things they don’t need, but it’s clear that these stereotypes are not true because it’s Cartman – the most stupid individual in the episode – that says them. The consequences of Cartman’s actions never come back to him, but instead hurt the other fans and drivers of Nascar, who are associated with Cartman’s antics. This is a powerful analogy for the way that the actions of the rich hurt the poor: while the rich may pollute the most, the worst effects of climate change hit poor communities both in the US and abroad; while the rich may crash the market, the following economic crises disproportionately impact those who are already poor. Cartman, on the other hand, is effortlessly rewarded for his actions with his very own race car and the opportunity to participate in a Nascar race. While he claims being born poor is easy, accusing Kenny of privilege because he was born poor, and didn’t have to work for it, Cartman receives wealth without any work. In the end, he fails to realize how stupid he’s been, and how he never deserved anything he got, and continues to feel entitled to his wealth. While I wish this episode would show how Cartman’s upper-class status directly brought about those unearned privileges, it does a fantastic job of critiquing classism and illustrating that the wealthy don’t always earn their wealth, while the poor are indeed often intelligent and hardworking individuals unfairly hit with poverty. Cartman’s selfishness and sense of entitlement hyperbolizes that of the privilege-denying wealthy, and his inability to learn a lesson and continued rewards show how the wealthy dominate society and benefit from it, regardless of what they do. We pity Kenny all episode long, yet he never succeeds. Thus, this isn’t a story with a happy message, but a comic tragedy about life.
We also feel sorry for Butters, who’s good-hearted naivite turns him into a villain. One scene in particular hints at wealthy folks’ inaccurate attitudes about the poor. Seeking to do good, Butters purchases blankets and canned foods with the money Cartman gives him and hands them to Nascar fans. Whether they are poor or not, these fans are not interested in these things. Butters, like many good-natured wealthy people, fails to listen to the poor that he is trying to help, and never asks them what they do want. In real life, this results in people from dominant groups fighting for oppressed individuals, continuing the silencing of marginalized groups. Butters also does this not for altruistic reasons, but so he himself can feel proud of his actions. In reality, sacrificing what we don’t need for those who need it should not make us proud, but should simply be something you do.
This episode also carries a feminist message. Jeff Hammel’s wife Patti remains silent and emotionless the entire episode, following her husband around without question as he showcases and humiliates her. In the end, she surprisingly stands up for herself, taking over the race and winning it for a different team so Cartman and the Vagisil team don’t win. Jeff Hammel is, indeed, a villain, humiliating and criticizing his wife without listening to her wants and needs. Instead of appreciating his wife’s unique pussy, he insists on treating it, shaming her for something that she shouldn’t be ashamed of. When she enters the race, he attempts to silence her by calling her “illogical”, insisting that she “take her medicine”, and attempting to woo her by calling her his “muse… flame”. His insults represent current and historical attitudes in which female emotion is not taken seriously, but attributed to “hysteria” and other illness. Her unresponsiveness to his compliments debunk the concept that women will like any man who flatters them, and ignore his sexist and hurtful actions.
Overall, this episode is a definite success.