Plot: When City Sushi opens next door to City Wok, the town’s white residents confuse the Chinese and the Japanese, incapable of telling the difference. The Chinese and the Japanese restaurant owners team up to teach the townspeople the difference, but are enable to quell their own historic feud which escalates into violent fighting. Meanwhile, Butters is diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. As he struggles to understand himself, he discovers that the individual who really has MPS is his own psychiatrist.
Analysis: This episode carries with it two very important lessons.
The first is the way white people fail to know of any difference between various Asian countries. Such a tendency comes not from difficulty or even careless stupidity, but from outright superiority and privilege. While few would go uncriticized for confusing Spain and France, all nations with Asian inhabitants are seen as a monolith by most, remaining oblivious to cultural uniqueness and differences. This is especially prominent given the historical and present-day qualms between most Chinese and Japanese individuals. While the fistfights and murderous intentions depicted in this episode are definitely an exaggeration, most Japanese people will be insulted if you call them Chinese, and vise-versa. Even despite the efforts of the Asian Diversity Assembly and Asian Diversity Festival, as well as the obvious fighting visible to all of South Park, the white residents fail to learn the difference between China and Japan even at the end of the episode, as their privilege allows them to look right through all the Asian men’s efforts.
The other lessons is one of failing psychiatric practices, especially with children. While the episode implies that Butters does not actually have Multiple Personality Disorder, it is beside the point if he actually does. What matters is the rushed diagnosis based not on actual symptoms, but on typical childhood play-pretend. The psychiatrist shows absolutely no understanding of children and their medical and psychiatric needs. Additionally, his immediate response is to treat Butters with heavy medication. While this is not to imply that medication is inherently wrong, it is clearly incorrect for that to be the first and only solution, especially without further thought or discussion. Furthermore, the doctor or Butters’ parents do not work with Butters to help him, but go completely against him, determined to treat his condition to get him back. For instance, the parents are brought to tears when they see Butters playing truck driver, and are desperate for him to stop, despite the fact that this truck drivers is doing nothing to hurt Butters or anyone around him. This illustrates the ableism in our society, in which neuroatypical individuals are seen as “wrong” and needing to be “cured”, even if its against their will or even well-being. That’s not to say that all psychiatrists are bad, but this does highlight the common problems in the psychiatric treatment of children.
Despite this positive points, this episode passes only barely for several reasons:
- Rampant stereotypes against asian individuals. While the differences between the two are emphasized, the way they are presented discourages the audience from taking them seriously.
- The assumption that individuals with mental conditions are in some way evil. While it seems absurd when the doctor immediately accuses one of Butters’ personalities of being evil, he himself does turn out to be evil because of his condition. Also, the assumption that multiples must have a cause like abuse, leading to…
- Casual treatment of child abuse and rape, both when the doctor abuses Butters, or when he discusses his own abuse. The episode treats it as a joke, even when it does have serious consequences.
Plot: Stan refuses to fall victim to the most recent trend, Facebook, but when his friends make him a profile, he must get involved to appease those around him. Soon, his profile veers out of control and becomes one of the most powerful on Facebook. Stan gets sucked into Facebook and must defeat his profile in a game of Yahtzee in order to regain his freedom. Meanwhile, Kyle befriends Kip Droardy on Facebook, a lonely third grader with no Facebook friends. While Kip (and his parents, unaware that this friendship is on facebook) celebrate his new-found friend, Kyle suffers as his friend count decreases. On his podcast Mad Friends, Cartman compares the “stocks” of various profiles, and explains that people now see Kyle’s friendship a liability, deleting
him off their friend list.
Analysis: I personally loved this episode, and would highly recommend it. It did a great job of exaggerating the absurdity that is online social networking, especially how ridiculously seriously everyone seems to take it. While the issues the characters are dealing with online are only small and superficial, they respond to everything in dramatic, passionate ways, interfering in their everyday lives. The omnipresence of Facebook makes it impossible for Stan to avoid the phenomenon, no matter how hard he tries. Even the game of Yahtzee Stan must play with his profile symbolizes how the issues these boys face online are not as serious as they make them out to be. If you’ve ever actually seen someone have Facebook Drama, I’m sure you’d agree with me that the whole facebook phenomenon can appear absolutely -ridiculous-.
I also loved the side-story of Kip Droardy, and I thought it had a great way of indicating the arbitrariness of popularity. He is stigmatized and sidelined, so that no one wants to be his friend, and everyone backs away from Kyle when he befriends Kip. Thus, social forces keep Kip lonely, creating a sad, pitiful character. but this popularity is also extremely arbitrary: when Stan sends his friends away at the end of the episode, they all go to Kip, presumably making him popular at last. There may be some rational for Kip being unpopular at first (eg his appearance), but, in the end, it’s all random. I also absolutely adored Kip’s parents, who reminded me a lot of parents I’ve known in my life: I went to senior prom with a close friend who asked me only because his mom insisted he should.
Despite how much I enjoyed the episode, it had very few actual social justice messages. It didn’t address any issues concerning the internet – such as how it’s a great social resource for neuroatypical individuals, like those on the autism spectrum or those with social and other anxiety, or how the social networking excludes individuals without reliable internet access or unable to use computers, which is extremely detrimental as the internet grows as an important tool in networking, employment, school work, and job performance. Nor does it look at issues that dictate popularity – such as how neuroatypical, queer, gender non-conforming, and other marginalized children are often made unpopular, and the amount of dangerous and scary bullying that these children often suffer with. Thus, I give this episode a so-so for its failure to address any social justice issues in its humorous parody.
Plot: Towelie is struggling with drug addiction, failing at his job, separated from his family, and having sex for money, so his concerned friends hold an Intervention. Meanwhile, Jimmy Valmer and Timmy are at Lake Tardicaca Camp for the Handicapped, where the captain of the red team – Nathan – and his buddy Mimsy plot to sabotage the captain of the Blue team – Jimmy – to keep them from winning.
Analysis: Might I say I was rather disappointed with this episode? I found it only mildly entertaining, although I was thrilled to see Towlie, and rather enjoyed the parody of Intervention. While the episode might seem to mock drug addicts, I felt that the joke was actually the overly dramatic style of a rather impersonal reality TV show, not the subjects of the show itself.
Much of the show focuses on the events of Lake Tardicaca, thus putting children of disabilities in the line of fire of South Park’s rather cruel humor. However, I felt this episode was neither especially insulting, nor exceptionally enlightening, which is why I give the show a so-so rating. In many ways, the episode poked fun at children with disabilities in the way they look, the way they talk, and the way they act. Many of them resembled specific Looney Toones characters, thus appearing comical. However, such a comparison also reveals that humorous representations of people with disabilities are not new to South Park, but have been around for a long time. In fact, for a TV show revered for its satire, this exaggerated similarity is more to criticize an ableist society than to laugh at the children in question. In fact, the children do are not stupid, crazy, or wrong, but are rather shown as loving, independent, and intelligent. Jimmy and Timmy are thrilled to come back to camp because they get to see their old friends, and the blue team proudly works together and supports each other in the competition. Nathan’s downfall comes not because he is disabled, but because he is villanous and jealous. Jimmy’s success, on the other hand, comes from his goodwill and friendly attitude. Nathan and Mimsy hide their plans because Counselor Steve fails to take them seriously, and they are able to “play dumb” to get their way. This shed light on the way folks with disabilities are often treated childishly even by their abled caretakers, such as doctors, counselors, etc. Instead they should be taken as seriously as temporarily able-bodied and neurotypical individuals.
Overall, I felt this episode had both some good and some negative messages, and I wasn’t too impressed by any of them.
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.
Plot: New Jersey is expanding in size, reaching all the way to Denver, and South Park is put on the front lines of fighting the oncoming Jersey invasion. But can New Jersey be defeated when no one can understand anyone from New Jersey? The worst of these is a creature known as the Snooki, a small orange animal with enormous slippers looking to smoosh. South Park can find no allies, so Randy Marsh calls their enemies – Al Quaeda – for help in this desperate situation. Meanwhile, Sheila Broflovski reveals that she is originally from New Jersey, and Kyle struggles with his personal identity.
Analysis: The purpose of this episode is to lampoon the popularity of mindless reality TV shows, specifically and most recently The Jersey Shore. The popularity of rampant materialism, casual hate, bigotry, and violence, and myriad problems in our society may well be considered disgusting, especially when so many choose this entertainment over more intellectual pursuits. While personally I completely agree with this critique and applaud South Park for criticizing this cultural characteristics, I hesitate to give this lesson any value from a social justice perspective. While our fascination with the drama of the rich and spoiled may distract us from real societal problems, I wouldn’t blame the TV shows themselves for these problems. While this episode may carry a good moral lesson, for the purposes of this blog, I will look at this theme as neutral in the social justice sphere.
However, I am giving this episode a failing score due to its representation of female sexuality. Snooki is depicted as a wild untamed animal, exaggerating her seemingly uncontrollable personality. But, rather than illustrating her as an animal for her unearned wealth, selfishness, lack of regard for others, or cruelty towards those around her, she is depicted as an animal for her promiscuity. Snooki runs wild, screaming that she wants to “smoosh”, and raping most men who get in her way, including children such as Eric Cartman. This comparison of female promiscuity to violent rape is absolutely disgusting. Such a degree of slut-shaming promotes rape culture attitudes such as victim-blaming and rape-apologism, and it enhances society’s sexual subjugation of women. It’s for this slut-shaming attitude that this episode fails at social justice.
One way in which I thought this episode did give a great message was in the killing of Osama Bin Lauden at the end of the episode. After saving South Park – and the rest of the US – from New Jersey, bin Lauden is congratulated and celebrated by the citizens of South Park. Randy Marsh even says, “It’s important to remember that in the end we’re not enemies, we’re just people with differences”. A moment later, bin Lauden is murdered by the US government, and the citizens of South Park celebrate his death. This is a great depiction of the United States’ relentless and unforgiving attitude towards its enemies, especially at the expense of owning up to our own violence and excessive use of force.
Plot: Stan and Mr. Macky find out that they have a hoarding disorder, and they, as well as a local sheep herder, go under dream psychotherapy with a hoarding expert. However, the therapy goes wrong when Mr. Macky’s memory turns out to be so intense, he pulls Stan and the sheep herder into it. Randy Marsh, the characters from the film Inseption, a pizza delivery guy, the local fire department, and Freddy Krueger must all go into the dream to pull them out, as Mr. Macky remembers the day in his childhood when he was raped by Woodsey Owl.
Analysis: Much of this episode lampoons current cultural phenomenons, such as the absurd complexity and unnecessary gun violence of the popular film Inception, the popularity of television shows about herding, and the hilarity of psychotherapy, specifically dream therapy. All of these are social-justice neutral topics, and are very entertaining parodies of popular culture. The latter (making fun of psychotherapy) can be seen in either a positive or a negative way, as such procedures have been both criticized and congratulated by patients. In general, the message about psychotherapy and hoarding as a disease is a positive one: hoarding, while shown as humorous, is seen as serious, and psychotherapy fails with Stan not because treatment should be disfavored all together, but because of the doctor’s impersonal and hierarchical approach to the very sensitive process.
This episode fails at social justice because of it’s careless use of rape as a plot devise and comedy. While childhood rape is very serious, Mr Macky’s rape appears not serious and funny. No concern is given towards the issues of childhood rape, and Macky receives no pity or even attention after remembering this childhood trauma. Instead, it’s simply a plot devise to further the story, holding no weight on its own. The mentions of rape are rampant throughout the episode, taking no account to the feelings of victims that may watch South Park, as well as the attitudes towards victims such treatment of rape promotes. Due to this failure (common to South Park), this episode is a failure.
Plot: Randy Marsh has become obsessed with the Food Network, staying up all night masturbating to cooking shows, and spending the day cooking gourmet meals that fail to satisfy his family. Cooking becomes such a passion, that he quits his job as a geologist to work as South Park Elementary’s new chef. His cooking is tearing the family apart, and Sharon Marsh searches for satisfaction elsewhere, exercising with the ShakeWeight. In the end, she discovers that the way to save her marriage is simply by giving her husband “the old-fashioned” (performing manual sex on him).
Analysis: This episode is an utter social justice failure, as it carries with it a powerful sexist message. The failure of Randy’s and Sharon’s relationship is blamed entirely on the woman – specifically, on her sexual performance. This completely ignores other factors that can contribute to a failing relationship, and places absolutely no value on a woman’s need to be sexually satisfied. In essence, it showcases a powerful rape-culture narrative in which a woman is responsible for sexually satisfying a man without regard to her own needs or interests.
The ShakeWeight is lampooned for its resemblance to a handjob. Thus, it plays the role of a sex partner, flattering Sharon, having a relationship with Sharon, and asking Sharon for sex. It’s interest in her, however, is entirely falsified: the ShakeWeight is, indeed, a machine, so everything it says has been pre-programed into it. Thus, neither it’s compliments or it’s inquiries about Sharon’s life are sincere. That Sharon is pleased with these hollow phrases constructs her as a one-dimensional, naive character, looking only for certain types of satisfaction, rather than an actual relationship. Additionally, the ShakeWeight begins to urge Sharon to work out when she does not want to, such as on the beach, or in the middle of the night. Specifically, in the middle of the night, the ShakeWeight convinces her to exercise because it’s unable to go into “Sleep Mode”. While the ShakeWeight is a machine, it serves as an analogy to male sexuality. Thus, male sexuality is shown to be uncontrollable programing and the male need for sex is illustrated as essential and un-tamable. This discourse uses biological essentialism to excuse men for rape and coercion, and promotes a powerful rape culture message. Effectively, the ShakeWeight rapes Sharon twice during this episode.
Randy’s interest in housework is constructed in a negative light in this episode. His interest in cooking angers his family, and no one is really interested in the food he makes. The episode barely mentions why the family is frustrated with Randy’s obsession with cooking. He shows no interest in his family’s personal needs, such is the food they want to eat, and rather copies recipes from the television. Additionally, his “helpful” cooking actually results in more work for the family, who are forced to clean up the huge messes his cooking leaves behind. This is a great parody of men’s self-congratulating nature. After cooking a meal, Randy seeks congratulations for helping out with the family, but never bothers to look at the effect his cooking actually has on the family. This selfish reaction highlights the male sense of entitlement that gets them to seek congratulations from their actions, and to center their own needs and wants before those of others. However, the episode barely touches on this issue, and rather than having Randy realize what he did wrong, the solution is to get him away from housework all together: Sharon blocks the Food Network on the TV, and, in the end, Randy chooses to quit his cooking and instead go to bed. Thus the housework and cooking is left to the woman, and men are shown as incapable of doing this work successfully by nature. Instead, this episode should have said that it’s necessary for men to put aside their sense of entitlement when doing housework, and to communicate with their spouces and their families in order to improve the family situation.
For is powerful sexist undertones and rape-culture messages, this episode is an utter FAIL.