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: 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: South Park elementary school’s special ed department holds The First Annual Comedy Award, hosted by Jimmy Valmer. While the award show bores the entire South Park community, it makes national headlines by infuriating Germany, since it’s people were voted the world’s least funny. The angry Germans create Funnybot, a machine that out-humors all humans, putting all comedians out of work. However, when its jokes go overboard, the boys must return the human touch to comedy before Funnybot destroys the world in its final joke.
Analysis: This episode highlights the potential severity of comedy, and shows that humor must be taken seriously, a concept essential to social justice. Funnybot claims that comedy is not to be taken seriously, but its jokes have very brutal consequences, such as the death of an audience and the possible destruction of the world. While his jokes start out mildly obscene and barely offensive, they begin to spiral out of control because Funnybot is unable to draw a line. These jokes also take no creativity, and Funnybot simply plugs obscenities, celebrity names, and racial stereotypes into simple sentences, thus completely reducing comedy to a simple and useless art.
The power of humor must be taken seriously in the fight for social justice. Too many PDDs will excuse the things they say by claiming that it’s only a joke, but these jokes promote and excuse dangerous stereotypes and mentality. Jokes about oppressed and marginalized groups are not harmless, but are weapons with which oppression and marginalization remain powerful societal forces. In this way, I found this episode promoted be a great lesson in Social Justice. Unfortunately, South Park itself seldom listens to it’s own lessons, or there wouldn’t be a “FAIL” option on this blog. Additionally, the episode does not discuss the real-world application of this lesson.
Also, can I just say how much I loved the Dalek reference:
The secondary story of this episode is that of Tyler Perry’s popularity among African Americans. In the South Park world, only African Americans, and all African Americans, find Tyler Perry funny, including South Park student Token Black and President Barack Obama. I felt this side-story walked a fine line. In one respect, it presented black Americans as cookie-cutter, one-dimensional individuals with no individuality, incapable of controlling themselves, and universally embracing Tyler Perry’s jokes. However, the true point of this story was illustrated in the way that black individuals were ashamed of and hid their love of Tyler Perry’s humor. Because his humor appealed only to folks of color, they were embarrassed, and eventually arranged to get rid of Tyler Perry all together. Would this be the case if a large number of white individuals were fans of a terrible comedian? Clearly not, and therein lies the message of this story. Overall, I felt this plot had a positive social justice message by highlighting the cultural power whites have, and the ways in which they shame and silence African American culture.
I also read that Tyler Perry taking money from Token is an analogy for the way he uses negative African American stereotypes to get rich. I don’t have much to say on this, since I don’t really know much about Tyler Perry. Maybe someone could chime in?
Another place where this episode walked a fine line was in the representations of people with disabilities. The comedy awards were held by the Special Ed department, thus placing students with disabilities in a position where they are to be laughed at. This concept reappears with comedy TV reporter Sandy Cervix who introduces himself by adding “I am deaf in one ear”. The apparent randomness of Cervix mentioning his disability highlights the absurdity of temporarily able-bodied and neurotypical individuals finding so much humor in disability alone. However, it continues to place individuals with disabilities in the target zones of oppressive humor, and, thus, I felt this episode carried a negative message about people with disabilities.
Overall, I would call this episode a Success!, but only a mildly so.