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: 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.