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.