“South Park,” an adult animated sitcom created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, satirizes and lambasts just about every pop culture topic in existence. With vulgar humor, sly wit and surreal narratives, the cult Comedy Central program has garnered praise and vicious offense for nearly 20 years. The show follows the exploits of four elementary school boys (Stan, Kyle, Eric and Kenny), all of whom possess a wisdom and dirty vocabulary far beyond their years. Both Colorado natives, Parker and Stone first met at the University of Colorado; their show is set in the fictional mountain town of South Park, Colorado, and consequently pokes truthful fun at dozens of quintessential Centennial State clichés.
The episode “I Should Have Never Gone Zip Lining” mocks Coloradans’ penchant for hearty, backcountry adventuring (you can even zip line in Durango). But the episode unfolds in the style of a cheesy TV docu-series, where traumatized people recall horrific situations they’ve been in, and dramatic reenactments serve to further heighten the mood. The boys do almost die while zip lining – of boredom. They learn, too late, you can only zip with a large tour group of loquacious old folks. “In a tour group, the brain has to work overtime, acting nice and pretending to care about people on the tour,” explains a somber voiceover. After engaging in hours of soul-crushing small talk, the boys finally get to zip line – only to discover it’s nothing more than sliding down a cable. “Four young boys in Colorado are on a trip from hell,” the narrator describes.
In “Asspen,” the kids’ parents whisk them away for a ski trip to Aspen, a wintery tourist paradise; all they have to do is attend a timeshare presentation, and the families receive a free condo for the weekend. It seems like a good deal, until two relentless salesmen trap the parents and force them into purchasing timeshare property they can ill afford. The episode embodies Aspen in all its ritzy glory; a businessman snorts cocaine on the street, and a woman decked head-to-toe in fur takes a stroll with her poodle. A ski instructor teaches the boys how to move forward on their tiny skis (“french fries”) and how to wedge them together to stop (“pizza”).
“Medicinal Fried Chicken” heralds the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. Suddenly, all KFCs have been banned from the state (everyone knows fast food is unhealthy), and medicinal marijuana dispensaries sprouted up in their place. Randy (Stan’s dad) tries to get a medical card from his doctor but he’s too healthy to qualify. “What’s the quickest way to get cancer?” he wonders. After smoking cigs and tanning to no effect, Randy finally sticks his balls in the microwave, in hopes of getting testicular cancer from the radiation. It works – Randy’s balls grow so big he has to cart them around in a wheelbarrow, but he finally has access to legal weed. “Everyone is just abusing this medicinal system anyway. Can’t we just make pot legal?” a dispensary employee asks mournfully.
In “Red Man’s Greed,” the boys visit a Native American casino. The episode could be criticized as “racist,” as it’s full of nasty native stereotyping; but “South Park” has lampooned every race, gender and creed you can shake a stick at, sparing no one’s feelings. The Native Americans encourage foolish casino visitors to gamble away their savings, making endless animal and nature metaphors as they go (“Welcome to the blackjack table. May luck run through you like the spirit of the buffalo.”) Eventually, they attempt to purchase South Park itself, planning to demolish the homes of everyone in town and build a superhighway to Denver. South Park’s citizens protest; “What if the Native Americans just keep building their casinos and their highways, until we have nowhere else to go?” Naturally, this is poetic justice for what early Americans did to Native Americans. “Their cash flows out of them like diarrhea from the buffalo,” says one casino vendor greedily.
“Die Hippie Die” is one of the funniest episodes. Cartman acts as a hippie exterminator in his spare time, but finds an unexpected infestation in an old lady’s attic. Quickly, he becomes the scientist in a disaster movie, noticing patterns and disturbing signs – but no one will believe him. The impending catastrophe? A hippie music festival in South Park. Cartman’s concerns are very real; once the hippies stream into town, there are drum circles, clouds of pot smoke, and gentle guitar strumming everywhere. The hippies wear Birkenstocks, dreadlocks, Phish T-shirts, and rage indistinctly against “corporations.” The worst kind of hippie, says Cartman, is the “college-know-it-all.” This breed shows up with University of Colorado Boulder bumper stickers and tell everyone, “We just spent our first semester at college. The professors opened our eyes.” The boys realize these beatniks won’t actually take action against the corporations they so despise – they just want to get high and jam out. They’re as selfish as the corporations. Cartman blasts the “angry” music of Slayer over the festival loudspeakers, and the hippies quickly disband, leaving South Park safe again.
This show is brilliant. It’s mean, provocative, hysterical and it pisses people off. But it’s made with love. After all, the creators are from Colorado – and the better you know something, the more cleverly you can ridicule it. “South Park” does some of smartest scorning around.