Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 10, 2007

The South Park Effect

Filed under: culture — codesmithy @ 9:51 am

It is hard to deny the cultural influence of South Park. It is hard to go to any Internet forum discussion about a topic from Al Gore and Global Warming to Religion without coming across some reference to the show. First and foremost, the way the show deals with the majority of the topics is by lampooning them. Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Cruise, or any other celebrity that they portray on the show are extreme caricatures of the actual people.

In this respect, South Park can be considered insightful social commentator as seeing your father getting kicked in the crotch (through some of the dry spells of the show, only half as entertaining). Despite the usual disclaimer that “All characters and events in this show — even those based on real people — are entirely fictional” people do find it amusing to apply aspects of the show to real life situations.

What do you ask Al Gore if he comes to your school? Expect a frequent suggestion to be manbearpig. What happens, in horror, if the question does get asked? Uncomfortable silence because Al Gore knows nothing about what you just asked, or maybe he does and makes a quick joke. What does that accomplish? Anything? Another cheap moment of humor on a totally ludicrous premise, one that tries to draw a parallel between climate change (a serious problem that has potentially huge implications in which the scientific consensus is that human beings are significantly influencing the world’s climate) and the completely off-the-wall threat of man-bear-pig?

The problem isn’t what “South Park” says per-se. The problem is that it is a cultural spark that causes the human sheep to bleat the same thing when the topic comes up.

The creators of South Park are cavalier in their attitude towards these types of issues, so I don’t expect them to particularly care what they are doing to the culture, but I am. I don’t expect them to stop, nor am I trying to censor them. However, I am concerned, that as a culture we are turning away from reason. South Park isn’t the cause, but I find it hard to deny that it has a reinforcing effect because it adds more noise to any topic it covers. If there is only noise about a topic then there can’t be reason.

Therefore, the real tragedy of the situation is that the references are used to deflect criticism, to shift debate from the realm of objective reality based on observable facts to outrageous behavior of characters in a fictional television show. In such cases, the status quo wins, not through reason but through noise and successful stalling. In this way, South Park is the pundit for the irreverent. As such, I doubt there is anything I could do or say to affect the situation. However, as a culture, we should appreciate the direction we are heading.


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