The Politics of South Park

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If
you haven't yet, I implore you to watch South
Park
. It is perhaps the most successful libertarian pop
cultural phenomenon since the Canadian band Rush filled radio airwaves
in the 1970s.

The
television show follows the adventures of four foul-mouthed young
boys in a rural Colorado town (South Park). Like The
Simpsons
, South Park uses a full cast of townspeople
to provide an imaginative platform for humorous antics and rich
social commentary. Unlike The Simpsons, the humour of South
Park doesn't restrict itself to basic social scruples. It instead
revels in the offensive humour of the 16–25-year-old male demographic.
Sex jokes, faecal jokes, gay jokes, oriental stereotypes, religious
parodies, and racial slurs are all fair game. There are no sacred
cows. The show portrays everything from cat orgies to God as a small
green furry reptile.

So
why would I implore the (primarily) culturally conservative
readers of LewRockwell.com to absorb this immature libertinism?
The answer is straightforward. Unlike other popular "libertarian"
cultural programming, such as Star
Wars
, The Simpsons, and the Dukes
of Hazzard
, South Park requires no belaboured interpretation.
The show's political mandate is manifest. Like the humour, the libertarianism
of the show is direct and free of nuance.

A
brief survey of some of the more salient libertarian episodes
bears this out:

  • Episode
    713 takes aim at Hollywood director Rob Reiner and the anti-smoking
    movement. The movement — and especially Reiner — is portrayed
    as, and called, fascist, controlling, and deceitful, while big
    tobacco is portrayed as honest, hardworking, and well-rooted
    in American history.
  • In Episode
    616 drug war propagandists are labelled "ultra-liberals"
    who operate on the principle that "the end justifies the
    means."
  • In Episode
    614, political correctness is condemned. When the boys (the
    main characters) refuse to tolerate their intolerable homosexual
    teacher, their parents take them to the Museum of Tolerance,
    where tolerance of everyone (except tobacco smokers) is taught.
    When this fails, the boys are sent to a gulag called "Death
    Camp of Tolerance," where they are forced at gunpoint to
    produce arts and crafts that don't discriminate along the lines
    of race and sexual orientation.
  • In Episode
    301, the boys travel to the Costa Rican rainforest as members
    of an environmentalist choir. While there, they learn how dangerous
    and deadly the natural world can be — as a snake kills their
    tour guide and aboriginals kidnap them. Upon their return to
    civilization, the boys put on a musical performance that admonishes
    smug first-world environmental activists. (In this episode,
    Friends
    star Jennifer Aniston guest stars.)

But
this is just scratching the surface of a fruitful and deep social
commentary that comes out libertarian on pressing current events.
Just about any issue that libertarians hold up as an instance of
state excess or market success is portrayed in the show: Waco is
portrayed as the murder of innocents; the Elian Gonzalez kidnapping
is shown to be the work of cold, calculating state agents; corporate
America's take over of Main Street USA is praised as market efficiency;
sexual education is portrayed as the province of parents, not state
educators; etc.

However,
South Park, for many libertarians, is not to be left free
of criticism. As many reading this piece will no doubt point out,
South Park co-creator Matt Stone appeared in Michael Moore's
anti-gun cult-classic Bowling
for Columbine
. And for those libertarians, his participation
represents an inexcusable capitulation to statism (despite Moore's
film's apt thesis that America is dominated by an unhealthy and
unrealistic culture of fear), or, at the very least, a good reason
to question the libertarian ethos of South Park. And perhaps
it is. But consider that Stone's comments in the movie were primarily
an indictment of American public schools, paranoia, and racism —
not guns.

Still,
if you find any participation with Moore inexcusable, remember that
Stone is only one half of the creative duo that brings South
Park to life. The other half is Trey Parker. And Parker, who
didn't appear in Bowling for Columbine, is an admitted libertarian.
In the April 4, 2001 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Parker
describes himself as a registered
Libertarian
,
suggesting that he is no stranger to the principles of liberty.
And watching his show, it's hard to doubt that that's the case.

South
Park is sharp, witty, funny, and very libertarian. I promise
that you won't be let down. Even if you don't like it as an entertainment
consumption end good, you can know that it deprograms a generation
of youth bombarded by statist propaganda. And for that, its creators
deserve a great deal of credit.

April
27, 2004

Michael
Cust [send him mail] is a
fourth-year philosophy student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton,
Alberta, Canada.

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