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 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

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