South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have always been vicious satirists. South Park, in its latter years, has increasingly become a soapbox for them to share their own views about current political and social trends. Like The Simpsons’ Springfield, the show’s titular mountain town is perpetually on the edge of either falling into mass hysteria or eagerly hopping on the latest bandwagon.
In this season’s premiere episode, “Stunning and Brave,” the bandwagon was political correctness, as personified by a new elementary school administrator, PC Principal. The PC Principal wears sunglasses and a muscle-tee and stalks around like a bully speaking about “micro-aggression,” even assaulting children who don’t conform to his politically correct way of doing things. What’s more, he’s even a member of a PC fraternity, one Randy Marsh — perhaps the most suggestible of all the townspeople — soon becomes a part of.
It’s as though Parker and Stone have introduced this one element of political correctness into South Park, and the show has been taking inventory of the adverse affects with each new week. Just recently, school boys Tweek and Craig fell victim to the PC craze after a series of romantic yaoi (a Japanese fan-art style depicting “boys’ love”) pictures. “Our town has only had a Whole Foods for three weeks, and we already have our first gay kids,” Randy says, referencing an earlier episode where the town campaigned desperately for a Whole Foods.
The other new development of the series is, well, a new development of an undesirable part of town into a yuppie nightlife spot, complete with tapas restaurants, wine bars, luxurious condos, and a ridiculous abbreviated name like SoDoSoPa. SoDoSoPa itself is an expression of how South Park is changing itself to become more “progressive.”
The purposely hip, gentrified areas attract self-important Yelp reviewers victimizing desperate restaurateurs in another episode, and of course, Eric Cartman leads the pack. His presence on Yelp and social media begets another episode’s storyline, focusing on online fat-shaming and safe spaces.
The episode ends with one of the most succinct expressions of this season’s message, delivered by an old-fashioned villain named Reality: “The world isn’t one big liberal arts college campus!” Of course, the episode ends with Reality being hanged publicly while the town cheers.
It isn’t as though the show has done away with weekly plots or that it hasn’t found a way to incorporate other current events into its stories. One of the season’s standouts so far featured the bigoted school teacher, Mr. Garrison, becoming a political figurehead for speaking rashly against a flood of illegal immigrants — Canadian ones, mind you — and loudly proclaiming, “Where my country gone?!”
The storyline, an obvious send-up of Donald Trump’s so-far successful campaign with more than one angle to it, is its own, but it’s easy to see the connection, to see how Mr. Garrison’s irresponsible, racist behavior and the following it attracts react to the new politically correct version of South Park.
South Park experimented with the idea of a season-long arc last year as well, but without the same storytelling sophistication. Episodes referenced each other in passing, and certain threads resurfaced, like Randy Marsh secretly being pop singer Lorde, but there wasn’t the same thematic thrust to hold everything together. It felt as though Parker and Stone were figuring out the mechanics of this new format as they went along — Randy’s Lorde storyline was even borne out of a joke at the expense of an overly sensitive Spin Magazine article.
I don’t doubt that they’re still making some of it up as they go along, but this season has a clear jumping-off point. So far, it feels like a cohesive statement made up of smaller statements that can stand alone or together — either way, they’re funny and sharp.
In a day and age where having access to television is so easy, it’s always nice to feel rewarded by a show’s continuity, allowing viewers to draw connections and understand inside jokes that make a series that much richer. The same goes for this new iteration of South Park, but it goes further too.
While most shows use continuity to deepen their characters and their journeys, South Park uses it to deepen their already-biting satire by drawing connections between the seemingly disparate aspects of modern American life, offering some surprising insight into the way our society functions. They’ve already connected the dots between Whole Foods, Yelp, Donald Trump, and fat-shaming, and we’re only six episodes into this new season. I’m excited to see what they take on next.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jrindskopf