How can we investigate value in South Park?

We’ve done a fair amount of planning but I don’t think we have spoken much about value. So, I will ramble a bit and we will see if it is helpful…

The attribution of value presents a conceptual problem. There is a sense in which everything is valuable. Racism is valuable because it provides an example of deplorable behaviour and faulty thinking. Racists who propound racists beliefs help us to refine our anti-racist arguments. Yet we would intuitively reject the statement ‘Racism and racists are valuable’. There are values and things which are valuable. Those things which are valuable must be qualified, they are valuable because of or for, that is, their value is contingent. Whilst South Park may appeal to our values, or more likely, subvert them, it seems that South Park can only be contingently valuable. A thing is contingently valuable if it is useful, if it demands critical engagement, if it satisfies personal desires and so on. Not only is something valuable because we think it is, if value is at least partially defined by utility, value is measurable. This presents some problems. Firstly, how do we measure value? Secondly, how can anything be valuable if everything is? The attribution of value to a thing implies that there are things which are not and cannot be valuable but there is a sense in which everything is.

Our project is not a strict investigation into value, but the problem of definition seems to be an immediate obstacle. If we begin with a definition of value and measure South Park by that standard it seems that we lack a focal point and are more likely to miss what makes South Park valuable. If we accept that all things are valuable, the interesting question cannot be ‘is South Park valuable?’ But, is South Park valuable for the reasons it purports to be? Why must we value South Park? What makes South Park more valuable than other objects of value? As a starting point, we should ask ‘what is South Park?’ and ‘what does it intend to do?’ If South Park possesses any value it must be in virtue of what it is and what it aims to achieve, if it fails at being what it is supposed to be (i.e if the real-world is satirical, it cannot be satire or even extreme) or doing what it is supposed to do (i.e provoking thoughtful engagement or changing minds) then it would seem to lack value.

Of course the questions don’t stop there: Does South Park’s value only lie in these features?  If not, where does the value lie? Can it be valuable because it makes us laugh or does this depend on what evokes our laughter? Are these other features sufficient to label ‘South Park’ rather than ‘this part of South Park’ as valuable? Lots of questions, no answers, much confusion, feel free to ignore.


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