The Elephants in the Room

This year we have been encouraged to reflect on our own disciplines, how we think and how our distinct mode of thinking interacts with other disciplines. I have felt a sense of insecurity about how to define Philosophy, given that there are various ways of doing it and coming to understand how I think as a result of studying Philosophy. This insecurity has only be compounded by the conversations we have had whilst creating our presentation. It turns out that we don’t think in radically different ways.

Philosophy does not normally concern itself with South Park, where it does, it is the application of philosophical ideas to things in South Park. This is because Philosophy normally deals with abstract ideas. To the extent that abstract ideas, which include things like morality and humour, can be found in South Park, South Park is of philosophical interest. So my interest, from my particular discipline, begun with the discovery of abstract concepts in South Park and evolved into the need for conceptual clarification, in order to proceed with our investigation.

But we were all attracted to the conceptual difficulties of our question. Asking questions like ‘What is satire?’, ‘What is offensive?’, ‘What is value?’ and so on. Secondly, we were all concerned with the ideas which transcend South Parks’ immediately visible content. We were interested in the politically and socially relevant ideas. Concerns about its formal composition were secondary and related to what effect it had on the ideas.

It seems that our disciplines share concerns, even if we go about investigating the object of interest in different ways. But South Park is a subject, which is open to multi-disciplinary investigation, as is demonstrated by the vast amount of literature on it. To the politically aware viewer, there are particular ideas which become immediately obvious when watching an episode of South Park. This means that South Park, given its content, will necessarily provoke particular thoughts from its viewer because it conveys certain ideas. So whilst our distinct disciplines may make us more interested in particular aspects of South Park, South Park contains a set of ideas which are available to anybody.

 

Structure/framework of our presentation

1.) Cold open: Clip from the first season of South Park -> Crude and vulgar -> Begs the question: Is there a point to this?
2.) Aadam introduces the semantics of defining seriousness and the multitude of ways in which we’ve approached it.
3.) Anthony to provide historical context that demonstrates the evolution of satire in our own age in which cultural values are less fixed – Link to be drawn with older satire, demonstrating the difference. South Park therefore emerged during a time in which the debates of political correctness were being staged in the new arena of TV [Example -> Does Simpsons provide exemplary family values?]
4.) BUT -> How can we determine the value of south park when in this new cultural context there is no universal viewer [As the survey data has shown] -> Hannah will branch into this next issue – semantics of South Park’s reception. -> She will point out, however, that there appears to be points in which south park criticizes society on the whole -> Linking us to Nostalgia and its political influence – Show Clip – Conclude on how there is ostensibly an ‘equal-opportunity satire’, in that south park seems to critique irrationality/hypocrisy generally
5.) Elliott enters with a counter to this notion; presenting the case for south park as pseudo-satire – It does not offer solutions -> take towards Goobacks example – However, south park satire seems to have evolved in its own unique fashion – Comic Value -> Meta-discursive elements
6.) Meta clip – point developed slightly by anthony
7.) Continuation of Comic value point
8.) Final clip of the first day of the new internet
To be polished off with Elliott’s quote with complex men and women.

I apologize if this appears fractured guys but its literally taken from my notepad from our last session and only meant to act as a skeleton of sorts. See you tomorrow.

Approaching the finish line

Weekend TAD meeting with obligatory dominos pizza

After finally finding an open room at Strand on a Saturday we watched the sun go down (and Philipp doing push ups) while going through different strategies how to present our take on achieving interdisciplinarity. We revised again our overlapping points of our riffs and afterwards Georgia and I reflected again how to best present our idea of value at hand of meaning in the library. TAD meeting

We allocated the last tasks before our presentation

To Do list:

finalize Power Point (Pia)

Handout (Evan)

Send 3 bullet points+ sources (everyone)

 

Video titles upload (Philipp)

Video upload (Philipp)

Write up sections for presentation + Time sections (everyone)

(send Overlap points or personal struggle of finding interdisciplinarity if Georgia and I have further questions)

 

Meeting Monday noon

 

finding an interdisciplinary ‘duct-tape’- (Update 26.2)

We formerly discussed to assess interdisciplinarity and our theme value at hand of the movie ‘the Act of Killing’ by outlining how our individual discipline (Film, History, Philosophy and Geography) values the movie (differently) and what distinctive contribution our discipline can offer to enhance the understanding of the documentary. Nevertheless, Georgia wrote an email prior to our Friday weekly meeting before reading week, pointing out that our group is missing as she stated it a ‘duct tape`- namely the element that would unify our disciplines with regards to the medium. Previously, during our brainstorming in the first week we identified the element of re-enactment as a reoccurring element or foundation of ‘the Act of Killing’ and during our follow up meeting we also regarded the act of killing in ‘the Act of Killing’ as a potential unifying element. We realized that finding a topic within the movie, instead of choosing the movie as the topic itself to demonstrate different values of our disciplines is crucial to reflect and especially compare how each of our disciplines interacts with the theme and perhaps better evaluate differences and similarities in our approaches across our departments.

 

When we gathered together the following Friday Chris also strongly encouraged us to question to what extent the topic does not just unify us but also contemplate how several disciplinary approaches can provide a potential academic added value illuminating or portraying the movie in an extensive way by demonstrating not just multidisciplinarity but in fact interdisciplinarity. Nevertheless, we struggled to find common ground how to not just state each individual disciplinary approach but also elaborate on how the different disciplines could relate to each other to show not just several individual viewpoints but a unified overall perspective and thus perhaps provide a representative case study emphasizing how studying Liberal Arts offers not just a distinctive approach when it comes to assessing a movie but offers a unique worldview in general.

 

But since we had not compared our individual statement pieces yet it was evidently troublesome to predict what duct tape would be most suitable to show disciplinary interrelations among all our disciplines (if this is even possible).  After a lengthy discussion, we arrived at the temporary conclusion of attempting to form a circle of relationships demonstrating how our individual discipline would interlink with one other group members discipline opposed to finding one overall theme that relates to all other disciplines represented in our group. My element of Geography concerning re-enactment might relate to Georgia’s aspect of re-enacting historic events such as the Indonesian genocide, while Evans aspect of film builds its knowledge partially on retrieving knowledge from a historic context. The inclusion of Phillips discipline, Philosophy was especially challenging since it perhaps better serves as a universal approach to consider re-enactment as opposed to aligning to one other specific discipline. To what degree a circle format showing the disciplines relationships to one other as opposed to obstructing a common relationship or unifying aspect is efficient, remains to be seen and can be better judged upon after the personal statements have been prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

Feedback from Societies

At the end of last week I sent out an email to numerous society heads (see Elliott’s post for full list). We asked participants to send us feedback within 5 days so we had time to incorporate their opinions into our presentation.

Below are the answers from the President of the Marxist Society who watched three clips (Memberberries, My Opponent is a Liar, and Treviors Axiom/First Email). Hopefully, we can also get some results from a right-wing society so we can find the value in responses from across the political spectrum.:

i) Does the content of the clip(s) reflect reality, if so, in what way?
A show like South Park, which is satirical and produced on a rapid turnaround, is certainly reflective of current political, social and cultural realities, insofar as its brand of humour relies on being able to respond rapidly to and lampoon the big conversations of the day. In all three clips, there is a degree of genuine insight ‒ nostalgia is a major factor in the resurgence of right-wing populism, internet abuse does operate as a social chain reaction, Trump’s support base was selective about their tolerance for his bigoted rhetoric, Trump is a crude buffoon…
ii) Would you say that the clip(s) advocates a standpoint on issues that may or may not be raised?
South Park has always succeeded by its willingness to offend omnidirectionally – Trey Parker and Matt Stone are noted political independents; whose own stance is ambiguous but best construed as social libertarian. The clips broadly suggest that the current climate of political tumult results from dishonest, incompetent and cynical public figures who are willing to exploit the irrationality and petty cruelties of the public. If anything, these clips evince a vague anti-authoritarian standpoint.
iii) Does the clip(s) bring you to address your own standpoint on these issues (political, moral, ideological etc.)? Please specify.
Not especially. I’m quite familiar with Parker and Stone’s brand of humour and fundamentally disagree with their libertarian philosophies. I do not, for instance, think that cynical politicians and a foolish public are the source of the world’s ills. I think an irrational economic system in a state of terminal decline is the cause of cynical politicians and a confused, enucleated general public. However, I am a huge fan of South Park for its irreverent satire ‒ and I certainly share aspects of Parker and Stone’s outlook (such as their disdain for the inertia and condescension of middle-class liberalism).
iv) Do you think the clip(s) might provoke others to reconsider their own standpoint?
I’m of the view that television programmes very rarely cause sea-changes in outlook: the stable demographics of various forms of cultural products imply they more often serve to confirm the existing outlook of their audiences.
v) How effective do you think comedy is in dealing with politically sensitive material?
I think in a world wherein Donald Trump leads the most powerful capitalist economy on the planet, laughter is the only sensible response.
vi) Do you think this sort of satirical comedy has a social function or some other purpose? Please specify.
Political satire provides much needed catharsis in a world that so often seems senseless, cruel or unjust. Moreover, it is evidence of the moderate democratic advancements achieved even under capitalist society that cultural creators can mock powerful public figures with relative impunity. I am of the view that this luxury might not be irrevocable, especially given the Trump administration’s belligerent attitude to perceived bias from the press.
vii) Does the clip have any problematic implications, if so, what are they?
I don’t find any of these clips especially problematic. In fact, I consider them tame by the usual standards of South park.
viii) South Park demonstrates that its “commitment is to be uncommitted” (Groening, 2008: 123). Discuss in relation to the clip(s).
As I have mentioned, Parker and Stone abide by the rule of effective satire: you must offend everyone in equal measure. If anything, these clips are perhaps less successful in comic terms than other South Park sequences, because they pick on figures (such as Donald Trump) whom it is uncontroversial to mock ‒ at least amongst the demographics that cohere around South Park.

****

My evaluation of the above feedback:

The respondent found value in the fast turn-around of South Park, and believed that responding to current events equated to representing a reality. As a classicist, I find it especially compelling that the respondent noted the link between right-wing politics and nostalgia. Last week I did a blog post about the link between the nationalist views that are propped up by the belief that antiquity is an exemplar of the perfect society, and the rise in fascism in contemporary American politics under the rhetoric of ‘Make America Great Again’. Thus, this respondents feedback adds value to my analysis of member berries in South Park.

In regards to the second question, the respondent stated that rather than making a clear political alignment, South Park makes ‘a vague anti-authoritarian standpoint’ against individuals in positions of power. This seems fitting with Becker’s idea of being ‘ideologically uncommitted’.

The response to the third question is interesting as the respondent appears to argue that the clips does make them address their own viewpoints, and yet they can sympathise/share certain perspectives of Trey and Stone’s outlooks despite disagreeing with them. I wonder if this is a paradoxical claim, in the same way that South Park constantly undermines itself? Furthermore, the response to this question aligns with Elliott’s findings that most people (I think 70%) can find humor in political satire that disagrees with their own personal viewpoint.

Moreover, in response to the next question the respondent claims that South Park (and popular culture in general) seeks to confirm the beliefs of its audience, rather than having the ability to promote ‘sea-change’. Does South Park therefore confirm the views of everyone who is watching? Rather, I believe that South Park parodies the views of everyone watching as the animation employs ‘equal opportunity satire’ meaning that it satirises/makes fun of everything.

Most poignantly the respondent states that ‘laughter is the only sensible response’ when dealing with politically sensitive material. Thus, this suggests that we can take South Park seriously if we use humor as a measure of value.

Finally, the answer to the final question also provides some valuable insight. The respondent believes that mocking Donald Trump is uncontroversial for those who watch South Park. However, I’d say the clip that they watched (where women walk out during a Donald Trump Speech) goes beyond mocking Donald Trump, and in fact also mocks those who criticised him for his infamous remarks around ‘grabbing women by the pussy’. The sketch succinctly critiques the outrage that was generated by Trump’s remarks as it calls into question why white women were not as equally outraged about racism as they were about sexual assault. In the clip, the Trump figure, Mr. Garrison, asks his audience:

 

‘Oh, did I offend you? So you’ve been OK about the “fuck everyone to death”, all the Muslim and Mexican shit, but fingers in the ass did it for you? Cool, I just wanted to see where your line was’

 

Would love to know what the rest of you think about these answers.

– Hannah

Structure of the presentation

Based on our bibliographic and quantitative research we have begun formulating a skeleton of how we shall present our argument (at least in the introductory sense) – this is just here for the group to have as a point of reference. Some of these still need to find an exact place in the presentation but this will depend on the qualitative data that we receive:

1.The problem of ideology and satire in postmodern culture -> ‘equal-opportunity satire’ (160) Matt Becker. -> They seem to bank on the political ambivalence and lack of commitment of their viewers.

2.Defining ‘seriousness’ -> Don’t take it to mean literalness -> Value in the comedy itself -> We should take the ridiculing of the extreme ideologies/hypocrisies seriously -> By seriously it is meant to recognize the ‘validity of.’ -> Presupposing an ambivalent

3.Parallel to Enlightenment ideals -> Critique and satire of prevalent irrationality of society -> the generalizations of ideology.

  1. The type media attention Trump receives somehow validates/justifies his political position – as though he has some intellectual weight – until South Park presents him in a cruder light and suddenly the hypocrisy is self-evident.

5.Key terms to demonstrate interdisciplinarity -> ‘Fluidity between view points’ – ‘perspectives in conversation’ – ‘south park/animation is in dialogue with…’

6.Why do we ask the questions that we do? (based on our disciplines)

Thank you and goodnight.

Report on Questionnaire Findings: Can We Take South Park Seriously?

This post will consist of the findings gathered from the questionnaire as well as my own interpretation of them and what they might mean for our main inquiry.

South Park (serious image)

  • An overwhelming majority (84%) of the respondents watch South Park. However out of the 110 people that have watched it, only 30 do so regularly.

  • When asked whether they considered the show to be satire 79% of respondents answered in the affirmative, whilst only 5% of respondents claimed that it was not. [The 16% of respondents who have not seen the show selected n/a].

  • When asked whether they thought viewers could enjoy satire if they disagree with the political standpoint 70% of respondents answered yes whilst only 21% answered no. Of those that chose ‘other’ (4%) respondents wrote that; “I find it very hard to find satire with a political standpoint that displeases me.” “Depends how it’s done and whether it’s actual satire or just a straight up attack on a standpoint.” “I’m not sure. I find it hard to say because satire is such a persuasive form that it often makes you agree with its position momentarily…”

  • 68% of respondents saw the show as political with a significant amount of respondents (11%) selecting ‘not sure.’ However when asked whether the show took a ‘political standpoint on the issues it raises’ only 44% answered yes. The alternatives were as follows: [No] 18%; [Not Sure] 18%; [N/a] 16%; [Other] 5%. Of the final category text responses were as follows; “Yes, although often ironically.” “The answer to that question depends on the meaning one ascribes to the word ‘Political’.” “Yes. Sometimes, but at other times it contradicts this standpoint.”

  • Of those respondents who selected yes, when asked whether they agreed with that political standpoint, a considerable majority [60%] said they did only ‘sometimes.’ The results were as follows: [Yes] 24%; [No] 4%; [Not Sure] 11%.

  • When asked whether this political standpoint can affect that of another 68% said yes whilst only 14% said no. Once again, a considerable number (18%) said that they were not sure. Asked whether it had affected their own 61% said no, 32% said maybe and only 6% said yes.

  • When asked whether respondents considered the show to be promoting ideology most (37%) were not sure, whilst 24% said yes and 21% said no. Of the 5% that selected ‘Other’ the responses were as follows: “ideologies such as free speech etc.” “I suppose it depends on the issue/context.” “Perhaps it has a somewhat more left leaning view but then it’s more about satirising “silly” views in general.”

  • Asked whether the show could have any social value respondents answered overwhelmingly in the affirmative (61%) as opposed to 8% that answered no. When asked to specify which areas the top four answers were; [Comedic] 63%; [Political] 62%; [Moral] 58%; [Cultural] 53%. At the bottom of the table was [Historical] 23%; [Psychological] 20%; [Aesthetic] 12%. Of those that selected ‘Other’ the text responses were as follows: “I believe most politically-minded people will only watch a programme whose political ideology they agree with. I don’t think their opinion will be swayed by watching South Park. However non-politically minded people might watch it anyway, and are more likely to have their opinion swayed by it.” “All art contains social value.”

The report’s findings were at times, predictable. Specifically with regards the broader questions such as ‘do you consider South Park to be satire.’ At the same time when given the option to defect, oft times the respondents’ uncertainty became clear. Perhaps this was a negative factor of the questionnaire. If the report was to be repeated the team might be more succinct in the wording of some questions, or take away the choice to defect.

That being said, there are some interesting points we can make about the findings. That the overwhelmingly majority thought that they could enjoy satire even if they disagreed with the political standpoint was quite surprising. One would think the enjoyment of satire is presupposed by an affiliation of some type. After all, no one likes being laughed it. However the results suggest otherwise that perhaps, just sometimes, we don’t have to take ourselves seriously.

This raises an interesting question. Are these respondents finding something in comedy that can be considered apart from its political undertone? The trouble with this question is that it is essentially impossible to answer. It is important nevertheless. In fact, text responses make for interesting reading. Satire, as one respondent claims, is “such a persuasive form” and can actually make you “agree with its position momentarily.” Thus, we may argue that the comic vehicle with which a political message is delivered, may be agreeable. However the respondent was sure to point out that such an effect is only temporary.

Let us refer to the main line of inquiry for this investigation: Can we take South Park seriously? Well, taken from the angle above, it seems not. If the political agenda of the show only takes hold temporarily, its effects seem inconsequential. On the other hand, to assert as such I think would be at best obtuse and worst, misleading. The dismantling of one’s opinion, however temporary, may have both positive and negative effects to the agent concerned. In some respects this has been the agenda of satire since the time immemorial. Its power lies in its ability to expose and ridicule people’s vices in the context of politics and other topical issues. Of course one’s own prejudices may be attacked but styled in a particularly comic way, the effect can be positive.

However as one respondent notes; there is a difference between “actual satire” and “just a straight up attack on a standpoint.” This an interesting analysis that should not be looked over. Intuitively I would argue that the vast majority of people would agree to this statement. But, what this difference might be, again might be unanswerable. We might like to say that the difference lies in the way the critique is styled; as to accommodate humour and open-ended discussion. In regards to the latter the delivery of an attack, with no motive for shared-entertainment value, I think stands in stark contrast to the more inclusive and less imposing form of satire. Satire asks us to engage in the ridicule, as both active consumer and producer of the value of comedy.

The severity of a “straight out attack”  should be considered way and above that of satire. And yet, this does not mean we should not take satire, or more specifically South Park, seriously. There are, as the last question indicates, lots of different avenues within which the show might be important. In fact, respondents showed a reasonable level of uncertainty w/ regards to the show being political or not. Even more revealing, was that out of the 68% of respondents who said that the show was political, only 44% thought that the show took a political standpoint on the issues it raised.

This illustrates a characteristic relevantly unique to the show itself; that whilst it may be satire, it might not be politically biased. One respondent puts it this way: “Yes. Sometimes, but at other times it contradicts this standpoint.” This thought might correspond with the overwhelming amount of people who were uncertain (18%). Given that, nearly all of those who had watched South Park thought that the show was indeed, political, the lack of certainty on its’ standpoint is very revealing as to the shows ability to remain original. Again, even of those who answered in the affirmative, 11% were still unsure whether or not they agreed with the standpoint.

Even without being suitably located, the overwhelming majority (68%)  thought that the political standpoint could indeed affect that of another. And yet, revealingly of those who answered in the affirmative, only 6% actually considered the show to affected their own position. This may reveal an overwhelming pride in the hearts of those respondents, that their own political opinion could be unaffected by satirical comedy but such assertions should be left at the door of speculation. The results clearly indicate that the show might not be so effective, after all.

To conclude it may be useful to offer up an analysis that looks at the findings in their entirety. Doing so may reveal some obvious trends that may be hidden from the narrow confines of meticulousness. There was much uncertainty in the answers of the respondents. We may put this down to the questioning, but I think it reveals something more important; that people just are not sure what to make of South Park at all. And this very fact, is why the show should be taken seriously. Not in the usual sense, though. Let me explain.

The key component of South Park as Daniel J. Frim (2014) has argued, is that it evades ideology at the costs of coherence. This is why when asked whether or not respondents considered the show to be ideologically committed, a majority (37%) were unsure and another 21% said no. One respondent puts it this way: “…it’s about satirizing ‘silly’ views in general.” This is a sharp analysis of the show’s basic premise – ridicule everything. But we should not take this to mean that South Park cannot be taken seriously; there is nothing frivolous about critiquing deeply misled or prejudice-ridden individuals and highlighting the costs of their own standpoint. And equally, as one respondent notes “All art has social value.” No, it is rather that one view regarded in isolation from the show should be taken in jest. It is after all a comedy. Hence the serious is often laden with the ridiculous, to make this clear. Who the creators want to ridicule are those that read prejudice into the show. The will of an individual to compare his notes with the creators of South Park, the latter constantly looks to undermine and ridicule. Comic value, may be justification for such action. One respondent puts it this way: “I believe most politically-minded people will only watch a show whose political ideology they agree with. I don’t think their opinion will be swayed by watching South Park. However non-politically minded people might watch it anyway, and are more likely to have their opinion swayed by it.”

Elliott

The Act of Filming

This weekend we started filming our video presentation. We met at Pia’s apartment, armed with Philipp’s camera and equipment from King’s TV.

On Friday we brainstormed our monologues, trying to find connections – or ‘riffs’ – between them. Based on which ideas linked up the best, we decided on the order of Evan (me), Philipp, Georgia, and then Pia. Each monologue will build on the previous one, making the presentation not just multidisciplinary but interdisciplinary. Certain lines had to be cut and we also added new ones to make our presentation smoother, clearer, and more precise.

We rearranged the furniture in Pia’s apartment to create a set that looked like an intellectual’s hangout, complete with academic books, candles, and empty bottles. The odd time there had to be a bit of strategic hiding – like with the bag of chocolates.

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The stage is set

Using a lamp and natural light from the window, we created a warm atmosphere that is clear to see on camera. We each found that we had trouble delivering our writing as spoken word, and often had to do several takes. However, the more we did it, the more comfortable we became with speaking directly into the lens. I have a newfound respect for broadcasters!

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Phillip – Steadicam maestro

Phillip also took shots from different angles to make the video more engaging. We also have plenty of B-roll footage of us practicing our speeches, dressing the set, and watching the actual documentary. All of this will create a meta reenactment effect – similar to what can be found in ‘The Act of Killing.’

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Doesn’t get much more meta than this…

Considering we had only recently finished writing our monologues a few days before, we were efficient and productive. Our next challenge is to polish the live section of our presentation, which we will do next week.

-Evan

The Gang Tries to Upload Their Meeting Memos

For ‘security reasons’ I cannot upload our audio-mpeg files / the recordings of our meetings. I even trimmed them (for the required MB minimum), although I can’t get to the bottom of this mystery. The blog must not like my type of audio files????

I have the audio ready to send to anyone who might help turn them into a different form to upload them.

I have over 60mins of classic group meeting material. What a shame. And this blog is such a hassle media wise (I hope they see this!)

 

Kind regards,

Georgia