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.