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.

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

Seriously Thinking About Thinking Seriously

What does it mean to take South Park seriously?

We should take South Park seriously if it:

1. Changes or Reinforces Opinions

We should take South Park Seriously if it has some effect, positive or negative (whatever that would mean), on people’s opinions.

2. Offers a Legitimate Social Commentary

It points out serious flaws in an argument or particular social problems. But to the extent that it is exaggerated, it is in some sense unreal and therefore says nothing about the actual situations (probably a weak criticism).

3. Brings About Social Change or Action

Closely related to (1) but changes behaviour instead of just an opinion.

 

-Provocative satirical content-

Further to our meeting and Elliott’s post here is a link to some of the clips that will be used in order to gauge some form of response from the more politically oriented societies (bear in mind that I’ve cut and edited some so that they flow straight onto the bits relevant to us.) Let me know which ones I’ve left out!

Clips available for download – Link will only be active for a week or so:
https://we.tl/R3SQESh0EP

Here are the other clips that we will use except of course these are fortunately found on Youtube:

 

The necessity of satire in society: should we take South Park seriously?

Right guys,

Following on from the meeting earlier, here are some questions that should be sent to ALL participants. Hopefully there is enough in the questions to tease out some interesting results about interdisciplinary scope, political bias and satirical value.

Please answer the following questions in response to the clips provided. Where appropriate, please indicate which clip you are referring to in your responses.

i) Does the content of the clip(s) reflect reality, if so, in what way?
ii) Would you say that the clip(s) advocates a standpoint on issues that may or may not be raised?
iii) Does the clip(s) bring you to address your own standpoint on these issues (political, moral, ideological etc.)? Please specify.
iv) Do you think the clip(s) might provoke others to reconsider their own standpoint?
v) How effective do you think comedy is in dealing with politically sensitive material?
vi) Do you think this sort of satirical comedy has a social function or some other purpose? Please specify.
vii) South Park demonstrates that its “commitment is to be uncommitted” (Groening, 2008: 123). Discuss in relation to the clip(s).

Do you have any other general points you would like to make about the clip(s)?

—————————————————————————————————–
Below are the clips decided on thus far, w/the respective societies.

My opponent is a liar (clip 1:54 seconds)
KCL Conservative Association
Labour Society
Socialist Students
Lib Dem Soc
Debating Society
Philosophy Society
Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton (Clip 45 seconds Ep7 Season 20)
Inter Sec Soc
Love, Peace and Happiness Soc
Member berries (Clip 1:00 Ep1 Series 20)
Inter Sec Soc
Women and Politics Soc
My Life My Say
Sexpression Soc
Consent forms (57 secs Ep? Season?)
Sexpression Soc
It Stops Here
Inter Sec Soc
King’s LGBT Soc
Interfaith Soc
Women and Politics Soc
My Life My Say
The first email – Troll (1:30 secs Ep? Season?)
All societies from list at the bottom of page.
Stand up Garrison (1:53 Ep? Season?)
Islamic Soc
Sexpression Soc
It Stops Here
Inter Sec Soc
King’s LGBT Soc
Interfaith Soc
Women and Politics Soc
My Life My Say
The group decided that this should also be used in the presentation because it touches on so many major themes.
Trevor’s axiom (34 secs Ep? Season?)
All societies from list at the bottom of page.
The group decided that this should also be used in the presentation because it touches on so many major themes.

List of Societies:

Inter Sec Soc
It Stops Here
Socialist Students
Debating Society
King’s LGBT Soc
Love, Peace and Happiness Soc
Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Soc
Catholic Soc
Christian Union
Jewish Soc
Islamic Soc
Interfaith Soc
KCL Conservative Association
Labour Society
Lib Dem Soc
Women and Politics Soc
My Life My Say
Marxist Soc
Libertarian Soc
Sexpression Soc

Email Template

Subject:

Dear X,

We are a group of Liberal Arts students currently preparing for a presentation at the end of the semester. The question we are investigating is ‘The Necessity of Satire in Society: Should We Take South Park Seriously?’. We are particularly interested in the personal and political effects that South Park has.

If you haven’t seen South Park before, it’s not a problem. We have selected a clip which we think is most relevant to you and attached some questions. We think that you would have something really interesting to say and would love to hear your response. It shouldn’t take too long and would really help us as well.

If you prefer, we could arrange a meeting on Skype. Otherwise, please get your answers back in 5 days as our deadline is fast-approaching. If not, I hope this has at least provoked some interesting thoughts.

Kind Regards,

XOXO Gossip Girl

Summit like dat.

WE FORGOT ABOUT VALUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Necessity of Satire in Society: Should We Take South Park Seriously?

If satire is necessary in society, it is because satire plays a valuable role. Satire’s value depends on the effect it has on its viewers. Satire deals with political content in a particular manner. If we should take South Park seriously, it is because South Park performs satire’s role. The value of South Park depends upon the extent to which it performs this role.