The renaissance of South Park

Gracie Cox, Editor-in-Chief

Over the past few months, Comedy Central’s infamous adult cartoon, “South Park,” has made its way back on to the media scene following years of irrelevancy. In a matter of days, the show appeared everywhere, from my TikTok “For You Page” to the whiteboard of my AP Stats classroom. Recognizing the show as the raunchy comedy of Gen X, I was a little surprised by its sudden resurrection, and made it my mission to investigate why now, in the age of collective “wokeness,” the patently offensive comedy is back in full swing.

My first theory focuses on this morally conscious culture that we live in today. While I support social growth, in terms of media and especially comedy, it can leave something to be desired. For example, in today’s adult comedies, writers make very conscious moves in order to avert controversy. To avoid potentially offending their audience, shows derive their comedy from simple physical humor and jokes regarding our current political atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, this simply isn’t funny. Compared to the creators of “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, comedy writers today are too scared to be truly funny. In an attempt to please the public, they end up turning out material that is bland and repetitive. Parker and Stone didn’t display this fear in their work; even though, at times, “South Park” may have taken the joke too far or hurt some feelings, the show exudes a certain rawness that viewers today crave because of the shortcomings of 2023 media.

While there certainly are raunchy adult cartoons today, they simply aren’t doing it right. Let’s take the Netflix favorite “Big Mouth,” for example. This show isn’t afraid to cover the difficult aspects of puberty no matter how disgusting or socially unacceptable they may be. In bordering on sexualizing its child characters, “Big Mouth” takes full advantage of its TV-MA rating, yet it feels like something’s missing. While writers include excessively graphic scenes under the guise of being educational, I see it as purely being for shock value. It draws in viewers who seek an honest, punchy show that they can relate to, but truthfully, there is little comedic value in the show’s obscenity beyond the fact that it’s gross and uncomfortable to watch. When compared to current adult cartoons such as “Big Mouth,” “South Park’s” greater significance behind its vulgarity is obvious. Instead of pure shock factor, “South Park” finds its meaning in asking the questions that its viewers are too afraid to ask, and shares wholesome truths about our world. While this may seem cheesy, under its layers of supposed stupidity, the plot of each episode does have thematic significance, but you just have to do some digging in order to find it, which can not be said for shows like “Big Mouth” that are so blatant in their shallow morals.

One of my favorite aspects of “South Park” is its devotion to both character development and consistency. Each and every resident of the town, whether it’s the main four kids or a random townsperson, has a unique personality that over the course of the show’s 26 seasons, have both remained consistent and grown. Let’s take a look at the main character, Cartman. While he has been down hundreds of different paths, from locking his friend in a bunker to owning a theme park, his personality has remained the same. Cartman, no matter the season or episode, will remain a spoiled, naive and manipulative mastermind. While this is true, in recent years, while retaining some of these traits, he has grown to display the empathy and emotional capacity that he lacked early on. This is true for all characters, and such pleasing consistency is apparent in other forms as well: with running gags, recurring events from former episodes and so on. With other shows, as a result of overall inconsistency, it’s much more difficult to feel connected to events or characters, making episodes far less engaging to watch and just not worth your time.

Despite “South Park”’s flaws, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to Parker’s and Stone’s comedic genius within the show. There are many reasons for its re-emerging popularity, and if you want to test my theories for yourself (or just be entertained), get onto HBOMax and try a few episodes for yourself. As I’ve learned in writing this article, there’s no such thing as wasted time watching TV if you label it as “research,” so throw on some lab goggles and get watching.