Early on Christmas morn I saw a rerun of South Park’s Xmas episode in which Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo is introduced. I thought the Mr. Hankey character was over the top the first time I saw him. But since I got over the shock value of seeing South Park (largely in reruns) and of getting used to what’s now allowed on television (on network TV and not just cable anymore), I’ve had a chance to scrutinize South Park’s ideology more closely.
The 1990s was a fantastic decade for comedy, all the better as American society degenerated even further beyond repair. But at some point a line was crossed, and the subversive power of comedy was neutralized by mindless cynicism that ceases to promote social critique and instead serves to further adjust us to our dehumanization.
This is true both of normal sitcoms and adult cartoons. The critical thrust of The Simpsons at its best was blunted by the growth in pure decadence of the adult cartoons that succeeded it.
Some years ago a friend summed up it up this way: “South Park is for people who are too dumb to understand The Simpsons.” Or, as I concluded eventually, the baby boomers knew rebellion against social convention and hypocrisy; but the new brand of humor was designed by slackers for clueless teens and twenty-somethings who never knew anything before Reaganism, who never rebelled against anything, and who have no perspective beyond mindless cynicism which at the end of the day manages to serve the status quo.
After a while I learned to laugh at South Park’s outrageous humor. Funny isn’t supposed to be moral; if it’s funny to you, you laugh . . . but in it there’s also ideology. South Park is gratuitously vicious and sadistic. The gruesome death of Kenny in every episode alone testifies to the sadism at the bottom of this kind of humor, and, by implication, much other humor. But South Park is not mindless cynicism alone, for there is also quite a bit of moralism mixed in with the cynical filth, summed up in the resolution or even a speech at the end of an episode. If you examine these episodes carefully, you will also discover that the perspective of the series’ creators is completely confused, and in the end, rather conservative. These slackers mock redneck values, presumably thinking they are above them, but in the final analysis, they’re idiots.
Another feature of South Park is the pervasive anti-Semitism contained within it. Ostensibly, the ignorant anti-Semitism, racism, nastiness, and piggishness of Cartman is an object of ridicule, but after a while, one wonders. The Jewish stereotypes go beyond Cartman’s constant nasty remarks about Jews, mostly targeting his “friend” Kyle. Kyle’s father is a yarmulke-sporting greedy lawyer; his mother a matronly New York stereotype. When Earth is discovered to be a reality show for the entertainment of the rest of the universe, the cosmic media moguls are a species conspicuously modeled on the Jews.
This is the sort of humor beloved of the young and stupid—what, did I repeat myself?—who think they are too hip to be taken in by anything. So naturally, they don’t take the anti-Semitic stereotypes seriously; it’s all in fun. But then again, given what this nation is like, I have to wonder . . .
Seeing some of these episodes for the umpteenth time, the contradictory messages, splitting the difference, ideological incoherence, and platitudinous morals mixed with cynical degeneracy reveal a pattern.
Viewing this Xmas episode this time around revealed this pattern in a way I hadn’t paid attention to before. It begins with Kyle performing in a sleazy school nativity scene. When his mother walks in on a rehearsal, she hits the roof, and complains to Mr. Garrison that this is an affront to Jews. He dismisses her as a nuisance, but thanks to her agitation soon the whole town is up in arms about public displays of religious symbols and Santa too. Everything has to be modified to placate everyone who finds the least little holiday decoration offensive. Meanwhile Kyle, who feels lonely as a Jew at Christmastime, is judged to be losing his sanity as no one believes that he has seen his object of veneration, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. His friends have him committed to a mental institution where he sings the dreidle song in a straightjacket in a padded cell. When Chef reveals that Mr. Hankey is real, the other kids have Kyle released. The dispute over holiday symbols in the school auditorium escalates into a brawl. Mr. Hankey comes to life and, calling the brawl to a halt, delivers the moral of the episode: Everybody’s fighting over what’s wrong with Christmas, they’ve forgotten what’s right with Christmas. It’s all about eating cookies and having a good time.
In the process, of course, the original affront to the Jews is reduced to mindless politically correct frivolity in the barrage of complaints that follow. Hence the anti-Semitic implications of forcing Xmas on Jews are conveniently lost in this display of degenerate cynicism mixed with cheesy moralizing.
Fame legitimates everything, in spite of controversy, and apparently, aside from the objections of traditionalist organizations, nobody sees anything wrong with this show. In the episode under review, the message of the true spirit of Christmas is delivered by a talking piece of shit. This is indeed a metaphor for our time.