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South Park: What Are We Watching

Ever since the advent of the animated series The Simpsons, adults have been watching more cartoons than all the children in their household put together. And in fact with the creativity and poetic license offered by an animated world populated with easily manipulated characters (just try getting a real live actor to perform some of the physical feats that Homer Simpson endures), it might even be argued that cartoons are wasted on the undeveloped psyches of children! As the popularity of animated shows increased, they became more and more outrageous, utilising their chosen media to create greater shock value – and with huge success. Comedy Central’s notorious South Park show receives as much, if not more, publicity from the sections of society it has alienated. But still the show continues to appeal to only a significant niche market, pointing toward one simple question – why do the creators, writers and animators of South Park bother? The show is undoubtedly packaged as a comedic one, and is watched by many for the sheer entertainment value it provides. The basis of all humor, it could be argued, is making a joke at someone’s expense, so we should not be surprised that singling out individuals, both real and imaginary, for ridicule tends to make us laugh. And while the show may have begun using bawdy humor purely for its own sake, South Park, now in its tenth series, has evolved into something far greater.

While the type of humor displayed in the show might seem like laughing at someone when they’re down at its very worst, South Park is, in fact, a supremely intelligent production, using the user-friendly medium of satire to make hugely cogent political and social commentary. With cutting insights laid before us in animated form, it could even be argued that the laughs are almost incidental. But they probably aren’t. There is, they say, truth in jest, and this is so for many a good reason. Comedy makes commentary more palatable, and it changes our perception without us even realising it.

We giggle with horror at our own political incorrectness, as we slowly understand that our laughter echoes larger social truths. Because the awful truth is this: South Park doesn’t just make us laugh. It makes us think.


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