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Review Brew: South Park “Stunning and Brave”

South Park's breaks are getting annoyingly long.  While the show used to give us two half-seasons split between the spring and the fall, Stone and Parker's series is taking seemingly longer breaks with only a short 10-episode season to stave our addictions. I don't know if the creators are getting overtired and need longer breaks (18 seasons is a long time for two guys to be working on this project), if they're tied up with other projects, or what. 2011's episode "You're Getting Old" ended on an ambiguously frightful note that suggested that Stone and Parker were getting tired of the show and, indeed, that episode very well could have been the series' last. Fortunately, it wasn't, but it did suggest that the creators can't keep this up every week and need time to recharge their batteries.

Season 18’s “Stunning and Brave” shows the benefit of that recharge. It’s given Stone and Parker the opportunity to do what they do best: pick up the latest social trends which currently dominate the media, reduce them to their most absurd, and make us have a good laugh at ourselves. This episode absorbs several topics which consumed our collective minds this summer: political correctness, sensitivity, privilege checking, Caitlyn Jenner, Deflategate and NFL hypocrisy, and on a slightly subtle note Donald Trump.  (Trump is not directly named, but when you send an army of pregnant Mexican women after some loudmouth bullies, there’s no one else you can be referencing.)

South Park is, of course, reputable for holding nothing sacred, where anything and anything is subject to insult and parody. If you’re offended by something on South Park, then the creators have accomplished their mission. If they made you laugh in the process, then doubly so. The plot is, inevitably, an entirely self-referential story, a reflection on South Park‘s avant-garde status in a world where the garde is increasingly politically correct. Tonight’s episode concerned the town of South Park hitting its apparent tipping point in its characters using insensitive and exclusionary language, Principal Victoria having been fired for using some uncouth term for a group of people.  Enter “Principal P.C.,” a twentysomething-tough guy who combats ethnic and sexist comments with bullying and fratboy pranks.

This is the rare individual that even Eric Cartman can’t seem to defeat. When Cartman threatens to frame Principal P.C. for child rape a la Subway’s Jared Fogle, he’s given a merciless beating for using the word “spokesman” instead of “spokesperson.” This is a rare occurrence, as Cartman’s tactics have always been psychological mindfucks instead of any actual violence. Sadly, Cartman is reduced to a mewling apologist who’s even willing to take his hated Jewish classmate Kyle as a friend.

As the town becomes suppressed by political correctness gone mad–literally in the form of a P.C. fraternity to which the Principal belongs, the kids have to get Cartman to snap out of it. This is mostly driven by Kyle, who suffers increasing intolerance from the town’s self-proclaimed tolerance enforcers, getting his head shaved and penises drawn on his face for daring to state that he didn’t see Caitlyn Jenner as a hero. It’s not even that Kyle has an issue with the transgender aspect of Jenner–he just thinks Jenner was a lousy person both before and after the transition, and wants to be free to say so.

This episode is full of very amusing contrasts which I wish had been a little more explicit. Kyle’s Jewishness is never really addressed, so the creators perhaps missed an opportunity to comment on a minority protection society being outright bullies to a Jew. It’s very ironic that, in the South Park universe, a Jew can’t complain about a transgendered person, but the Jew himself is a fair target. It’s even more ironic that the Jew’s only hope lies with the town’s biggest anti-Semite.

I presume it was the creators’ intention, however, to turn the fratboys into an amalgamated version of Donald Trump and the worst elements of the politically correct movement, both of whom have been at odds with each other for the last few months. There seems to be a simple statement here: no matter what side of an issue you’re on, somebody is going to be really loud and obnoxious about it. Bullying is bullying, regardless of whether you’re a racist billionaire or an advocate for social justice. In the end, South Park just wants to remind people to stop being stupid, or at least laugh at them for being so.

So the new season of South Park is off to a good start.  The ending hints that “Principal P.C.” is here to stay, though. Let’s hope that’s not the case, because while he worked in the limited scope of this episode, he risks very quickly becoming a lame running gag.

Rating: Four and a half chocolate salty balls out of five.

About Adam Frey (372 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.
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