South Park returned last night with its 21st season premiere, and while it did not specifically go back to the Donald Trump well — where it failed so miserably last year — it did return to political and cultural issues, and it was decidedly a mixed bag. The chief story in the episode concerned a group of Confederate-flag waving, working-class white people who had decided to protest exactly what has been taking their jobs: Not immigrants, but automation.
Amazon’s Alexa was used as a stand-in for automated job, and to their credit, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were able to extract a lot of comedy out of that. They also had my own Alexa — which sits next to my television — uttering profanities, adding random shit to my shopping cart, and setting alarms. So, thanks for that?
The point of the episode, however, is that these working-class white people who blame immigrants for their economic woes should look elsewhere, including themselves. “You did not go to college, so you have to take the jobs you can get. Coal mining and truck driving are not exactly the jobs of the future,” says Randy, who is now the host of a home improvement show called White People Renovating Houses. Randy is upset that the Confederate-flag waving folks are ruining the reputation of other white people. However, he eventually replaces his Alexa with Daryl, one of them many people who have been replaced by automation. Daryl, however, refuses to do work that is not dignified, which puts him in the bind that Trumpmerica is perceived to be in. Their jobs are being replaced by machines, they blame immigrants for taking their jobs, but they also refuse to do the work that only immigrants are willing to do. Have Parker and Stone been reading Hillbilly Elegy?
It’s a salient point, but South Park is no better at solving it than our politicians. Randy remodels Daryl’s house by knocking out a wall and building a breakfast nook, which gives Daryl feelings of self-worth, but I’m not sure that solution is going to scale across the whole country.
Look: South Park gets away with a lot more than most shows. It’s been saying that things are bad on “many sides” for years, mocking with equal relish both Trump’s America and P.C. culture. But both sides are not equal, and South Park has been tone deaf to that. Using a deadly Charlottesville rally that prominently featured white nationalists as a backdrop to a discussion about honest working-class woes is the perfect example of that tone deafness. I appreciate that South Park is trying to stay topical, but it feels like Stone and Parker are caught between the worlds of comedy and cultural politics, and in this environment, it’s just not a good time to use a white supremacist rally as a prop for comedy.
On the other hand, I — like Cartman — got a big kick out of hearing my Alexa say, “I have vagina crabs in my butthole.”