There’s always a part of me, when tuning in to South Park, that thinks Trey Parker and Matt Stone will offer some comedic comfort during trying cultural and political times, that they will validate my feelings about a world turned upside down. But South Park doesn’t give a shit about validating me or my politics. South Park approaches politics with an outsider’s perspective with only one intention: To attack everything and everyone, satirize every perspective, leave no one unscathed no matter what side of the political spectrum. For self-aware people, it not only requires being able to laugh at yourself, but to understand that you are being made fun of.
Yes, you. And me. And those people. And our people.
The 20th season premiere of South Park took aim at the Presidential election, and in their stand-in, Mr. Garrison, they mercilessly mocked Donald Trump as a candidate who not only doesn’t want to win the Presidency, but who has no clue what he’d do if he won. The way Mr. Garrison sees it, he’s a jackass if he drops out of the race, and he’s a jackass if he wins the race, so the only recourse Mr. Garrison has is to ensure that his opponent wins. The problem, as Mr. Garrison discovers, is that the more he tries to sabotage his own campaign, the more the American public adores him.
He’s screwed, until he stumbles upon a foolproof plan to crater his own candidacy. When J.J. Abrams — who has been appropriately tasked with rebooting the National Anthem — unveils the new anthem (which like Episode VII, is a carbon copy of the original), Mr. Garrison hatches a plan to kneel during the song, thereby sinking his campaign.
J.J. Abrams, however, thwarts Mr. Garrison’s efforts by making a new national anthem that appeals to everyone, because it’s a national anthem suitable for standing, kneeling, sitting, or saluting. It thereby becomes impossible to marshall a protest against it. Mr. Garrison will have to find another way to tank his campaign.
It smartly gives Trey Parker and Matt Stone an out, the ability to take no side in the debate over the National Anthem (the funniest part about the National Anthem storyline, however, is that the crowds show up in droves to see who will kneel and who will stand, only to leave after the National Anthem is over and the game begins). Stone and Parker, likewise, remain neutral in the presidential race by pitting the Giant Douche (Trump) vs. the Turd Sandwich (Clinton), resurrecting an old Douche vs.Turd storyline.
“I just don’t understand why every four years you people freak out over whether to vote for a Giant Douche or a Turd Sandwich,” Stan remarks to his father in South Park’s version of equivalence. They’re both terrible. They’re always terrible, South Park seems to be suggesting, drawing no distinction between this election and the last.
The “member berries” — talking grapes — bring the message home by helping Randy Marsh “take the edge off” election conversations by reminding him of better times. “Remember The Fugitive. Remember Stormtroopers,” the member berries squeak, appealing to his — and our own — nostalgia. But even the member berries eventually turn sour on Randy. “Remember when there weren’t so many Mexicans in this country? Remember when marriage was only between a man and a woman. Remember Reagan?”
There’s a downside even to nostalgia.
Politics notwithstanding, South Park astutely tackles both the Presidential race and the National Anthem controversy, but it’s less successful in trying to work Black Lives Matter, gender wars, and online trolling into the same 22 minute episode. In its return, South Park bit off more than it could successfully chew, and its attempts to characterize online trolls as irrational, unreasonable people who expect immediate validation gets muddled in Cartman’s sarcasm, when he tries to get women to prove they are funny. On the spot. Immediately. “Come on. Be funny. Talk about having sex with guys and your vagina or something. Talk about being fat or whatever. Say something funny.”
Nevertheless, Parker and Stone continue their tradition of attacking everything equally, and as always, it’s an exercise in futility in trying to pin down their actual opinions in order to validate our own.