Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. These are just a few of the big issues surrounding the social justice community today. With the newest generation all too eager to shed light on the many problems faced, it seems like progress should be made. However, there are and always will be those "old fashioned" people who hold onto their obsolete views with no willingness to part with them. Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but when said opinions impose on other people's right to live freely and securely, they are no longer harmless words.
Try as we might to change their minds, all of the talking and debating we do at the Thanksgiving table doesn't always work. Some people don't want to listen to reason or logic, their desire to keep things "the way they are" because "That's the way we've always done it" superseding the much needed cry for progress. We are seeing said progress in society, but people holding oppressive views can be dangerous, and in some cases, deadly. If logic, debate, and polite (and in the heat of the moment, not so polite) attempts at education just aren't enough, what is there?
"South Park" episodes, of course.
Since the late 1990's, there's been a surge of cartoons such as "The Simpsons," "Futurama," "Bob's Burgers," and "South Park," comedically based and marketed towards adults. These shows are funny, even classic to those of us who grew up with them, but the one element that is consistent through all of them might be the one thing with the power to save the world: satire.
Satire is a form of comedy, dating back through the ages, that employs humor and irony to criticize or bring light to issues in society that need to be called out. The interesting thing about satire is that it criticizes through symbolism, using one subject matter as a placeholder for the real issue. This genre, typically skimmed over in literature class, is one that the public is exposed to, maybe without realizing it. With these shows employing satire to teach the public about issues such as racism, homophobia, and feminism, people are subtly being educated without fully realizing it most of the time.
Okay, maybe "save the world" is a bit hyperbolic. Not every person in the world is willing or able to tune into Comedy Central for their weekly dose of the "South Park" gang. But "Orange is the New Black" said it best with the quote, "People don't want to give or change unless they think it's their idea."
This is what makes satire so brilliant.
Satire gives people the tools to reach conclusions but gives them the ability to reach said conclusions on their own. One example, a recent "South Park" episode entitled "Go Fund Yourself" called attention to the very controversial decision to pull the Washington Redskin's logo and patent over racist allegations. This episode, instead of directly attributing the issue to a native tribe, told the story through the main characters wanting to cash in on a big business idea. In the "South Park" world, the Redskins patent had been pulled, and the boys decide to use the name and logo for their new business. In return, The Washington Redskins football team, gets upset and brings it to people's attention that they feel disrespected, and in response, they're comedically told to go f*ck themselves.
This problem carries through the entire episode, and at the end, the team never regains their name or their respect. Very funny, and well-written, but such a controversial issue being brought to the spotlight was sure to draw attention. And surprisingly, it was positive. TV critics raved about how funny and hard-hitting the satire was; it sparked conversation about the conduct of the National Football League, and people who ordinarily wouldn't give this issue a second thought were saying, "Oh, I get it now."
As important as fighting for social justice is, there are people who either don't want to listen or just flat out do not understand. And while those of us fighting might be able to make sense of what we want to say, it doesn't mean people are willing to listen. There is no collective way to educate because everyone learns in a different way. Satire bridges the gap between the important issues and their misunderstandings, giving an outlet to those who don't understand plain old discussion. The biggest payoff of all is that since the issue was spoon-fed to them on a more understandable level, they feel like they changed their mind on their own, which is why there is a great efficacy in this form of education.
The major issues that plague our society have been a part of civilization since the beginning of time and, undoubtedly, will exist as long as the human race does. However, we've advanced in our forms of entertainment and communication and people are realizing what is wrong in the world and slowly but surely making efforts to fix it. Not everyone is there yet, though. And getting them there will take time. Previous generations may think their views are still harmless, but sometimes, hearing them twisted in Eric Cartman's mouth is the prod that gets them on the track to progress.