I have never watched "South Park." In fact, I wrote it off as a politically incorrect and offensive television show. However, this past week, when the 19th season opener aired, I received texts from numerous friends that the episode reminded them of me and that I had to watch it. I asked if I would be offended by it and they told me probably, but that I should still give it a chance. For those of you who have never seen the show, just like me a week ago, it is set in an elementary school in a small Coloradan town and follows four young boys: Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick. The episode titled "Stunning and Brave" revolved around political correctness and those who take it to an extreme. I pride myself upon being politically correct. I am outspoken about my belief that there are certain words and phrases that should not be used, because they may be triggering or offensive to certain groups. And while there are undoubtedly times I mess up or there are issues on which I am not yet educated, I constantly work towards using non-offensive language and understanding concepts of privileged and minority groups in today's society.
I sat down to watch my first episode of "South Park" and was instantly offended by numerous lines, the first being a Bill Cosby rape joke. I continued to watch. The show introduces a new character, Politically Correct Principal or otherwise known as P.C. Principal. He starts out a speech to the school by saying, "I don't know about you, but frankly I'm sick and tired of how minority groups are marginalized in today's society." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. P.C. Principal is a hyper-masculine and intense character, which is not typically the poster child for political correctness. I was pleasantly surprised, since a nagging and uptight woman would typically be chosen to represent this role. I appreciate that the show did not want to perpetuate that stereotype and instead gave political correctness the perhaps unexpected persona of a loud and passionate fraternity brother with the intention of helping minority groups.
"South Park" On Caitlyn Jenner
The P.C. Principal calls Kyle, one of the main characters of the show, into his office to punish him for saying, "I don't think Caitlyn Jenner is a hero." The principal tells him, "This kind of transphobic and bigoted hate speech isn't gonna fly here, bro." The father of the boy then misspeaks and calls Caitlyn "Bruce," which causes P.C. Principal to scream expletives in their direction. Kyle receives two weeks of detention for the comment. While I do not agree with hate speech, in America we have a right to freedom of speech. Later on in the show, Kyle shares, "I'm not going to apologize for saying Caitlyn Jenner isn't a hero. In fact, personally, I think she's most likely not a very good person." His best friend Stan tries to reason with him by saying, "Look, Kyle, maybe you should just say Caitlyn Jenner is a hero." To which he replies, "I didn't even say she wasn't a hero. I just said she isn't a hero to me. I didn't like Bruce Jenner as a person when he was on the Kardashians, and I don't suddenly like him now." In my opinion, this is a totally valid and acceptable statement. Kyle is not trying to speak for everyone, he is not saying that Caitlyn Jenner isn't brave. He is simply saying that he personally doesn't look up to her as one of his own heroes. I laughed at "South Park"'s representation of political correctness, because I'm sure that someone out there has been enraged over someone else saying they don't personally look up to Caitlyn Jenner. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and Kyle had no intentions of hurting Caitlyn Jenner or spreading a transphobic message. He simply doesn't like her as a person. Everyone has celebrities whom they do not like or don't look up to. While his words weren't that of positivity, it is not possible for every single person to like everyone else on this planet. It is just important to remember the difference between simply not liking someone and spreading negativity about that person.
"South Park" On Racism and Sexism
At one point, another character, Eric, uses the term "capisce" while talking to P.C. Principal to which P.C. responds, "You're associating Italian Americans with intimidation tactics? You better watch your microagressions bro." During the same conversation Eric says, "You don't want to end up like the spokesman for Subway," and the PC Principal replies, "Did you just use a term that excludes women from an occupation? Did you just say spokesman instead of spokesperson when women are just as capable of selling sandwiches as anyone? Are you purposefully trying to use words which assert your male privilege? Do you think Italian Americans and women are less important? You dare use words that alienate two communities of people who have to deal with verbal biases like yours on a daily basis." P.C. Principal says this to Eric all while viciously beating him up. Both of the phrases Eric used represent a larger problem in our society in which women and ethnic minorities are stereotyped, discriminated against, and seen as being of lesser value regularly. It is true that those minority groups face issues that a person in a privileged group probably would not understand. However, it does not mean that Eric is racist or sexist because he said those things. It could simply mean he's uneducated about the seriousness of these issues or doesn't realize the power words can have. Simple things like it being the norm to say, "You guys," to a group of men and women while it would not be acceptable to say, "You girls," to a coed group are small things that go unnoticed in society, but which point to the very real problem of sexism prevalent in society. I personally would not be offended by the things Eric said and I do not believe he is biggest force or cause of what is wrong with our sexist and racist society. He is simply a part of a society which has deep roots of sexism and racism. People who are outrightly racist and sexist are more so the problem, but even they should not be dealt with by anger. Education from a young age about these issues is key. I believe in political correctness, but there is a point where it is taken too far and it is no longer helping the problem.
What It Means To Be P.C.
Stan's father joined the P.C. fraternity and told his wife, "I joined a social awareness group. It's a coalition that discourages the use of words that have negative or offensive connotations to grant respect to people who are victims of unfair stereotypes. We've been getting away with horrible things, Sharon. Having laughs at less privileged people and thinking it was harmless. Our group is trying to be a civilizing influence where we discuss and have meetings to better define and reinforce tolerance and acceptance of all groups of people." I completely agree with this statement and it would be a club in which I would be glad to take part. I do not believe the show is making fun of the concept of this club, but instead the people who take it too far. "South Park" does an good job of showing benefits which can come out of a club like this. The people who go to the extreme with political correctness no longer help and actually make the problem worse by perpetuating the view that it is grounded in overreactions, rather than passionate fights for a cause that matters. The dad went on to explain to his son, "Stan, straight white males in a capitalistic society have little understanding of victimization compared to injustices against underprivileged." There are still people out there who do not believe that racism or sexism are
valid and constant problems for minority groups. Therefore, it is important for people to educate themselves on this fact to begin to understand the true problem. At the other end, it is vital that supporters of political correctness allow their solutions to be more than extreme anger, and instead utilize that passion to expand understanding of the importance of the fight for equality.
The four young boys fight against P.C. Principal, because they believe he is too extreme. They want him to leave their elementary school so they can go back to their politically incorrect ways. In the end though, they must accept that he is going to be here to stay, as well as political correctness. Eric shares with his friends that it won't be so terrible having P.C. Principal around when he says, "At least we showed him that sometimes joking about un-P.C. things can actually be important because it starts a dialogue." So yes, "South Park" is offensive. Yes, I am offended by some of their jokes. However, I believe the writers have positive intentions with their writing for this show. "South Park" uses current popular culture to spread awareness about social issues. While I have only seen one episode, I think it is a progressive show with smart humor that is working towards making change and educating people. Whether you find it progressive or offensive, "South Park" is undoubtedly breaking down barriers and starting dialogues about many issues in today's society.