This blog post is pretty much a copy-paste of a response I wrote to a friend of mine on an article he put out on one of my favorite online publications on the Internet – The Escapist – last Friday. Bob Chipman, better known as “MovieBob”, posted an article about South Park in a weekly column he writes for them called “Intermission”. Before reading my response, please read his article here.
To be sure, I am neither an avid South Park fanboy worshiper nor an individual who scoffs, screams, and puts on a pair of Turtle Beach headphones whenever I hear mentioning of the word “privilege”. And MovieBob is a friend. We disagree on a great many things and have very different outlooks on the state of politics. We occasionally discuss them at length, but he is a good man that I think more people should try and get to know personally. I respect his intellect and I admire his tenacity as a worldly, knowledgeable, and shrewd individual. So please understand, that this is not some kind of knee-jerk reaction.
Now as to the article…
First of all, the baby analogy kneecaps the entire argument before it can make the point that he clearly wanted to make. I get who the big guy is, but who’s the baby supposed to represent? Gloria Allred? Feminists? Gays? Racial Minorities? Progressives? Women in general? All of the above? The fact that he considers these groups to be analogous to a helpless infant indicates a troublesome paternalistic assumptive attitude behind the logic already. I’m not going to make the argument that these are conversely over-privileged groups taking over the world (that would be stupid). But I will argue that he does such groups (and the people within them) absolutely no favors in arguing that they are either infallible or unworthy of mockery simply because they are striving towards an end that he agrees with. That, in and of itself, is a knee-jerk reaction that bears dangerous implications. Even if we factor in privilege percentages, the people that make up these movements are not babies. Treating them as if they are does more to hinder their efforts than any joke South Park could ever make. Lacking in privilege does not make people infallible or not subject to criticism pertaining to their goals, methods, or reasoning. The logic of analogizing the struggles of an oppressed group to the innocence of a baby as a means to criticize Trey Parker & Matt Stone for their conduct on the show leads to the conclusion that certain people need to be patronized and placed on a pedestal that is removed from comedy (literally treating arbitrarily classified people differently based upon their classifications and nothing else). What’s lost in this is that we forget to treat them as actual people and individuals. It dehumanizes people into groups that we must, well…baby.
That leads into the other problem – this argument about South Park‘s antics of berating “both” sides utterly misses the point of what Parker & Stone do. Comedy as an art always comes at the expense of someone and jokes about the people with the most “privilege” eventually get old. Comedy, if done well, is the great equalizer. It gets us all to laugh at ourselves, our values, our ways, our logic, our behavior, etc. And even comedy that is more viciously aimed at certain individuals, even ones that are fighting very real battles against marginalization by the law or society, can (again – if done right) ultimately legitimize and even elevate their plight. The great legends of comedy didn’t just make millions of people laugh. They brought people together through their comedy.
Do I think that Parker & Stone are on the level of those greats like Carlin, Pryor, Cosby, or Bruce? Of course not. But even by Bob’s own admission, South Park is an uproariously funny comedy series. Callous and perhaps even entitled as you may see them (and indeed – that’s the bone Sean Penn had to pick with them), they make great comedy but they aren’t trying to say anything beyond the scope of thinking that the whole world is too serious and all sides are silly. Now you can oppose that viewpoint and make an argument for why you think that to adhere to such is to embrace the status quo. But it is silly to begrudge a comedian – even a ubiquitous one – for not making the same stand that you are on an issue you think is important and want him/her to also think important. And it’s even sillier to demand that such comedian refrain from making fun of a group you sympathize with because doing so may derail that group’s efforts even slightly and unwittingly affect something bigger. In Bob’s own words, sometimes funny is just funny. Good comedy is comedy first and everything else second. It’s the same reason why I, as a conservative, do not begrudge Jon Stewart for his left-wing idiocies. He’s still funny, so it works, even when he’s wrong.
I realize that my response, when reduced to its bare bones, comes down to: “Dude…they’re comedians. Chill out.” But the argument presented in the article is a needless and misguided internalization of Bob’s larger beliefs about social movements, political agendas, and “privilege”. And they simply do not apply to a show like South Park.