Media

Oh My God! They Tried to Steal South Park!

Recent attempts to jazz up the conservative image by claiming that South Park leans right are more than misguided...they're hilarious.
First Lady Laura Bush raised more than a few eyebrows with her cracks about her husband at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April. Suggesting she had become one of those lascivious "Desperate Housewives," Mrs. Bush recalled an evening spent ogling male strippers with Lynne Cheney and Karen Hughes, and joked about the president "milking" a male horse.

Normally, the conservative media goes to Code Orange when confronted with such indecency. Some did express outrage, but they were in the minority. L. Brent Bozell III, the "liberal media" watchdog who usually never passes up an opportunity to wag a disapproving finger at the smut on TV, praised Mrs. Bush's Redd Foxx routine as tongue-in-cheek and "designed to loosen up the stuffy evangelical Christian image" the administration has so carefully cultivated.

Beyond abiding Mrs. Bush's off-color jokes, there seems to be a movement among some conservatives to shed their "stuffy evangelical Christian image" and embrace the edgy, risqué, borderline taboo elements of pop culture that have long been anathema to the Right. Apparently going for broke, they have laid claim to the most offensive television program in history: South Park.

South Park is the crown jewel of Comedy Central, offering viewers the absurd misadventures of four foul-mouthed Colorado fourth-graders, Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick. In recent weeks, the conservative media has lauded a new book by the Manhattan Institute's Brian C. Anderson, South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias. Anderson claims that "conservatives ... are overthrowing the liberal media and political correctness," and at the vanguard of this revolution is South Park, which "has mocked -- with scathing genius -- hate-crime laws and sexual harassment policies, liberal celebrities, abortion-rights extremists, and other shibboleths of the Left."

Anderson is right. South Park has torn into every of these "liberal" issues. He made this abundantly clear by quoting the show at great length and delighting in every slur and four-letter word directed at the Left. After reading Anderson's book, one might think South Park is bankrolled by the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. But far from being a "conservative" or "anti-liberal" phenomenon, South Park is an equal-opportunity offender, tearing apart the absurdities of American politics and culture without an ideological filter.

Conservatism finds no safe harbor in South Park. The Christian right has been a favored target of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In a third-season episode titled "Starvin' Marvin in Space," the titular emaciated Ethiopian boy attempts to relocate his village to an alien planet with the help of the South Park boys and a space ship. Christian missionaries catch wind of the plan and attempt to follow the boys to the planet with the expressed intent of converting the aliens to Christianity. Enter Pat Robertson and The 600 Club (video):
ROBERTSON: Listen to this Susan, one of our missionaries in North Africa has made an amazing discovery! A new planet in the galaxy Alpha-Seti-6 that has intelligent life on it.

SUSAN (Pat's co-host): Amazing!
ROBERTSON: We're not sure what these hyper-intelligent beings look like, but one thing is for sure: they've never heard of Jesus Christ.
SUSAN: What can we do at The 600 Club to help those poor aliens?
ROBERTSON: Well what we need, Susan, is we need money to build an interstellar cruiser. Now, this spaceship will be able to travel through a wormhole and deliver the message and glory of Jesus Christ to those godless aliens. Send your money now. Amen.
South Park has also skewered Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ -- heralded by the Right as an answer to Hollywood's "secular liberalism." The devout Catholic actor-director was portrayed as an off-the-wall lunatic (audio) ("I brought the fire and brimstone back to Christianity with The Passion, and now I'm gonna start my own church! And do you know why? So I can play banjo!") and as a freaky masochist who begs to be tortured. In the same episode, Eric Cartman -- a greedy bigot -- uses The Passion of the Christ's much-ballyhooed anti-Semitic undertones to stoke (video) a Nazi revival, and ends up grounded.



The Bush administration has not escaped ridicule. After Kenny dies in one episode (actually, Kenny dies in nearly every episode) -- Stan, Kyle and Cartman build a ladder to heaven to see their friend again. After the Japanese begin construction of their own "ladder to heaven," the boys' project explodes into a government-backed effort to reach the ethereal plane, and President Bush is warned of a potential threat to American security (see first image):
BUSH: All right, how's the ladder going, General? Are we beating the Japanese?
GENERAL: Not quite, but we have a new problem, Mr. President. Our recon team on the ladder just found new evidence of threats ... from Saddam Hussein.
BUSH: Saddam Hussein!? But we killed him! We secretly took him out months ago!
GENERAL: Yes sir. And now we believe he's building weapons of mass destruction ... in heaven.
BUSH: Dear Christ, that son of a bitch just doesn't stop!
GENERAL: These surveillance photos were taken atop the ladder of what appears to be heaven. Here we see what we believe to be a missile silo. And here we see what looks like a laboratory of some sort for making chemical weapons.
DICK CHENEY: That kind of looks like a seagull.
GENERAL: Yes. It could be a laboratory disguised as a seagull.
BUSH: That tricky bastard!
GENERAL: Sir, you must understand our fears. We must take out those facilities. We must ... bomb heaven!
South Park lambasted the Bush administration and the GOP during the Terri Schiavo controversy. After Kenny suffers yet another unfortunate accident and ends up in a persistent vegetative state, he becomes the focal point in a war between heaven and hell. For Satan, victory requires that Kenny's feeding tube remain inserted (if he dies, Kenny will lead God's armies against Satan). When Satan inquires of his evil servant, Kevin, how he plans to keep Kenny alive, Kevin responds: "I will do what we always do: use the Republicans."



Examples of South Park's conservative mockery abound; targets have included Bill O'Reilly, country music, Mormons (audio), gun nuts (video), Wal-Mart (video), and other conservative shibboleths.

Beyond South Park, Parker and Stone have found other ways to poke fun at the Bush administration. They created a spoof sitcom titled That's My Bush! The show premiered on Comedy Central less than three months after Bush's first inauguration, and lampooned the president as a bumbling father unable to control his own wacky family and staff, let alone a divided nation.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan coined the term "South Park Republicans" and described them as people who "believe we need a hard-ass foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness." Anderson claims he found such people. "Talk to right-leaning college students," he writes, "and it's clear that Sullivan may be on to something." He quotes an Arizona State undergrad who describes what being a South Park conservative entails: "The label is really about rejecting the image of conservatives as uptight squares -- crusty old men or nerdy kids in blue blazers. We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends, have sex before marriage, watch R-rated movies, cuss like sailors -- and also happen to be conservative, or at least libertarian."

Forgive the skepticism, but finding college students who drink, smoke, fornicate, and watch Quentin Tarantino films is like finding sand on the beach.

Not all conservatives are onboard with South Park conservatism. Pundit Michelle Malkin was upset that Anderson's book featured her name on the jacket cover. She also disagreed with Anderson's South Park thesis, writing: "I find that the characters' foul language overwhelms any entertainment I might otherwise derive from the show's occasional, right-leaning iconoclastic themes. 'South Park' may be 'politically incorrect.' But 'politically incorrect' is not always a synonym for 'conservative.'"

It is understandable why Anderson wants to raise the conservative flag atop South Park. Conservatives have rarely been accused of being "hip," and the foul language and nihilistic "everyone and everything is ridiculous" attitude of South Park are extremely popular among the young folks. But South Park stubbornly defies ideological characterization; as much as Anderson clearly wants the show to be right-of-center, it just isn't.
Simon S. Maloy is a writer and researcher for Media Matters for America.
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