Thursday 25 December 2014

How Kenny survived 10 years of South Park

Published 10/11/2006 | 00:11

"This is bad taste. Steve Irwin's family is still grieving. To lampoon somebody's death like this is unacceptable."

- John Meyer, Mediawatch UK

"How are they going to explain this to Steve's daughter, Bindi?"

- 'Daily Telegraph', Australia

The incident they were talking about was South Park's latest brush with controversy, which features the newly dead Steve Irwin - stingray barb still stuck in his chest - being kicked out of a fancy-dress party in Hell for not wearing a costume.

As with many of South Park's finest moments, the people quickest to condemn the show hadn't actually seen it - the clip is available on youtube.com and is both funny and touching. Satan, thinking it's someone in a Steve Irwin costume, simply says: "Dude, that's not cool, it's still too soon, you know?"

But it does prove, as the show currently celebrates its 10th anniversary, that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have lost none of their sense of the outrageous.

When South Park first appeared, it was touted as the anti- Simpsons. Cheap animation, a clunky theme tune which sounded like it was a recorded in someone's bedroom, a child called Eric Cartman who remains quite possibly the single most hideous television creation of the decade, and a strange habit of killing Kenny in every episode, initially confused critics.

Now, a decade on, the animation is just as poor, Cartman is even more psychotic and Kenny, the trailer trash hoody with a killer line in muffled obscenities, is still bumped off in most episodes, although the once outraged cry of his friends - "Oh my God, they killed Kenny! You bastards!" - is now delivered in a deliberately bored way.

While psychotic children and gratuitous obscenity should be enough for any programme, what makes South Park truly great - it is arguably the finest television comedy of its era - is the savage mix of politics and humour.

The closest relations to South Park are Chris Morris and Sacha Baron Cohen. Morris, the man behind Brass Eye and Jam, and Baron Cohen, of Ali G and Borat fame, both make extremely funny television largely because they are also angry a lot of the time - and that's something that can certainly be said about Parker and Stone.

It's hard to think of any significant religious, political or social movement which hasn't been outraged by the programme at one point or another. In 'The Passion Of The Jew', for instance, Mel Gibson was portrayed as an insane coprophiliac whose film inspired the people of South Park to launch a pogrom against the local Jewish community, who were in turn portrayed as humourless and dull.

The liberal Hollywood elite - who were to be further lambasted in Parker and Stone's fantastic Team America: World Police - are a common target treated with no mercy. Sean Penn is perhaps the most famous target of their ire, while former friend George Clooney was also a target in the episode 'Smug Alert'.

The pair are declared Libertarians and Stone once admitted: "I hate conservatives, but I really f***ing hate liberals." There is even an emerging movement in America called South Park Republicans, who are liberal on social issues like gay rights and the legalisation of drugs, but take a more conservative view on issues such as foreign policy.

But it's their brushes with religious sensibilities which remain their most discussed episodes.

In December 2005, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights protested the season finale episode, 'Bloody Mary', for its depiction of a statue of the Virgin Mary bleeding from her rectum.

Again, people missed the point. The target of the show was actually the myth that alcoholism is a disease which could be cured by a Virgin miracle, as opposed to a personal weakness and lack of discipline.

Parker and Stone accused their own network, Comedy Central, of "pussing out" when they pixelated an image of Mohammed in the episode 'Cartoon Wars' and pulled their infamous 'Trapped In The Closet' episode - which saw Tom Cruise retreat to a closet and refuse to come out - mercilessly lampoon the cult of Scientology.

Cruise was so furious, it is alleged, he threatened to pull out of promotional work for Mission Impossible 3 if Comedy Central, owned by the same studio which made MI:3, aired the episode. They pulled it.

Parker and Stone replied to the temporary cancellation, issuing a statement which read: "So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu."

When Isaac Hayes, the Scientologist who played Chef, resigned in protest, they simply made an episode where Chef had been brainwashed by a cult of child abusers.

Offensive, obnoxious, politically incorrect and wildly funny.

Long may they last.

Ian O'Doherty

South Park quotes

Cartman: See, you don't understand what Mel Gibson was trying to do. He was trying to express, through cinema, the horror and filthiness of the common Jew. It has made people the world over open their eyes.

Mr Garrison: Genetic engineering is a way to fix God's horrible mistakes, like German people.

Stan: Asian culture has plagued our fragile earth for many years. We must end it.

Geraldo Rivera: Obesity. Adiposity. Corpulence. Whatever word you use, it represents one thing: being a big fatass.

To OJ Simpson: You got away with murder, you stinking scumbag liar!

To JonBenet Ramsay's parents: You know goddamn well what happened to your kid so stop playing the victim and just confess, you lying murdering liars.

To Gary Condit: Liar! You're a liar! You know something you're not telling us, you slimy scumbag liar!

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