What do Mormons think of South Park?
"South Park": Criticism of religion at its best
Should a Christian magazine report on a program that has become famous for breaking taboos, fecal language and insults? There are more important and more substantial things to deal with, some might object. In the case of “South Park”, however, there are several reasons to take a closer look.
When the 21st season of the cult series about the primary school students Eric, Stan, Kyle and Kenny started in the USA on Wednesday, the 20th year began for the series - no longer a matter of course in a television landscape that is becoming more and more fast-paced. In 1997 Trey Parker and Matt Stone started the animation series on Comedy Central with mediocre characters and poor animation. The visual style of the series has remained similar even in the HD age. Although children are mostly the protagonists, “South Park” is anything but suitable for children. The series features social satire in its sharpest, biting and ruthless form. It goes without saying that it's always about Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Especially in the early seasons of "South Park" there were regular guest appearances of "Jesus" - a caricature of the biblical figure who sometimes shoots around or hosts a concert with Rod Stewart. These scenes are usually very flat and can be perceived as hurtful by believing Christians. The fact that "South Park" can also hold up a mirror to the Christian subculture in America is proven by episodes such as "Christians rock fat". The clique founds an unsuccessful garage band when the main character Eric comes up with the idea of founding a Christian group. “This is the easiest, most stupid music in the world,” he explains to his perplexed friends. "The church has over 180 million listeners if each of them only buys one record for 12.95 ..." No sooner said than done. Eric takes shallow pop songs, replaces words like “Baby” or “Darling” with “Jesus”, and at the “Christfest” in the stadium, thousands of Christians with their eyes closed and arms raised to the beat.
In the last 20 years, some criticism of religion has entered the annals of the series - here is a selection without any claim to completeness:
Catholicism: In the episode "Only physical love in the Vatican", the Catholic pastor of South Park wants to take action against the abuse cases of the Catholic Church. He travels to the Vatican, where no one in a large gathering is outraged about the abuse cases - but about the fact that these are now coming to light. In fact, at the end of the episode there is a very balanced, faith-affirming message, and in another storyline, militant atheists are ridiculed.
Scientology: The sect was a topic on "South Park" several times. The episode “Cabinet Whispers”, in which Stan joined Scientology, caused a sensation. In a science fiction clip, the episode explains bitterly what Scientologists believe. Voice actor Isaac Hayes terminated his contract as he is a Scientologist himself. Well-known Scientologists John Travolta and Tom Cruise also appear in the course of the plot. A broadcaster in Great Britain did not want to broadcast the episode because it was feared that Cruise would bring a lawsuit: the episode implied that he was homosexual.
Mormonism: A particularly large, happy, and friendly family moves to South Park in Mormons Make Up. A subplot explains the origins of Mormonism around the biography of the founder, Joseph Smith. During these scenes a choir sings tellingly "Dumm Dumm Dumm Dumm Dumm".
Judaism: In “Circumcised Boy Scouts”, Kyle and Kenny take part in a Jewish boy scout camp that obviously alludes to the Christian “Boy Scouts”. There is a little discussion among the supervisors who represent different branches of Judaism. Eventually, Moses appears as a kind of hologram and asks for candy.
Islam: The 200th and 201st episodes of “South Park” deal with the taboo on showing the Prophet Mohammed. In order to explore the limits of the Islamic ban on images, the makers had Mohammed appear in a bear costume. The broadcaster pixelated the figure anyway - and has not yet shown the episodes in its online media library. In the US state of Virginia a Muslim was arrested who threatened the "South Park" team with death.
Evangelical satire until it hurts
Admittedly, “South Park” is often gross nonsense. Again and again, the creators succeed in satire at its best. In the episode "The Ring", Kenny has a girlfriend, and both wear so-called purity rings, rings that symbolize a vow of chastity until marriage and that are sometimes worn by evangelical Christians in the USA. The two lovers go to a concert by the Christian boy band "Jonas Brothers". The attractive musicians promote belief and the wearing of chastity rings and sing: "I wear a ring that reminds me that I have to behave". In the course of the plot it is revealed that they do not do this voluntarily. The Disney group, with which the band is under contract, forces them to do so for image reasons. "You have to wear these rings because that's how we can sell sex to young girls," explains the Disney boss, portrayed by a violent Mickey Mouse. Christians too are too stupid to notice. "I made billions from Christian ignorance," shouts Mickey Mouse. The episode targets the evangelical culture of America so ingeniously that even Christians who share the values parodied here can laugh and take off their hats.
Did the series pave the way for Trump?
One of the strengths of "South Park" is that the series never takes sides. Everyone is dragged through the cocoa here: believers and atheists, Democrats and Republicans, countless films, series and celebrities from the past two decades. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Bush, even Angela Merkel turned up in the small town of South Park in the US state of Colorado.
In its 21st year, “South Park” has to stay relevant in a world where satire has partly become a reality. At the end of 2016, Trey Parker declared that he would give up jokes about Donald Trump for the time being and become less political again - it was too difficult to keep up with the craziness of reality.
For left-liberal media critics in the US, this is of course not enough. In recent seasons, "South Park" massively criticized the culture of political correctness, in which it is, for example, a duty to praise Caitlyn Jenner as beautiful and courageous after her gender reassignment. So-called safe spaces for sensitive students at universities, university toilets, the constant suspicion that someone is racist or homophobic - “South Park” does not shy away from criticism of these signs of the times. Trey Parker and Matt Stone consider themselves part of the libertarian camp and declare that they reject left and right alike. So much nihilism - “I don't like both sides” - cannot be allowed, some complain, because after all, there is a right side to many political questions.
The gay and Catholic journalist Andrew Sullivan, who says he has long been inclined to the Republicans, coined the term "South Park Republicans" in 2001: young people who support low taxes and legal gun ownership, like the Republicans, but at the same time gay marriage and Want to legalize smoking weed, like many Democrats. The word creation shows that “South Park” as a pop culture phenomenon of one of the two big parties in the USA speaks by mouth or even creates a boost is not given.
“South Park” has broken many a taboo in 20 years, which makes even die-hard viewers drop their jaws. Much of it is hurtful to Christians, but also to dozens of other groups. Shock and provocation are questionable as stylistic devices. One thing, however, has to be left to the makers: Sometimes they succeed in criticizing church and religion terrifyingly. Sometimes it is also worthwhile for Christians to look at how they are perceived from the outside. (Per)
Almost all episodes of “South Park” are available for legal and free streaming on southpark.de. Season 21 starts on September 13th in the USA, one day later in Germany on Comedy Central.
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