South Park – Language and Censorship


*VHS inserted into player* [Intro Music] South Park has come a long way since its days of construction paper and Elmer’s glue. And over the years, we’ve been able to see its growth from the profane to the profound. This is Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, as well as the two animated short films that preceded it. Both titled, “The Spirit of Christmas.” The first, in 1992, featured four boys witnessing a fight between Frosty The Snowman and an infant Jesus. And the second, in ’95, featured a fully grown Jesus. This time battling Santa Claus. A video that became one of their earliest pre-YouTube viral hits, after being passed around Hollywood by formed Fox executive, Bryan Graden, who’d originally commissioned the video as a Christmas card. And with the success with “The Sprit of Christmas,” they were able to secure a six episode series deal with Comedy Central, a dying network mostly known for showing reruns of “The Benny Hill Show,” and “Absolutely Fabulous.” South Park was a foundational part in making it the basic cable giant it is today. Debuting on August 13, 1997, with the episode “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.” The only episode to be made with the stop motion cut out techniques of those first two short films. The rest of the series was done in Maya using 3D animation, with the original construction paper textures scanned in and plastered on the models. It gave the series its signature style, setting it apart from its contemporaries, like “The Simpsons,” or “Family Guy.” It made its perceived cheapness a virtue, and they didn’t just create a show, they reworked the entire animation process, putting a system into place that would allow them to produce content hours after it was written. With an average turn around time of just six days, keeping the content fresh and topical. A time capsule of the current week. And while most satire pretty heavily focuses on just one side of an issue, South Park tends to criticize every angle. Matt and Trey see the world for what it is, and present it as such. They don’t take sides and they have no agenda, but honesty and humor. They don’t just target conservatives, they go after liberals and liberal positions. Left, right and everything in-between. T. Parker: “What we’ve always said and I think what we said with the show is not anything new, but i think it is something that is great, put out there, which is, you know, The people screaming on this side and the people screaming on that side are the same people, and it’s okay to be someone in the middle laughing at both of ’em.” South Park set out to dismantle any symbol of self importance. It isn’t escapism. It rubs out noses in the ugliness of our world… …while simplifying current events into a less complicated, more easily understood format. And viewed through the lense of these four kids, made it more relatable to younger audiences, but South Park debuted just as the newly formed TV parental guidelines went into effect. The series being the first to earn the TV MA rating (mature audiences) by the FCC. And people typically like to point fingers at the FCC when the topic of censorship comes up, particularly with South Park. But the FCC’s authorizing legislation doesn’t allow to regulate subscription-based content, that include cables, satellite and Pay- per-view services. Those are all self-regulated under their own standards and practices department which is why the rules are so vague and varied between networks. Standards and practices only censored when pressured by advertisers. You’re less likely to secure an ad spot from Mc Donald’s when your content is labeled with profanity which is also the basis for the de-monetization rule here on YouTube. Advertisers tipically operate under the assumption that family-friendly content is the biggest revenue source but that’s not always the case. In fact, ad space on South Park has always been some of the network most valuable. In the spring of ’97, Comedy Central’s highest selling ad-spot went from just seventy-five hundred dollars and after only a few months South Park being on the air, those prime-time slots skyrocketed to the thirty thousands and more; although in the 90’s and early 2000’s, a lot of the material was only suggestive. Matt and Tray were masters of planting a joke in your head “Okay and now for your enjoyment here is my famous ping pong ball trick!” and then, subverting it with a non-joke. “There! I didn’t miss one!” These days the vulgarities are a little bit more… blunt. T. Parker: “If you go and look at Season 2 or Season 1, and it’s so tame It’s like “Yo-Gabba-Gabba” by comparison to what we do now.” And even though the material was significantly tamer in those early seasons, it still pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on television quite a bit. Take a look at the word “pussy” Prof. Mackey: “Now, I know that some of you think this is very funny… words like penis and vagina. We’re gonna get through this by being mature and grown-up, m’kay?” People often credit Amy Schumer for getting the word pussy uncensored on Comedy Central but South Park was airing pussy in Central all the way back in 1998 with the episode “Gnomes.” Cartman: “Yeah he called me a pussy! I’m not a pussy! You’re a pussy!” “You’re a pussy, pussy!” Or in 2001 with “Here comes the neighborhood” And now we hear 50 year old ladies say it on CNN because it’s topical. “Today we saw him boasting, laughing about grabbing a woman’s pussy…” Our cultural sensitivities to language have evolved. There are been a lot of swear-words related innovations over the years and South Park has really blazed the trail for social acceptability and obscene content like with the episode “It hits the fan” which serves as a great lesson on the diminishing return of empty profanity by having the characters speak and write the word “shit” nearly 200 times, stripping it of its potency. In the episode you can really see the fluctuation in the severity of swearing all the time starting with Kyle saying: “Goddamit Cartman! What they’re gonna say on cock drama?” “Goddamn” being one of television biggest taboo just a few decades ago Cartman: “Tonight on cock-drama, on TV they’re gonna say shit.” Shit being the center piece of the episode as well as a word unable to be broadcast uncensored before 1999. Just two years before this episode aired. And it’s closed down with the censored: “Holy [fucking] shit” It’s interesting to see where we are now in terms of language intolerance and how far we still have to go. South Park is not only the most aware but also, one of the most important shows on television. It really matures its audience through its own immaturity, hoping to desensitize the mainstream, the vulgarity. A common criticism of South Park lately is that it’s lost its edge. Yet, two weeks ago we saw a classroom of ten year-old boys pull out their dicks and protest on basic cable and it wasn’t a big deal. South Park hasn’t softened, we as a society has just grown up. In 1952, Lucille Ball was prohibited from using the word pregnant on television because it was considered “indecent” and now, look where we got. Our standards for what’s offensive has radically changed and maybe sometime in the future, we will do away with it altogether. As you can see here, the number of FCC complains of the past decade and a half has decreased quite a bit. That brief uptick in 2004 was the Janet Jackson’s nipple incident broadcast during a Super Bowl. And with South Park, there’s definitely more leniency on visual obscenities than verbal ones. For example, in the episode “Where Has My Country Gone?” where the Canadian Donald Drumpf-equivalent is shown being fucked to death by Mr. Garrison but when the actor’s referred to, by the Canadians, “Hey, did you hear the news, buddy?! The Canadian Prime Minister has been f***ed to death.” is bleeped. And that has a lot to do with the crudeness of the animation and the uncanny valley. South Park really just wants to step a move from stick figures so they’re able to get away with a lot more. Depictions of sexual acts involving construction paper is pretty far removed from the actual thing but the word “FUCK” is the same across the board. But these words are only bad because we let them be. Censorship is really just preserving the negativity of language. The word “pregnancy” being deemed to vulgar to air, in retrospect seems goofy and backwards as hell but it didn’t at the time. And think how we’ll look back at the word “CUNT” or “DICK”. Censorship does not protect children. As a former child myself, I can tell you that awareness overpowers ignorance. Know about something without knowing what it’s and you’ll be more compelled to investigate. Censorship won’t keep a child from swearing. It only make them more curious, which is the entire foundation of the show. A perfect metaphor for what happens to children when their language is restricted. Claiming that words by themselves somehow corrupt or degrade the people that use them, it’s not only ridiculous but it’s also what gives shows like South Park, a platform to be offensive by pushing those artificial boundaries. With no boundaries, there’s not one to offend but that will probably make life a lot more boring and a lot less funny. So I guess what that means dealing with censored “fucks” on television for the next decade or so, it’s probably worth it to see just how far South Park can push the envelope within those limits. Cartman: “So please, everyone, for now on you got to try and watch your language.” “Go fuck yourself!”

3 Replies to “South Park – Language and Censorship

  1. Worst seasons that ruined South Park for me (I broke my TV because of an episode) season 15 – 20 (20 is too political) At least E5S22 Is good. The Soots is the only good Kenny episode that isn't disturbing. Kenny deaths are going a bit too far. (Apart from the scoots) The show is dying and becoming complete bullshit. Death by a tornado wouldn't have caused me to blow up my TV with TNT in the first place. Am I the only 1 that hates season 15? Like if you do.

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