13 years of South Park

It’s hard to believe that 13 years ago, the filthiest show on television was a stop-motion animated series following the adventures of four precocious third graders in their “quiet, little, white-bread, redneck mountain town.”

It’s hard to believe that 13 years ago, the filthiest show on television was a stop-motion animated series following the adventures of four precocious third graders in their “quiet, little, white-bread, redneck mountain town.”

Even harder to believe, South Park continues to be just about the filthiest show on television, trumping newcomers like Family Guy by raising the bar, or, more appropriately, lowering the bar on smut in television.

The cyclical nature of television dictates that every few years, a show comes along that is a critical success, challenges the conventions of society and is reviled by both the conservative, anti-science value-voters and overprotective, anus-clenching, liberal blue-staters.

The fears of these carelessly defined archetypes fall into two basic categories, both having to do with the perceived repercussions of how their children might react given exposure to such television, film or music.

On the conservative end of things, the primary concern is for depraved, Godless, pre-marital jailbait sex and the terrifying consumption of the devil’s grass. From the liberal point of view, trepidation comes in anxieties of teen violence.

Of course, over time, fears are allayed, as the aforementioned depravity of the smut-peddling programming becomes a part of life. Hell, when The Simpsons first hit the airwaves, my mom, a high school math teacher, was instructed to have anyone wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt sent home.

Now, The Simpsons is practically family programming, a decent reprieve from its dirtier FOX counterpart Family Guy, which, for all intents and purposes, has devolved into one massive in-joke on the part of Seth MacFarlane and his writing staff.

But South Park continues to up the ante. Every time it would seem another show is gaining ground in pushing the envelope, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone push it to the next level with episodes like Season 11’s “More Crap” where Randy Marsh, Stan’s dad, becomes a hometown hero when a particularly massive bowel movement lands him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, only to be challenged by the erstwhile record holder, Bono of U2.

But the brilliance of South Park isn’t the fact that it has managed to stay fresh (or rather, rotten) over the course of 13 seasons, it’s the biting satire and criticism of the absurdities and hypocrisies of our society, including (but certainly not limited to) the aforementioned hypocrites on both ends of the political spectrum.

More often, Parker and Stone level their scopes at the universal idiocy of the general public (us, all of us) as well as our blind incompetence and intensely stubborn natures as we time and time again refuse to learn from our mistakes.

And when I say they are critical of the public, I am not just referring to the abstract public, the sheep-like mass of morons that you feel justified criticizing because you can liberally employ the term “postmodern.”

I’m talking about everyone, “me, you and everyone we know” (thank you Miranda July). But especially you, if you think that you’re somehow exempt, you’re not. You’re probably precisely who the show is making fun of. No one, absolutely no one, is exempt.

Parker and Stone just called us a bunch of idiots, and you know what we’re going to do about it? Laugh hysterically, tune in next week, and make sure that South Park gets renewed for a 14th season.

The icing on the cake that is South Park is the ever-so-timely nature of its stories. See, while other animated television shows are produced over the course of approximately nine months, South Park is produced in a week.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that pop-culture references on shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons seem about a half-year late. It’s because they are, these shows are written months in advance of their airdates and the writing staffs can only very rarely write episodes based around current events such as presidential elections, sometimes having to write multiple endings depending on the outcome of said events.

But a given South Park episode is produced in approximately 100 hours. The show airs on Wednesday nights, and the next episode is begun the following Thursday with a rigorous writing, recording and animation schedule that often has Parker and Stone making their submission deadline by mere hours.

The animation is primarily generated using a variety of character and location templates in a 3D computer generated imaging program that simulates the look and feel of the construction paper cut-outs that were originally used when the pilot was produced using stop-motion animation techniques.

This rigorous schedule allows South Park to be almost as timely as the news, and often more insightful. Perhaps the most recent example of this is an episode entitled “About Last Night …” aired the day after Obama was elected to office of the presidency, Nov. 5, 2008.

The episode is primarily concerned with a jewelry heist where Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin use the cover of celebrating Americans to execute an elaborate theft of the Hope Diamond from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

The episode is critical of everyone. The despondent McCain supporters who believe that Obama’s election will herald the end of the world, reveling Obama supporters who drunkenly engage in riotous behavior, and the candidates themselves who are simply glorified thieves, a label that could easily be applied to just about any politician.

All in all, four episodes into its 13th season, South Park‘s still got it. We’ve already seen scenes where a furious Mickey Mouse beats the shit out of one of the Jonas Brothers, and Cartman take on the mantle of a masked superhero named “The Coon.”

South Park may not be on the radar of cultural watchdogs anymore, but it’s still as filthily hilarious as it ever was. And thanks to the twisted and brilliant minds behind the show, here’s hoping there will be plenty more episodes simultaneously insulting, and appealing to, our intelligence.