South Park vs. The Simpsons, a debate that has raged since the former hit the air and shocked TV audiences in 1997. The Simpsons was an innovative, hilarious show that paved the way for series like South Park and Family Guy. However, The Simpsons came on the air in December 1989, the month Ice Cube left NWA, when George HW Bush was president. The show's best years are behind it. South Park, on the other hand, continues to stay fresh, entertaining and even stunning audiences more than two decades after its debut. If it's true South Park is more relevant than The Simpsons, the next question is, relevant to what, and why?
Regarding relevance, the context here is social and political. The Simpsons is, by design, a show that largely stays away from addressing real political events or social movements as a means of creating an abstract and allegorical parallel world, in which the human condition can be lampooned in an absurd, but also grounded and emotionally complex, way. The show is an existential satire of society and history. South Park is a beast of a very different nature.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have written, produced, and voiced each episode of the show. Their goal is to keep material as irreverent and fresh as possible by maintaining the voice and vision conceived of at the idea's inception. Stone and Parker are willing to attack any celebrity, cause, group, and religious institution. The show's animation may be crude (for years, it was made with paper cutouts), but because episodes of South Park only take six days to produce, Stone and Parker can comment on current events and trending pop culture news.
It may seem blasphemous to create a list of reasons why South Park is better than The Simpsons (assuming your metric for "better" is based solely on political and pop cultural relevance), but the animation war is real. Vote up all the reasons why you believe South Park is more culturally relevant than The Simpsons.
Here's the deal: it takes months to produce episodes of The Simpsons, which are created on a traditional TV schedule - the writer's room meets to break story, episodes are drafted, re-written, then submitted for table reads. Actors record their dialogue, the dialogue is matched to a storyboard created in LA, then everything is shipped to South Korea, where an animation studio called Akom, based in Seoul, draws the episode. The animation comes back to LA for editing. Multiple episodes are in production simultaneously at any given point during this process.
South Park is a far less traditional show, for several reasons, and its atypical production schedule allows its creators to keep pace with the news cycle. Parker and Stone can pump out an episode in six days, in part because they write as they go, rather than writing every episode at once. And, because the animation is much cruder than that of The Simpsons, and easy to do very quickly on computers, episodes can be churned out quickly.
Take, for example, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. South Park used pieces of his victory speech in an episode aired just 24 hours later.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone still write, produce, direct, and voice every episode of South Park. The Simpsons has had more than 100 different writers, several producers, and a team of voice actors throughout the years (although it maintains a creative brain trust headed by James L Brooks and Matt Groening, who have been with the show since its inception). One of the reasons why South Park has been so consistently relevant and entertaining is the quality of writing.
Parker and Stone know their characters in and out, and understand the tone of the show (since, duh, they created it). They also understand what makes the show so successful. Their hands on involvement in every single episodes helps maintain a consistency unlike that of any comedy other than Always Sunny.
The Simpsons certainly has its share of pop cultural and public figure satire, but the humor is typically absurd, bizarre, or gently mocking. South Park, on the other hand, gets downright nasty. If you prefer your humor as bleak, nihilistic, and relentless, and have no time for The Simpsons' flirtations with dadaism and psychedelia, South Park is most definitely the show for you.
The Simpsons often centers its narratives around characters and their relationships to one another. Homer Simpson may be a buffoon, but he is a loving father and husband, who would do anything for his family. You won't find any such tenderness or sweetness on South Park.
Parker and Stone like to aim for the jugular. No celebrity is safe from South Park satire, even ones that are generally well-liked by the public, such as Katie Couric. In South Park measurements, two and half pounds of human feces is one Couric, making it the official unit of measurement for poop on the show.
The Simpsons gears itself towards the leftist crowd; it is a show created by intellectual liberals, and while it has an undercurrent of nihilism that nicely undermines what might otherwise being the rank mediocrity of neoliberalism, it most certainly comes from a distinct political position.
The creators of South Park have made a point of avoiding political labels; they hate everyone equally. Trey Parker explained, "We find just as many things to rip on the left as we do on the right. People on the far-left and the far-right are the same exact person to us."
South Park's goal is not to mock beliefs but the believers, people who think their way is the only way to see the world. The show remains relevant because it doesn't adhere to a political agenda. For example, Barbra Streisand was ridiculed during an episode of South Park in which the kids have to confront the singer's ego before she turns into a monster and tries to conquer the world.
Parker and Stone went after Streisand because she said in the press that she would stop using her vacation home in Colorado if the state passed anti-gay legislation. The creators wanted to assert their belief that no one really cares what Streisand thinks, and the people of Colorado do not care if she visits their state or not.
Stone and Parker are advocates for gay rights. Though typically mum on their political beliefs, Stone told the Guardian:
“We’re from Colorado, and look at the way Colorado’s gone politically in the last few elections, it’s now gay-friendly, weed-friendly, gun-friendly. There’s an element of Colorado that I think is in us.”
Even though they agree with Streisand on this particular political issue, Stone and Parker choose to mock celebrities who think their beliefs are more important than anyone else, or that their declarations carrying any meaning the political process.