Not enough people appreciate South Park. Your parents think it’s nothing more than a stupid show filled with crude humor, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, there is no shortage of episodes that are just crass for the sake of being crass, but that does not define the show. South Park is a nuanced and complex examination of society. The best South Park episodes are the ones that take a microscope to humanity and expose it in an accurate and visceral manner.
South Park is perhaps the most controversial show of its time. Controversy breeds discourse, which is something any healthy society needs. This list is an assessment of some of the best South Park satire on record. Here are the most notable times South Park nailed societal issues to a T and presented a real point. Vote up the best examples of when South Park spoke truth.
Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack in 1990 that cut off oxygen to her brain and left her comatose. She had severe brain damage. After two months of unsuccessful rehab, she was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, which she remained in for 15 years until her death on March 31, 2005. One day before her passing, South Park aired the episode "Best Friends Forever," commenting on her case and the media circus surrounding it.
In this episode, Kenny is struck by an ice cream truck and left in a vegetative state. Thus begins the battle for Kenny's right to live versus his right to die. Cartman takes the latter side, trying to get Kenny's feeding tube pulled so he'll die. Stan, Kyle, and Kenny's parents argue that Kenny has a right to live, fighting to keep the feeding tube in place. What ensues is a media frenzy sparking a national debate and outrage, bringing protesters from both sides into Kenny's very hospital room as the two sides publicly war. At the height of the fervor, Kenny's attorney finally finds Kenny's will and reads his wishes about the possibility of being in a vegetative state: "Please, for the love of God, don't ever show me in that condition on national television." This is the heart of the issue surrounding Terri Schiavo.
In 1998, Schiavo's husband petitioned to have her feeding tube removed, opposed by Terri's parents. For seven years, the case was fought in the public eye until the original ruling of Schiavo's 'right-to-die' was upheld and her feeding tube was removed in March 2005. At the conclusion of "Best Friends Forever," Kyle realizes that his side was wrong for the right reasons, while Cartman was right for the wrong reasons. However, perhaps even more poignant is the realization that Kenny (the analog for Terri Schiavo) had a right to privacy that had been violated by virtually every party involved, including the national media and the nation itself.
First, it must be said that the Church of Scientology is litigious. However, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone held no such reservations when they wrote “Trapped in the Closet,” arguing that Scientology masquerades as a religion, but is really nothing more than a money-making scheme. In "Trapped in the Closet," which aired in 2005, the Church of Scientology decides that Stan is the reincarnation of their founder and prophet, L. Ron Hubbard. The church president and various celebrities of Scientology ask Stan to continue Hubbard’s writing, so Stan obliges.
What follows is a hilarious episode satirizing the Scientology religion. It has Hollywood celebrities that are part of the church, like R. Kelly, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta, run into Stan's closet, refusing to come out. Stan then starts arguing with the president of the church, saying that the church shouldn't be charging money to help people. The president reveals that that is the entire point of the Church of Scientology. In Stan’s final 'doctrine,' he admits he is not the reincarnation of Hubbard and that "Scientology is just a big fat global scam." The episode ends with the church threatening to sue Stan.
The central focus of the episode revolves around the institutions of religion. Here, South Park highlights issues of money, for-profit-like behavior, and a none-too-subtle questioning of said celebrities’ sexualities in the Church of Scientology.
In "All About Mormons," which aired in 2003, Stan befriends a new kid in town, Gary Harrison. When he goes over to Gary's house to meet his family, they proceed to tell Stan about how the Mormon faith came to be. The most memorable element of the retellings is the background music playing during Joseph Smith's discovery of the golden plates, where the lyrics repeats a jaunty refrain of, "dum, dum, dum, dum!" (read: dumb). What's even crazier is that South Park creators Stone and Parker were able to make a satirical musical called The Book of Mormon that further spread the message of this episode, but that's for another time.
In "All About Mormons," Stan's father, Randy, is furious that the Harrison family would try to indoctrinate his son. However, when he confronts Mr. Harrison about it, the man is so nice that his anger cools quickly. He even agrees to hear the story himself, after which he tells the family that they'll be converting to Mormonism.
While the episode makes fun of Mormonism, using Stan as a mouthpiece to decry some of the religion's beliefs, it ends with Stan learning a valuable lesson from his new friend, Gary, about respecting the faith of others:
“Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.”
In the first episode of Season 19, which aired in September 2015, South Park introduced a brilliant new character, PC Principal. PC Principal is not just a social justice warrior, he’s the social justice warrior. However, it truly is problematic when social justice warriors take the political correctness fight too far because it can kill dialogue and discourse. And that’s the point that PC Principal makes so hilariously in his debut.
In this episode, the world is still abuzz about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, oozing with admiration for how brave she was. And she was. But that does not inoculate her from criticism for her pre-existing narcissism and other less-than-admirable personality traits she possessed before her transition. Kyle makes this point in the episode - or at least, he tries to.
PC Principal and his PC frat bros will not even entertain discussion on the matter: Caitlyn Jenner is a hero because she transitioned publicly - any word to the contrary will be met with violence, even if it’s a valid and salient point. Ultimately, to avoid public backlash, Kyle must state that Jenner is a hero despite his beliefs. Thus, South Park brilliantly highlights how zealous and strict overuse of PC results in no discourse, which stunts society by refusing to hear valid counterarguments.