I'm a big South Park fan. I basically grew up with the show. I remember my brother and I staying up late on a vacation in Disney World to watch a first season episode when it first aired. The show has grown up a lot in the past 19 seasons, and I've toyed with writing about the episodes before. It is, frankly, a matter of me committing to a more critical discussion of a show still remembered as that cartoon with the cursing kids and bad celebrity impressions.
"Stunning and Brave," the 19th season premiere, proves the show is a whole lot more than that. The episode is one of the strangest in recent memory. Principal Victoria is fired from South Park Elementary from making a bad Bill Cosby joke and replaced by a power lifting frat type named PC Principal.
PC Principal is the voice of the rising influence of online criticism in social and political discourse. This character punishes the students for racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist comments intended or not. In one scene, Eric Cartman attempts to take down PC Principal by framing him as a pedophile, but PC Principal actually beats Cartman to a bloody pulp for microaggressions against women in his plotting. In another scene, Kyle is given two weeks of detention for refusing to say Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, an inspiration, and a beautiful woman.
Those two scenes provide the crux of the entire episode. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have made a career out of no-holds-barred comedy. Much of their humor comes from reflecting society's racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist behavior against itself through a funhouse mirror. They've won Emmy Awards for mocking the outrage over the Terry Schiavo case, video game addiction, the economic crisis brought on by predatory banking practices, and America's obsession with praising terrible people just because they appear on reality TV. They've even received an Oscar nomination for writing a song pointing out the absurdity of racism by applying broad racial stereotypes to Canadians.
PC Principal and his PC fraternity that quickly forms in South Park are not an attempt to derail social criticism of pop culture. Parker and Stone aren't taking on political correctness or claiming it's a bad thing that people want to actually be sensitive to diversity in America. The humor in the episode comes from aggressively attacking these issues in person the same way the Internet rises up through social media.
The substance of the critique is not being mocked. It's the tone of the Internet rage machine regardless of what is being attacked. Some people do deserve to be targeted for ridiculous statements. Eric Cartman is intentionally a horrible character, routinely representing the absolute worst elements of society. He actually enjoys offending everyone just because he can. The show has routinely taken literal shots at Eric when he crosses the line, such as school president and honor student Wendy beating him Fight Club style for his repeated attacks against breast cancer awareness.
Other people don't deserve this level of hatred. Kyle points out later in the episode that his comments against Caitlyn Jenner are not transphobic or from a place of hatred. Kyle doesn't consider Caitlyn Jenner a personal hero, but doesn't judge people who do believe she is a hero. He didn't like her when she was just a character on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and he doesn't like her now. The overreaction by PC Principal and his fraternity pledges is meant to mock the tone deaf outrage to non-offensive statements twisted to raise the visibility of serious causes that need to be discussed.
Attacking someone for not embracing a person or a cause as the most important in the world is not worthy of the same level of derision as someone actively fighting against that person or cause. The issues are conflated for comedy in South Park, resulting in the most unsettling ending to an episode since Wendy Photoshopped her 4th grade frame to meet Hollywood beauty standards in order to restore the status quo at South Park Elementary.
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