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When I was about ten, my television viewing habits were still pretty tame. A fascination with Pokémon and Ninja Turtles was still present and, despite the coming storm of testosterone and angst that goes along with one’s teenage years, I hadn’t ventured into anything edgier than my beloved Simpsons. One evening, as I huddled alone in front of the family tube yearning for something more tangible than amorphous reptiles yelling “Cowabunga” or Batman, I happened upon a show that changed everything. Four kids in Halloween costumes, heaps of profanity, and zombies. It was Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park, the episode “Pinkeye” (S1-E7) to be specific, and, within minutes of watching, it had me hooked.
A lot has changed in 13 or so years. I got hair on my peaches, developed a healthy love for cheap beer, and witnessed the Cubs go from heartbreaking to hopeful. My love for cartoons and all things pop culture has stayed healthy, however, and South Park was a big part of that. Sure, the show has changed a lot since those days. The animation is arguably better, the topics are more in your face, and Kenny doesn’t die quite as much. Still, it’s one of the most fantastic programs to now, or ever, grace the airwaves. That’s why it’s hard to think about cutting back on watching it — because every marathon or new episode brings about something I love being reduced to ashes.
Take Game of Thrones, for instance. It’s another incredible series that manages to make a fantasy setting appeal to even the most un-nerdy folks among us. If you would’ve told me that my fraternity brothers, even the ones that insist any video game other than Madden or NHL is a big old breeding ground for geeks, would be into dragons and swordplay, I’d ask you to pass that doobie to the left. Still, in the course of three episodes, South Park made it so I laugh out loud every time a GOT episode’s theme kicks up. Unlike the millions that are enthralled by the stirring strings, all I hear is a chorus singing about George R.R. Martin’s weiner. While everyone else is preparing to watch Jon Snow brood and see beloved characters die grisly deaths, I’m reminiscing on Bill Gates beating down a Japanese businessman.
It’s not just GoT that has lost some luster either. Political debates are now reduced to “They took er jerbs!” quips and intense Faith Hilling. Merchandising and fads were crushed under the boot of “Chinpokomon.” Even Christmas, Alan Jackson, and hitting on waitresses were made into things to subconsciously mock rather than embrace with open arms. It’s why people can’t keep a straight face while catching an episode of Wheel of Fortune or ask if someone knows what they are saying. For all its topical and hilarious glory, the show has somewhat intentionally taken the zing out of other beloved cultural entities.
The only two things I love that haven’t been crushed by this animated attack on culture are the aforementioned Simpsons and, of course, South Park itself. It’s why the show has been around for two decades and will likely continue for years to come. A vulgar but thought-provoking program that can make the Food Network into a take on marital strife and personal fulfillment is one that has staying power. While other pilots are canceled after four episodes, the work of two guys that started with a battle between Jesus and Frosty the Snowman lives on. As long as Parker and Stone keep bringing the heat to censors, the over-sensitive, and our own human stupidity, they’ll have viewers. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m damn stoked to see what Season 20 ruins for us next..
Image via Hulu