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‘South Park’: timely and timeless

| Wednesday, September 28, 2016

southpark_bannerLINDSEY MEYERS | The Observer

This month, “South Park” joined the sparse ranks of cartoons to make it to their 20th year. The season opened to a third-grade basketball team’s protest of the national anthem, but in its typical fashion tied together multiple issues that combine to hint at a theme for the season.

The longevity of “South Park” is matched by only one comparable cartoon, “The Simpsons,” shedding some light on what it takes for a cartoon to stay alive: the combination of timely references and timeless humor. While “The Simpsons” has declined in popularity, the comparatively more outrageous “South Park” has managed to stay on top, and it doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon.

Looking back on all the significant “South Park” moments over the years, it’s appropriate that the opening episode is titled “Member Berries.” The talking berries for which the episode is named, at first seeming random, are used by adults in the show to relax. As the episode progresses, the member berries ask questions like “‘Member feeling safe? ‘Member no ISIS? ‘Member Reagan?” clarifying their role in the larger plot. 

Lining up with an election year, this significant anniversary has promise of endless material. Giant Douche (Mr. Garrison) runs against a familiar-faced Turd Sandwich. Some of the most clever aspects of the election are only funny because they’re so realistic. The extremist policy of Mr. Garrison sounds like a rewording of one of the candidates in the current election. His horrible comments in a frantic attempt to lose votes only gain him more support.

When Stan asks his dad, Randy, why we pick every year between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich, he answers emphatically, “Because we’re Americans. Because this is America.” This mix of disturbing and hilarious content is classic “South Park.”

But the election demonstrates another effect of the show being around for 20 years. “South Park” doesn’t need to refer to familiar events in order for people to relate — it’s able to sustain itself entirely on self-referential inside jokes. Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich were first introduced in the eighth season. The nonchalant use of the outlandish terms goes unexplained to new viewers, but, for many, explanation isn’t necessary.

The second episode zeroes in on cyberbullying and equates deleting social media accounts to suicide. Its closing sequence — a mass breakup set to the dramatic “Gortoz a Ran” from the “Black Hawk Down” soundtrack — creates suspense for what’s to come in tonight’s third episode of the season. 

So far, season 20 in still in the stages of gathering momentum. Like “PC Principle” in season 19, the driving factors of this season are just beginning to unveil themselves. Trey Parker and Matt Stone will undoubtedly draw material from the events that unfold with the current election, tying it together with humor that will still be fun to watch from a distance years from now.

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