South Park is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning animated cartoon series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are members of the Libertarian Party, that is shown on American cable network Comedy Central. It is controversial due to its use of vulgar and obscene language, biting humor, and questionable depictions of religion, politics and other respected institutions. The show has touched on Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Scientology, atheism and agnosticism. It has made jokes about Jesus, Moses, Muhammad and other religious leaders.
Taking place in the fictional small town of South Park, Colorado, the show follows four children who are friends: Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman. Due to the low quality animation that South Park utilizes, the majority of episodes are made in less than a week, allowing for the creators to change their storylines at the last minute to reflect on current events that are not otherwise touched on as quickly in other animated comedy shows such as The Simpsons. For example, an early episode entitled Quintuplets 2000 was changed to reflect the controversy surrounding Elian Gonzalez at the time. Many of the situations depicted are parodies of current events in politics and pop culture.
A running gag in the early seasons revolved Kenny dying in every episode, often in brutal ways, but his character would return the following episode, fully alive and with no one commenting on his previous death(s). The tradition was abandoned when Kenny was "killed off" for good for several seasons, before returning, where he only died occasionally.
Of the 1999 South Park movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, renowned film critic Roger Ebert said "The film is rated R instead of NC-17 only because it's a cartoon, I suspect; even so, the MPAA has a lot of 'splaining to do," meaning presumably that Ebert believes it should have been rated NC-17. "Waves of four-letter words roll out over the audience," he says.
A frequent criticism of South Park is that it indulges in shock for shock's sake. Ebert says of the film, "All it lacks is a point to its message. What is it saying? That movies have gone too far, or that protests against movies have gone too far? It is a sign of our times that I cannot tell. Perhaps it's simply anarchistic, and feels that if it throws enough shocking material at the wall, some of it will stick. A lot of the movie offended me." However, he acknowledges, "I laughed. I did not always feel proud of myself while I was laughing, however.... No target is too low, no attitude too mean or hurtful, no image too unthinkable."
A month later, Ebert modified his opinion: "I gave 'South Park' a marginal thumbs down (2.5 stars) because of what I called the movie's mean spirit, but I did like its intelligence and energy, and as the smoke clears from the summer of 1999 it's clear to me that this was a movie that took chances and made scathing criticisms of the broken-down MPAA rating system. I got carried away by my immediate reaction; but at least I was right when I called it 'the most slashing political commentary of the year'." The film received mostly positive reviews from other critics and was nominated for an academy award for the song "Blame Canada".
South Park has been praised for its often blunt libertarian viewpoints on many political, moral, and social issues of the day. For example, in "Chinpokomon" (a satire of the Pokémon craze), the boys learn that blindly following a trend can be dangerous, and that it's best to just be yourself. In "Super Best Friends," we discover that Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, and Krishna are all friends, even though countries have gone to war over them.
Parker and Stone describe themselves as "equal opportunity offenders" and some episodes have made fun of liberal causes, particularly environmentalism and support for legalized abortion. Other episodes have ridiculed the anti-immigration movement and other conservative causes. Despite this, the show usually does not outrightly condemn any social group; to date, only terrorists and pedophiles have been given such treatment by the show. While Scientology itself has been heavily mocked, the creators have expressed sympathy for those who have been drawn into it.
There is a form of anti-censorship, libertarian-leaning conservatism known as "South Park Republicans" and "South Park Conservatives." The creators are uneasy about stating their political views (even hesitating to declare themselves libertarians), though they note that of all the different groups they mock, Hollywood Liberals display the most indignance. Matt Stone has stated, "I hate conservatives, but I really (expletive) hate liberals."  Neither Trey Parker nor Matt Stone voted in the 2004 presidential election because they regarded both candidates as people they despised. More recently, the show has taken a more liberal tone, including mocking Glenn Beck and portraying "The Pissed Off And Angry Party" as sexually-insecure men who lack knowledge about government, however, the recent episode 1% mocked the "Occupy" movement and the media frenzy that surrounded it. Glen Beck, a fan of the show, took South Park's parody of himself in good humour. Parker and Stone have stated that the reason they mock liberals so frequently is their insistence on telling people what to do.
One of the few liberal causes which is consistently supported by the show is the homosexual agenda. The main Aesop in the season one episode Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride is that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle. The episode was enthusiastically received by the radical homosexual group GLAAD and was nominated for an award by it. Another episode from show's fifth season called Cripple Fight attempted to portray homosexuals as individuals capable of being responsible leaders for today's youth and children. However it should be noted that when the Liberal Elites try to force the Scouts to accept gays by cutting off their funding, Big Gay Al steps in to remind them (while wholly disagreeing with their position) of Mountain Scouts' right to form their own policies on homosexuality. This unfortunately results in Big Gay Al being called a homophobe, thus skewing the pro-gay lobbies as well. The show endorsed same-sex marriage in the episode Follow That Egg!
This show is known as an equal opportunity offender of religions and popular for making people laugh at the expense of others. Nearly every episode uses the Lord's name in vain. Their depictions of the prophet Mohammed nearly resulted in the show's creators being killed after Muslims extremists issued death threats.
The episode Krazy Kripples criticizes Stem cell research.
After the episode Trapped in the Closet, an episode which dealt with Scientology, Isaac Hayes (a member of that group) left the show in 2006. Following Isaac's departure, the character of Chef was killed off the following season. Chef's death was a parody of the third episode of the Star Wars saga, which left the possibility of Chef returning to the show. However, following Isaac's death in 2008, the character will obviously not return.
In 2010, the episodes 200 and 201, the 200th and 201st episodes respectively, caused controversy for depicting Muhammad. The celebrities that South Park has mocked over the years band together, and they decide that they need Muhammad, as they believe he is "unmockable," given the reactions to a Danish newspaper's printing of critical cartoons of Muhammad. Following the airing of the episode 200, threats were made against the creators of South Park. In 201, several minutes of dialogue at the end of the episode were bleeped out. The episodes are not available for streaming on the internet or on Netflix on Demand. Despite the flurry of controversy surrounding the depiction of Muhammad, the prophet was depicted in the episode Super Best Friends with no controversy.
In 2019, South Park released an episode entitled Band in China which caused the series to be banned in China. The episode strongly criticized the authoritarian, communist Chinese government.
The vast majority of episodes focus on four native South Park boys in the third and later fourth grade, often referred to as just "the boys". The creators of South Park have stated that their personalities are usually reflected through Kyle & Stan.
Stan is voiced by co-creator Trey Parker and is more or less a filter for his personality and experiences. Though possessing a foul mouth and other shortcomings that typify his age, Stan is basically a good kid, with above-average intelligence and a strong sense of morality. He is the best friend of Kyle Broflovski, a good friend of Kenny McCormick, and about the closest thing to a friend that Eric Cartman can ever expect to have. He comes from a typical middle-class household. His father Randy is a geologist and his mother Sharon is a stay-at-home mom. Typical of the adult characters on South Park, both parents are frequently irrational, but they are also shown to genuinely love their son.
What Trey Parker is to Stan, co-creator Matt Stone is to Kyle. Similar to Stan in many ways, Kyle is arguably more intelligent and moral than Stan. His father Gerald is a lawyer, and his mother is a stay-at-home mom prone to moral outrage and stereotypical "Jewish mother" mannerisms. He and his family are Jewish, though religion does not seem to play a major role in Kyle's day-to-day life. Kyle will commonly give the moral of an episode at the end, often with the prelude "you know, I learned something today." In the season 13 episode "Margaritaville" this tendency was brought to messianic proportions, where he is depicted as a "prophet" of the economy by telling residents that the economy is an abstract concept created by people, not a vengeful entity, and that it requires faith to function. The town council (an impromptu collection of adults led by Randy Marsh, who claims that America has angered the economy) hears of this "young Jew spreading heresy about the economy" and sets up a Judas figure (obviously, Cartman) to capture him. Kyle evades capture and instead uses a credit card with no spending limit to write off the debts of the other South Park residents.
Originally more of a gimmick character, Kenny was killed in almost every episode of seasons 1-5, and then died "permanently" at the end of 5. This "permanent death" lasted until season 7, at which point he became a regular character who still died occasionally, though as before with no consequence to future episodes. Between season 5 and 7, Kenny's soul was "trapped in Cartman's body" after Eric Cartman confused his ashes with hot chocolate. After drinking these ashes, Cartman began having Kenny's memories and speaking his statements. Kenny is considerably poorer than the other boys, with a run-down house governed by parents who frequently abuse alcohol and engage in domestic violence. Despite this he gets along fine with his better-off friends and does not in general get made fun of for his poverty (except by Eric Cartman). He is "voiced" by Matt Stone, though this is of little consequence as everything he says is mumbled incomprehensibly from an oversized orange parka. The other characters, however, seem to understand him. For the 1999 movie, Kenny removed his parka, revealing his face and blonde hair color, to say "Goodbye, you guys" (this line was voiced by Mike Judge, creator of Beavis & Butt-head and King of the Hill). In one episode written after the movie, Kenny's legible speech and face appeared again, though he was wearing different clothes, and it was not obvious that he was Kenny until he had died.
Often just called "Cartman," he is arguably the main character of the show. He is obese, bigoted, narcissistic, and generally sociopathic; he was originally conceived as an eight-year-old version of Archie Bunker from All in the Family. He is very antagonistic towards many people, especially Kyle, largely because of Kyle's ethnicity. (Cartman is anti-Semitic and admires Adolf Hitler.) Fights between the two, usually stemming from mocking each character's respective obesity and ethnicity, have become a centerpiece of the show. Ironically, however, each has saved the other's life twice. All three of the other boys are open about their dislike for Cartman, but they still usually refer to him as their friend. Cartman has been shown to be extremely intelligent and manipulative, and he has a dark charisma that makes him a natural leader of the boys in times of adventure. Cartman's sociopathy has been traced to his upbringing by a single mother, Lianne. Lianne encourages Eric's obesity, and treats him like a friend instead of a son, thus not disciplining him. Lianne, a "crack whore" in the show, was also the name of Trey's former fiancée who Trey saw cheating with another man.
Leopold "Butters" Stotch
Though not originally a main character, Butters has seen considerable airtime since season 5 and is often considered the "breakout character" of the show. He is kind, wholesome, and trusting to a fault - in other words, he is basically the opposite of Cartman, and many episodes have been devoted to the relationship between the two. His parents are mentally ill, with his father showing obsessive-compulsive behavior and mother having issues with anxiety and panic. Butters' mother attempted to kill him in one episode. During season 6 when Kenny was absent, Butters briefly filled in as the fourth boy. This eventually fell through, and Butters developed the alter-ego, Professor Chaos. Butters is based on Eric Stough, the animation director of South Park.
Stan's father was initially a secondary character. In more recent seasons, he's become even more of a main character than the four boys. Trey Parker has said that as he had children of his own, he identified more with Randy than the four boys. In recent seasons, Randy starts his own Marijuana farm, called Tegridy Farms.
- Charlie Rose interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqtLudQtIGs
- Interview on The Hour, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLyVm4Rr2eo
- Television: Lowbrow and proud of it - The Independent
- Islamic warning to 'South Park' still 'remains', WND, April 22, 2010
- It should be noted that, around that time, Hayes had suffered a debilitating stroke, and was not in a position to make many decisions for himself.