Whenever South Park returns for a new season, part of the excitement is seeing what news stories Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been loading up on during the show’s break. Lord knows that the summer of 2015 has given them plenty of current events ripe for skewering, so when it was announced yesterday that season 19 would kick off by focusing on Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a transgender woman, the internet went abuzz. Would Parker and Stone support the lionization of Jenner? Would they make fun of it? Or would they find that South Park sweet spot of doing both?
Turns out the answer is none of the above. Despite the press tease and title of the episode, “Stunning And Brave” has little to do with Jenner specifically (we never even get to see her), and everything to do with the huge umbrella of outrage culture. When Principal Victoria gets fired for using the term “Hot Cosby,” she’s replaced by the PC Principal: a tightly wound frat guy who enforces political correctness with the same aggression he’d use to haze a new pledge or shotgun a Natty Light. He’s not alone either—there’s a whole fraternity’s worth of white PC bros looking to bust some skulls whenever someone shows anything that’s not unadulterated sensitivity towards the entire human race (as with every other new trend, Randy Marsh is the first to join their ranks). The hackles of their fur stand especially high when it comes to Jenner, whom they believe everyone must worship as an icon who’s beyond reproach. This naturally causes problems for Cartman and, more surprisingly, Kyle, when the two boys don’t join in on the excitement surrounding the retired athlete and her gender.
While the idea of equating the increasing mob mentality of the PC police with a hell-raising frat is funny at first, the comparison ultimately ends up being blunt, repetitive, and one-sided. For one, there’s not much room for the comedy to grow. After PC Principal brutally kicks the shit out of Cartman early on in the episode, we get Parker and Stone’s message right away: Who’s worse? The narrow-minded individuals of the world or those that publicly stone them with the same palpable hatred they claim to be combatting?
The problem with this joke—aside from it peaking too early—is that South Park has been telling it for years. Railing against condescension and political correctness has been a nucleobase in the show’s DNA ever since season one, when Parker and Stone showed the world that you can rattle off gay jokes and still fight for gay rights. You can be open-minded about religion and still depict God as a droll, possum-like rodent. You can address 9/11 with grace and still draw Osama Bin Laden as an Elmer Fudd cartoon. Where as these gags all work because they hone in on something specific, “Stunning And Brave” keeps its scope broad the entire time. Granted, outrage culture is a much bigger problem in 2015 than it was in 1997 or even 2010, but the episode never digs deeper into its initial statement. Although we get a balls-trippingly great dream sequence making fun of how many resources were wasted on the Deflategate scandal (Tom Brady is Cartman’s idol, of course), Parker and Stone never blow open something like Caitlin Jenner’s coming out to make a point that’s complex or unconventional.
That’s a shame, too, since outrage culture is such a hot-button issue, making it a prime target for the down and dirty satire of South Park—on one hand, it’s never healthy to flat out demonize someone who makes an un-PC slip-up, but on the other hand, it’s important to be aware of the pronoun preference of someone who’s transitioning from a man to a woman. The closest the episode gets to recognizing that this kind of uneasy balance even exists, however, is with Kyle, who doesn’t think Jenner’s transition makes her a hero when she may not even be that good of a person to begin with. But that notion of morality having nothing to do with gender never really gets explored, as Kyle decides to keep his mouth shut after the PC fraternity starts harassing him, namely in the form of crudely drawn dicks on his face.
And that’s where “Stunning And Brave” feels especially misguided. If Kyle is the mouthpiece for Parker and Stone (as he so often is), then the episode is saying that they, along with many other people around the world (represented here by everyone else in South Park) feel so stifled by PC culture that they can’t express any outlook that doesn’t fall in line with a harmonious worldview. And that just isn’t the case. The duo has a hit TV show, not to mention a smash Broadway musical, whose success will always come from spitting in the face of political correctness. Is oversensitivity a problem? Of course it is. Do people who are merely expressing an opinion often get snuffed out by the white knights of the PC police? All the time. Do many of those same white knights think that their own viewpoints absolve them from any kind of wrongdoing? Once again, yes. But South Park already knows this. Most of its fans already know this. And yet, even during a climatic battle that involves the fraternity, Jared Fogle, Syrian refugee children, and other headline mainstays of the summer, “Stunning And Brave” has little to say beyond its opening remarks.
- Did PC Principal and Cartman’s fight remind anyone else of Batman’s violent interrogation of The Joker in The Dark Knight?
- I kept waiting for Randy to puke while slumped over in the kitchen, and when he finally did, I was glad it was through his fingers. Puking with a hand over one’s mouth is always funnier than regular puking.
- The way Randy said “hot, hot, hottt” during the hazing was almost identical to Daniel Snyder’s “hut, hut, huttt” in last season’s “Go Fund Yourself.”
- It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Jared on South Park, and it was nice to see the animators go above and beyond by accentuating his creepy pink lips.
- Brett Favre really is a terrible clapper.
- “Dad, did you draw dicks on my friend’s face?”
- “Hurtful words can suck our turds/ ’Cause it’s PC for me!”
- “Congrats. Here’s your Oakleys.”
- It was a true pleasure covering a few episodes of South Park last year, and I’m excited to cover the season in its entirety this time around. What did everyone else think?