Hello there. Your usual South Park duo are otherwise occupied tonight, so y’all get a third-stringer to suss out tonight’s confounding episode. And of course it’s an episode dealing exclusively with a word that I don’t really want turning up attributed to my name in a Google search, but in the interest of serious journalism, I will set my scruples aside. Besides, as tonight’s episode tells us—“tells” meaning “bashes us over the head with”—a fag by any other name is still a fag, be it a gay fag, a poor fag, an old fag, or a woman fag, so we should all stop getting so worked up about the word. Unless, of course, we’re a bunch of attention-seeking, Harley-riding douchebags.
It’s hard to discuss this episode without disappearing down a wormhole of political (in)correctness, so I’m going to lay out my stance on The Word real quick-like and then move on to how well tonight’s episode handled it. Feel free to duke it out further in the comments… I'll just be over here enjoying a nice ice cream cone while you do that. While I agree with the premise that language is a malleable, evolving thing, and that the idea of “taboo” words is a self-fulfilling prophecy, I can’t quite get behind the argument that it’s okay to use the word “fag” now because people don’t associate it with homosexuals anymore, because a) that’s bullshit, as anyone who’s spent any time outside a liberal, progressive environment should be able to tell you, and b) a slur is a slur, regardless of what group it’s directed at and how loud and annoying their bikes are, and we shouldn’t really perpetrate the idea that it’s okay to ridicule large cultural groups en masse. (Am I right, hipsters?) Then again, that's totally South Park's M.O., so whatever, shut up Genevieve.
I generally don’t mind when South Park takes on a Big Topic—even when its stance doesn’t totally gel with my own, like tonight—as long as it does it well. And tonight’s episode just did not do it well. It took too long to get going, seemed confused about what its point was, and, most egregiously, had very few laughs—and the few laughs there were didn’t really relate directly to the point of the episode. (Exception: “Bike-curious.” Wakka wakka wakka!) In fact, the biggest laugh of the night for me came in the form of a good old fashioned poop joke, specifically the tiny flags reading “you’re fags” sticking out of the KFC-fueled deuces Cartman left on the bikers’ seats.
Initially, I thought ridiculing obnoxious Harley owners was going to be the main thrust of “The F Word”—I didn’t see the title of the episode until after the fact—and was kind of annoyed at South Park for taking on such a pointless target. It wasn’t until the appearance of Mr. Slave and Big Gay Al a third of the way into the episode that all those fag-bombs being thrown around finally clicked into place, and suddenly I had to recalibrate my South Park receptors from “silly” to “preachy.” That’s a lot of time wasted on repetitive digs at the bikers’ attention-seeking coughing, forcing the real meat of the episode into a few talky, expository sequences: The boys explaining the difference between a gay fag and a plain ol’ fag to the city council; the bikers pouring over the various definitions of “faggot” in the dictionary; an unnamed political rival chastising South Park’s decision to make “fag” connote annoying Harley owners instead.
The boys’ plan to get the definition of the word officially changed in the dictionary—under the supervision of Head Editor Emmanuel Lewis, a-doy—was a confusing conclusion, as well: Are they just saying it’s okay to say “fag” because it doesn’t mean “gay” anymore? Or is it more of a semantic statement on the peculiarities of language and our relationship with it, a general “everybody chill” stance? This would have been a great time for one of Stan’s helpful wrap-ups. Instead we just get the vague—and obnoxious, if you take it at a meta level—assurance that “we’ve made history.” No you haven’t, South Park. You’ve just spent a half-hour punching a hot button that was connected to absolutely nothing.
• Whew, things got pretty serious around here for a second… how’s about another poop joke? “Smells like that new Famous Bowl at KFC.”
• “The only people who are so needy for attention they need to dress up and act as loud as possible is you guys and 16-year-old girls” Wait, so does this mean I can start calling 16-year-old girls fags now?