With its particular brand of irreverent, politically incorrect comedy, South Park has long enjoyed a wide and loyal fan base.
However, it could be the darkly humourous show is partly responsible for the rise of the alt right and the escalation of white supremacist attitudes in the US.
Seattle based writer Lindsey Weedston has suggested how the show, which has just celebrated it’s twentieth birthday, has helped to ‘desensitize the public to bigotry, bullying, and downright cruelty’.
In a recent article in The Establishment, Lindsey argues how the adult animated sitcom has ‘conditioned the public to a very Trumpian ideology’:
In the South Park universe, it’s cool and — more specifically — an act of heroic anti-establishment rebellion to defy “political correctness” and mistreat the most marginalized in society.
If that ethos sounds familiar, it might be because it defines the proudly asshole white nationalist “alt-right,” and its beloved son, the bully to rule them all — our current commander in chief.
Lindsey explained how much of the ethos of South Park suggests caring about things and trying to be inoffensive is uncool.
She traces the origins of this mentality back to the infamous ‘greed is good’ mantra of 1987 classic Wall Street.
Although liberal Oliver Stone’s intention was to warn about the unscrupulous philosophy of Gordon Gekko, people took Gecko’s ‘f*ck the little guy’ attitude to heart.
According to Lindsey, this sentiment remained pervasive throughout the nineties, when proudly offensive South Park was first created.
Lindsey explained how South Park represented a ideological differentiation from the norm, which appealed to young, right-wing people.
Whereas the majority of comedians were left-wing people poking fun of conservative values, South Park ridiculed liberal ideals and ‘PC culture’.
According to Lindsey, it used to be conservatives who were accused of restricting free speech, however the finger is increasingly pointing elsewhere:
Over time, the animosity seemed to shift to liberals insisting that slurs and language harming oppressed populations not be used.
South Park pushed the use of harmful language to the extreme, mocking disabled people, disrespecting every religion Trey and Matt could think of, airing an episode with repeated use of the n-word, viciously mocking and condemning trans people, making a hero out of a virulently anti-Semitic character, and generally holding itself up as the show that ‘offends’ people, regardless of who those people may be.
Lindsey notes how South Park has become deliberately more offensive over time, with the character of Cartman becoming evermore popular the more bigoted he gets.
According to Lindsey, this helped to pave the way for other ‘a**holes’ to make a living from being offensive:
Comedian Daniel Tosh started making money in 2009 simply by showing clips of other people’s YouTube videos and making bigoted remarks.
In the non-comedic world (or at least not intentionally comedic), you have Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones screaming hateful nonsense for that sweet ad money.
Lindsey adds how ‘comedy has morphed from fighting the establishment with hard-hitting satire and making sex jokes to punching the easiest targets you can find as hard as you can to see how much money falls out’.
So what does the future hold next for boundary-breaking comedy, and how will it affect and divide political opinion?