An Apology for South Park’s Member Berries

As the South Park season finale approaches, we lower our hat and take responsibility for our part in the Member Berries crisis.

‘Member Star Wars? ‘Member Chewbacca? ‘Member tauntauns? I do, I ‘member tauntauns, Chewbacca, and Star Wars all! And if you come to this site anytime between next week and presumably well into the New Year, chances are you’ll get plenty of opportunities to ‘member all sorts of nifty Star Wars history.

Hence, why I’d like to both celebrate and offer a sheepish mea culpa for Member Berries. Any journalist or writer who covers pop culture in the 21st century must be steeped in the constant nostalgia that now drives it, even its crudest and shrewdest satirists like South Park appear to reluctantly agree on that. But at a certain point, one needs to be able to take a step back and realize that if we’re only looking backward, we’re not going forward. Or as the sage luminary of our age, Randy Marsh, surmised, “It may seem fun to go back and recycle the past we loved, but we end up with no sustenance.”

It is something we actually have also been writing about at Den of Geek for a while, just as much as coverage of all the swanky spaceships in that galaxy far, far away. In 2015, I deemed this as the era of the “Nostalgia-Make.” Audiences and fandoms are more interconnected than ever on social media, and as such they don’t want to see their beloved brands and identities “rebooted” or “reimagined;” they want to see a newer generation forced to look up and gaze admirably at what they themselves loved as children. It worked with teens staring in awe at the Visitor Center in Jurassic World, which became the highest grossing movie of this decade when it earned $1.67 billion, and it worked even better for The Force Awakens when it promptly stole that record from the dinosaurs by grossing $2.068 billion a half-year later.

Both films are entertaining, but neither actually achieve the transcendent, groundbreaking effect that their forebearers enjoyed in the 20th century. How could they when they were so adamant about remixing like an ‘80s cover band those past events in a shiny, new, yet very familiar package? Be that as it may, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a Nostalgia-Make or ‘membering Star Wars and Jurassic Park alike. Still, one feels the need to look to the future and new worlds that can take what came before and do something different with it. For sustenance’s sake.

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If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have enjoyed recent hit TV series like Game of Thrones or even this fall’s Westworld, which have become, for adults at least, every bit a piece of bedrock in our pop culture landscape as the Marvel movies that remind us nearly monthly that superheroes were super kewl when we were growing up. Thrones mixes fantasy with actual medieval and Renaissance history for an expansive tapestry of political intrigue and fatalism (and the occasional floppy weiner, of course), while Westworld literally did remake a movie from the past without an ounce of nostalgia, and instead created an intricate puzzle box that when opened ponders the complexities of developing artificial intelligence in the here and now.

And in film too, if you are going to see Rogue One in theaters multiple times this holiday season, please take a moment to enjoy some of the smaller films that might offer new storytelling experiences, be it a powerful account of the JFK assassination and the ironies of legacy-building in the haunting Jackie, or an exceptional masterwork from Damien Chazelle called La La Land, which takes genuine nostalgia for the classic movie musical from yesteryear and uses it to craft something remarkably fresh, contemporary, and startlingly personal.

Only by being able to use the past as a guide to move forward can we then enjoy our Member Berries with comfortable moderation. If we don’t, we’ll end up with a tragically in-over-his-head Mr. Garrison as president (oh, too late). Or be spending the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor writing about tauntauns. Yeah…

So ‘member Member Berries? You should, even after they also become a pop culture relic following tonight’s South Park season finale. But afterward, please still munch away on the little purple suckers, and we’ll do the same. If you do, maybe the next time you find yourself anxious to tweet at someone who disagrees on which Star Wars cartoon is canon, or argue about whether the next X-Men movie properly lines up with the last one, or especially challenge me with a comment anytime I write Christian Bale is the definitive cinematic Batman (and he is)… you’ll take a deep breath, and ‘member to put the Member Berry down. Otherwise, you might end up looking like this while someone else is busy ‘membering the original Stormtroopers. And that’s something we shouldn’t have nostalgia for at all.