South Park Season 19 Episode 4
Butters has had his share of dirty jobs. He lived through the trauma of being Cartman, Kyle, and Stan’s new best friend, and the pair of fake balls glued to his chin that comes with it. He’s been an inefficient supervillain, Paris Hilton’s stupid-spoiled pet, and a published author who also wrote thousands of Adam Sandler screenplays, a handful of which were picked up by Netflix IN REAL LIFE. What a little bastard.
The list of “LOLButters” moments can go on for paragraphs. He’s the kid you mercilessly tease in the school yard and never consider the damage you’re doing until he either a) pushes back, or b) you get in trouble for it. Butters’ attempts to get Cartman back often fail so spectacularly that it’s easy forget when he’s dared to speak up. And when the punishment for hiding Butters in an underground bunkers for weeks bares little effect on Cartman’s poisonous psyche, there was almost no hope that Butters can break the vicious bullying cycle. That is, until South Park turned PC in 2015.
Kids today have taken their insecurities online, and someone like Butters, long the target of bullies like Cartman, is on an even playing field when bullying becomes cyber. “Safe Space” picks up South Park’s season of continuity in PC Principal’s office, where Cartman sits a victim of online scorn. Like most bullies, Cartman cries if someone so much as tssts his neck, so naturally posting a picture of his ripped and sweet body on the internet opened him up for easy body shaming. Internet troll child’s play, really. So when PC Principal tabs Butters to clean up Cartman’s social media comments (naturally it descended into the topical with Demi Lovato, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and Lena Dunham needing protection from fat shaming) he’s really picking the best man for the job. If anyone can withstand the constant bile flung around the web and keep a positive outlook on life, it’s Butters.
What’s really paying off in the episode, and this season as a whole, is South Park’s ability to play an issue down the middle. When PC bros pledge tolerance and understanding, Mr. Garrison comes right back and fucks immigration to death. The town can become hip and socially consciousness and a week later they’ll be driving small businesses into the ground and making 62 trips a month to Whole Foods. As it pertains to social media, a topic that’s been beat to death by this show in recent years, South Park is quick to recognize that #shaming is a problem whether it’s about overweight people and Demi Lovato or donating $1 to hungry children every time you enter Whole Foods. But instead of fixing the problem head on by getting rid of social media or learning how to use it without letting trolls walk through the door, it’s perfectly acceptable to excecute “Reality” in a public place.
The beauty is that South Park, while PC and changing with the times on the outside, operates in its own reality at its core. As I’ve said in previous reviews, after two three episodes devoted to PC, the town is heading back to the redneck wasteland we’ve known for 18 seasons. Reality isn’t a goofy man with a mustache terrorizing the town, but something that’s been absent in South Park for a long time. When no one steps up and accepts their mistakes and shortcomings, you get Butters nearly killing himself all for what… Lena Dunham putting pictures of her asshole on social media and expecting only positive comments?
South Park used to be a safe space to pick on the little guys. Anyone who entered the town could assimilate into its own fucked-up way of life… until we all had our privilege checked. Butters rolled up his sleeves and dropped the knowledge that it’s a “pretty brutal job sifting through all that darkness,” and I have reason to believe he was speaking for all of us. It’s been fun riding through a PC town, but I’m ready to get back to a little place we used to call AMERICA.