Let’s play a game called Donald Trump, ISIS, or the advertising industry:
I pounce on a current issue by saying (or doing) something outlandishly over the top. Then I bask in warm glow of your undivided attention. Finally, I hook the loudest of the lowest common denominators and repeat endlessly. Who am I?
Don’t lose any brain cells over this, it’s a trick question, and it’s a method that we’re nearly powerless against. Toxic waste bin of a person Donald Trump only gets stronger as the bullies in the “liberal media” throw stones, the unsupportive GOP condemns his hate speech, and voters in Wherever-the-fuck, USA, spew his vile rhetoric on the web. ISIS (or ISIL) turned civil unrest into jihadist propaganda that continues to lead to horrifying acts of terror. And advertising, well, it’s the stealthiest one of all, isn’t it? From cable to TiVo to AdBlock software, it’s constantly shifting shape and diverting our attention from the real problems at hand. Together, this unholy trio makes for a year in review, or a finale of South Park’s 19th, and one of its finest, seasons.
A season long arc of PC culture, Caitlyn Jenner, lubing up and fucking immigration, gentrification, internet shaming, forbidden romances, and far too much sponsored content culminated in a fairly simple message that mirrors the show’s own plight as it ends its teenage years: What does it really take to get people to listen?
In the final 22 minutes of the season, a conspiracy unraveled but no concrete culprit was found. The PC culture (and Principal that absolutely should remain on the show) ultimately became a stand-in for any number of agents hoping to make change. It could be frat bros preaching equality to frickin’ crush puss’ or snobby millennials mindlessly gentrifying a neighborhood. Swing the other way and you could see the slow demise of South Park 2015 as Donald Trump bloviating over a juicy morsel of islamophobia or mouth-breathing “don’t take our guns” people stockpiling weapons before the government raids their barns.
Matt and Trey’s message feels purposely ambiguous this time around. When the people who think they have an important message for the masses vocalize it, we all hear different things.
While the town swung back and forth between PC and the radical right, South Park as a show grew up this season. Early fans of the show bought Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s vision for its crude humor, and stayed for the message. The diehards stuck around for the long haul, but as TV ratings dipped (before they appeared on the show’s website), many popped in and out when brash topicality made headlines, and hot button issues held the show up like a Jimmy Vulmer crutch. Judging from the nearly universal acclaim for season 19, from critics and fans of the show I’ve talked to, Matt and Trey didn’t have to go back to their roots or abandon topicality all together. By using headline grabbers like Trump, Jenner, ISIS and gun control sparingly throughout the season, they created the sharpest and most nuanced arc in the show’s history, going jihad on Imaginationland and conquering the realm of the floppy wieners that was the Game of Thrones parody.
South Park found itself in the headlines for the right reasons, “Brilliant take on [insert topic here]” was often on newsfeeds after episodes this season if you clicked through the gauntlet of ads. In silencing Kyle and his silly messages in order to let the townspeople take the long route to find the truth, Matt and Trey reaffirmed they are masters at getting messages across.
Randy may have wanted to bail on South Park last week, but it looks like a pretty decent place to stay right now. Unless Trump becomes president. Then fuck that, I’m hopping the impossible wall to Canada.