The closer we get to Election Day, the more conspiracy theories are coming out of the woodwork. The far right would have you believe Hillary Clinton, a true turd sandwich, is cracking open aborted fetuses like king crab legs and sucking out to the juice to muster up the strength to defeat all of her supposed life-threatening illnesses. Columnists, cranky talking heads, and Michael Moore over on the far left are convinced Donald Trump, (the best!) giant douche of them all, is throwing the election because he didn’t think America was stupid enough to let him get this far in the first place.
In another election cycle, we’d be able to plug and play with any two politicians to manufacture an ideological debate so hostile that it would seem that the immediate future of the country was in jeopardy. This year, the immediacy of the internet and the dying gasps of the cable news business is rewarding those who use fear tactics to spread their message. It’s a noticeably different culture from when President Obama and his tech-savvy campaign staff leveraged social media to victories in 2008 and 2012. Trolls, SJWs, conspiracy theorists, and mouth breathers are growing more vicious and contentious by the minute.
And when PC Principal can’t even stop the vitriol, then we have a fucking problem, bro. It’s clear that sponsored content is no longer the enemy. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have turned their attention to a culture we’ve created and failed to harness. And with Garrison/Jenner 2016 roaring toward the White House, who can blame South Park for premiering season 20 with an update on the battles they fought last year?
It shouldn’t take a backup quarterback kneeling during the national anthem to recognize the issues in our country extend beyond whatever like-minded safe space you enter or invade online. Yet as much as South Park wants to be a “reality” where injustices, hypocrisy, and general social commentary play out, Matt and Trey have shown a tendency in recent years to overload on attractive story beats. Just because you’re handed these juicy berries, it doesn’t mean you have to pop them all in your mouth!
Coming off a season in which South Park finally embraced change in a season-long arc, “Member Berries” is about as focused as the actual talking berries themselves. Matt and Trey tried to size-up the scope of our nation’s issues over the last year to varrying degrees of success (Sorry, but J.J. Abrams anthem was a letdown). To me, this is a recent classic South Park problem (you can say that when you’ve hit the 20th season landmark) – a microcosm for why fans have stuck around for so long and why others have soured on the show altogether.
A lot of the same elements that made season 19 one of the most consistent and memorable seasons in the show’s history remain in place. PC Principal is back calling “woo woo” on the micro-aggressors, even though he’s oddly become more lenient on Cartman. The fatso himself at first appears to be aligning with the PC alt-Left during school hours and allegedly retreating to his computer at night to be a malicious, virtual mouthpiece for the alt-Right in the dark shadows of the school message board – though the end of the episode seems to proved the latter wrong. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago when he was crying about how users online weren’t stoked on his fat-shamed body. Now the online hate is being amplified to the masses to shame funny women, a product of the backlash to the all-female casting of the Ghostbusters reboot.
After spending years poking fun at everyone else, last season Matt and Trey gentrified the town, gave it a Whole Foods, and brought it into a PC 2015 as a way to skewer themselves and avoid becoming a television relic. Their “six days to air” workflow has all but ensured South Park will never be the old man on the porch, but it’s great to see Matt and Trey continue to have a go at themselves, using up the member berries to call back an easy fan-favorite episode. The point is well taken – it’s hard to be nostalgic about the days of Giant Douche versus Turd Sandwich when we get new ones every four years.
We’re headed for another season of plotlines converging into some big conspiracy, which historically hasn’t been the show’s strength. My hope is they’ll give each individual storyline a chance to develop on its own. The fun of tuning in to the show live is its reactionary satire (and it worked tonight in certain spots), but it’s worthwhile to question whether being satisfied in the moment will make those member berries go sour in the future.
I binged season 19 nearly in one sitting before the season 20 premiere and it lost a lot of the flavor that I gushed about in my reviews last year. Are we still going to be Yelping when I’m watching South Park reruns on a futuristic streaming device as a 70-year-old man?
We’re in an election season in which one outrageous moment supplants the next almost every day, and attention spans and memories are shorter than ever. Giant Douches and Turd Sandwiches come and go, but Matt and Trey, even in their more scatterbrain efforts, have a natural ability to put their finger on the country’s pulse. As television is constantly skewing in the opposite, evergreen direction, South Park at 20 remains immediate, for better or worse.