This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 21 Episode 6
Hang onto your broomsticks, we have plenty to discuss about last night’s Halloween episode of South Park.
A few weeks ago, Randy said: “You have to overdo it in today’s society or critics go, ‘wow what the hell was that?’” That’s a line that stuck with me in an outrageous episode about Columbus Day, and is more relevant today given that South Park is somewhat rightfully being thrashed for what was once their hallmark, being “equal opportunity offender,” and is under new scrutiny by critics in a post-Trump election (including myself, particularly with a weak take on the Charlottesville white supremacist march in the premiere).
This week, The Village Voice penned a feature that questioned whether you could call South Park’s resistance to directly addressing Trump “a moral and ethical failure, but it’s certainly an artistic one.” The piece not only sidesteps that the last season and a half was almost solely focused on Trump and the toxic environment his candidacy created, but called out Stone and Parker for not having “the will or the introspective nature” to examine “themselves and white American manhood.”
Hoo-boy. We can put aside the fact that the entire arc of season 19 challenged the “un-pc” culture South Park contributed to and was one non-stop joke at the expense of the show’s creators. But the first four episodes of season 21 were either directly (Garrison’s North Korea tweets) or indirectly (Zuckerberg’s fake news problem) influenced by Trump.
That may come off like a full-throated defense of Stone and Parker, but on a surface level, how much more Garrison/Trump can South Park do before this show turns into a weekly SNL cold open? They don’t have a moral obligation to spend all ten of these episodes ragging on an administration so inept that we’re forced to both laugh and cry. Saying South Park is blinking when it comes to Trump (remember Garrison was the candidate who wanted to “fuck” undocumented immigrants to death) is both ignoring canon and the brash President Garrison or missing the only slightly more subtle social commentary of the last three seasons.
Fair or unfair, we’ve been conditioned expect South Park to “take down” public figures. But South Park can’t take down Trump in the way Colbert, Kimmel, Trevor Noah or Samantha Bee can. So many in comedy are struggling because he’s almost too easy of a target and it’s alllll been done before.
South Park doesn’t need to take big swings at Trump week in and week out, despite the headlines saying they’ve whiffed on Trump. In “Sons of Witches,” South Park takes small shots at Garrison who hasn’t built that wall nor made America great again. The episode is better off and more effective by focusing on the toxic culture of masculinity that includes but extends far beyond Trump. And after all, isn’t Trump the poster boy for a witch getting away with disgusting behavior anyway?
“Sons a Witches” is a play on Woody Allen’s unsurprisingly tone deaf comments, suggesting the sexual assault allegations of Harvey Weinstein and countless others shouldn’t lead to a “Salem atmosphere.” Matt Stone and Trey Parker run with the concept of a witch hunt, which they refrain from saying directly, centered on Randy and the dads’ annual “Jack and Crack” pre-Halloween woods retreat.
It’s pretty clear to me that all sides aren’t equal in the episode, even if Stephen Stotch sings about good and bad witches. The episode is about a bunch of white dudes dressed like witches, distancing themselves from a bad witch, and unapologetically continuing on with their traditions. That’s a literal mockery of male victimhood and the culture of acceptance when it comes to sexual assault, and it hammers this point home to varying success throughout the episode. The boys aren’t exactly learning a lesson in chivalry here, either. In the lunchroom they say lines like: “None of us are safe,” “we just have to hope the police handle it,” “yeah right, like they’ll handle anything.” Kyle, looking up how to destroy a witch, reads online that you need “Bent Pits.” Cartman, as usual, takes his B plot to the extreme, coming up with a plan to get rid of Heidi Turner, knowing she’ll get victim blamed if she dressed in a way that will entice the witch to snatch her up.
It’s Kyle, though, who delivers the most woke line of the season: “Dad get out of here, we’re trying to deal with an actual witch, nobody is coming after you.”
Matt and Trey also aren’t excusing themselves either. How many rape jokes has this show made over the years? Garrison’s ascension to the White House began with him raping the Canadian Trump, which wasn’t exactly a commentary on Trump’s alleged (and admitted) sexual misconduct. South Park is filthy and unapologetic, but it’s not entirely tone deaf. One of Randy’s big lines in the episode to me showed some accountability and self-awareness in jest on South Park’s part: “Just because of one bad witch we’re supposed to stop a tradition that goes back 20 some odd years?”
After denial comes acceptance for Stephen Stotch, who has a moral issue with the behavior of the witches. Of course, these “good witches” all turn their back on him to maintain the status quo. It’s a cynical ending. One bad witch may be gone, but plenty of others free to roam the night, and few are willing to accept accountability for fostering this culture. It’s also our cold reality. To paraphrase Rod Serling, evil is alive because we keep him alive.