This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 22 Episode 8
Anxieties tend to run high when your town has rampant gun violence, a vaping addiction, a distrust of its clergymen, racist and unpleasant fecal matter, and a highly destructive ManBearPig on the loose. If I lived in South Park, I’d be putting my head under a box too.
“Buddha Box” begins a familiar plot structure: Cartman learns a new thing, then slyly uses his understanding of said thing to his advantage. Cartman uses a clinical issue, this time his “anxiety,” as an excuse to spend more time on his phone. The episode then introduces a silly product, a cardboard box, to help Cartman shun his mom, friends, and teachers. All things considered, that’s pretty innocent for Cartman.
Eventually it gets to a place where all the people of South Park are coping with their anxieties. That’s a good thing! Acknowledging that mental health is just important as physical health is a big step for them. Granted, they do it in the most counterproductive way possible by putting their heads inside a noise-cancelling box that projects their phone screen a few inches from their face. The joke here is that South Park’s residents are brushing aside how constant contact with our phones, in particular how we fetishize the self-satisfaction that comes with the “like” economy on social media, negatively contributes to our mental health. As they understand it, more time in front of their phones will put them at peace, at the cost of hiding from the outside world.
Technology dependence is becoming an increasingly more difficult cycle to escape. By my unscientific estimate, being on Twitter makes be 53 percent less happy and more anxious every day, yet I’m a frequent user! While anxiety can be severe and feel crippling for some people, there are different levels of anxiety we all experience in our lives, often on a daily basis. South Park pokes fun at people who claim of chronic anxiety as an excuse for what’s actually their chronic laziness, especially in Cartman’s case. The episode fails to touch on the subject of how people medicate and self-diagnose with any depth. Had they not spent an episode on vaping, I think using the booming CBD craze would have been a better device to convey this message, rather than the tired “kids are on their phones too much” trope. The only real lesson learned is by PC Principal and Strong Woman, who put down their phones so they don’t miss important life moments with the PC Babies (a joke that’s already run its course).
The last two episodes showed how self-aware and funny South Park can be at times in its old age. Then we get entries like this that feel like two old men yelling at a cloud. “Buddha Box” unfortunately puts its full weight behind two lame jokes that were not strong enough to sustain a half-hour episode. By the last act I was looking for my own cardboard box.