The Social Justice Warriors of the world wide web perked up when it was revealed that South Park was going to do a Caitlyn Jenner episode to kick off season 19. It was hardly a surprising choice, considering Jenner’s stature as an Olympic great and patriarch of reality television’s royal family brought transgender people to the forefront of American culture in a way that has never been done before.
Whether you think she’s stunning and brave or it will take time for you to be comfortable with people transitioning into the gender they best identify with, the Summer of Caitlyn was measuring stick for how tolerant we’ve become as a nation. But it’s not my job to assess that, it’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s. Ironically, they made their big statement on political correctness in the most politically correct way possible.
“Stunning and Brave” was mostly tame for an episode that referred to rape as a “Hot Cosby” about 30 seconds in. This is the same show that opened a season by showing real footage of Mr. Garrison’s transition to a woman. I’m sure they filled a dry erase board on ways to write in Caitlyn Jenner, but instead they used the attention the episode was bound to get to take aim at those offended by everything.
Maybe it was because they’ve touched on the topic of transition before, with Mr. Garrison switching teams a few times, but Matt and Trey instead decided to put our white privileges on notice by introducing the most “PC” bros on campus. Out with Principal Victoria and in PC Principal ushers in a new era at South Park Elementary. Beyond the cosmetic changes, South Park continues to show a self-awareness that has kept it relevant across 258 episodes.
Tonight’s episode tapped into the fake internet outage that’s sterilizing comedy. How many comedians have gotten in trouble over the last year for insensitive tweets or misfired jokes?
South Park has mostly avoided the PC backlash. For one, it’s an animated comedy, which typically don’t drawn the same scorn as live-action. It feels less accountable, though it probably shouldn’t. The show has dropped the “I learned something today” monologues, but greater societal truths remain present in their comedy. Still, how they get to that message these days is less shock value and more of a sarcastic slant on a given situation. Not that they always have to show real-life footage of a surgeon ripping apart a man’s penis and turning it into vagina lips as they did during the show’s glory days (what the fuck is wrong with me for typing that).
When you set a standard like that, it’s easy to come away wanting more from this episode, although I thought the message was sound. Caitlyn Jenner is stunning and brave to many people. Yet just as there are people on the far right spreading their intolerance, there are plenty on the far left ready to bark about any perceived social injustice. That’s where PC Principal and his PC frat bros come in. Google it, South Park in 2015 is a place where there are still no hispanic kids, but a fancy new micro brewery. It’s where PC Bros from Texas A&M and Ohio State want to leave your gross white privilege at the door.
With the PC bros, especially in the first act, Matt and Trey offer their best commentary on the state of comedy. While the topical Tom Brady and Jared from Subway references fell flat, it also never really had to be about Caitlyn Jenner. They’ve touched on sexuality in every which way, from the gaggle of gay gooses in Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Animal Sanctuary to Mrs. Garrison’s use of her fancy new vagina by way of scissoring. There was something much larger at work here.
If we learned anything today, it’s that you pick the fights you know you can win. Matt and Trey are still better at that than anyone else on making animated comedy right now.