Go ahead, laugh. After all, that’s what Trey Parker and Matt Stone did when they first introduced the foul-mouthed kids of South Park, Colo., to popular culture. However, not everyone was in on the joke.
In their TV show — complete with cutout animation and bleeped-out cursing — they found an outlet for bitingly sharp social commentary. To some, South Park was vulgar, to others it was brilliant.
But when Parker and Stone created South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, they shocked mainstream movie audiences with their unabashed profanity and also struck a nerve with their pointed observations on such topics as religion, homosexuality, activism, the parent-child relationship, celebrity and Canada.
Looking back on the 1999 film, it almost serves as a precursor to the military actions the United States would take four years later.
The film opens with a news report referencing that Saddam Hussein was attacked and killed by a pack of wild boars. While we soon see Saddam in hell carrying on a homosexual relationship with Satan, there is more going on there than an immature joke about the Iraqi leader’s possible sexual orientation. Rather, what happens as a result of his absence on Earth is the need to fill the United States’ void with a new enemy. (Insert your own “Where is Osama bin Laden?” joke here.)
With Saddam out of the picture, the biggest threat to this country is the corruption of its youth by two Canadian comedians. In a speech by Kyle’s mom, she says, “…horrible violence is OK, as long as people don’t say naughty words — that’s what this war is all about.”
Now sure, the subtext of that is an in-joke about the filmmakers’ public battle with the Motion Picture Association of America.
But it can also be interpreted as a prophetic statement about the United States and its current conflict with Iraq stemming from President Bush’s desire to control oil in the Middle East.
In an even more blatant approach, a newscast is played saying, “The Canadian people are asking for a peaceful resolution, but naturally, we’re not listening.”
But that’s how it’s done in South Park. The creators call it as they see it. When Kenny descends through hell, he passes the likes of Hitler and Gandhi before he meets the prince of darkness.
In the Christian hell, Gandhi’s Hinduism probably would rank the same with ordering millions of people to be killed.
And that’s the beauty of this movie. No one is sacred. No one is spared ridicule, and hardly anyone or anything is praised. Well, except for perhaps the idea — or hope, rather — that children can effect change. That speaking out against what you think is wrong might do some good. The film ends with optimism, with the hero of the film being Satan, whose original plan was to return to Earth and rule for all time.
This is a statement movie more than anything its critics have penned it as being. But the most profound notion of all may be that parents should in fact deal with their children and take responsibility for neglect.
It’s ironic the film came out the same year the Columbine tragedy happened. It’s scary that it can be looked at today with a sense of foreboding cynicism about what this country is capable of and to the extreme it’s willing to take its hypocrisy.
And when a film can do all that and tie in musical numbers reminiscent of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables, it’s an achievement to be celebrated.
Contact Will Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org