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Television

Goin’ Down to South Park Guide S I E 6: ‘Death’

South Park decides to touch on assisted suicide with a very small pole.

“THAT’S THE SPIRIT, TUBBY.”

September 17, 1997

Season 1

Episode 6

Grampa wants Stan to kill him, the parents all want to kill the Terrance and Philip show, and Death just wants to kill someone.

Trey, Matt, and the South Park crew invite controversy, so this episode is exciting because here they criticize the critics and authority figures on a myriad of fronts, the biggest being the issue of censorship. 

The iconic Canadian duo of Terrence and Philip make their debut here and I can’t help but see intentional parallels to Trey and Matt. Their very creation is rooted in slugging back at the critics, however, Terrence and Philip’s existence/function is hard to explain because they’re a jumble of seemingly contradictory goals. They work as:

  1. A Straw Man, meta-textual embodiment of what critics wrote South Park off as (nothing more than “potty humor”)
  2. An example of a crass yet harmless version of Vaudeville slapstick (smelling a flower bit and all).
  3. It goes without saying: an excuse for Trey and Matt to make fart jokes meant to be actually funny to the viewer (and dear reader, I must admit they got me)

Yet…it all comes together and somehow works because the overarching theme lambasting parental (moral) panic about media still holds up. Let’s not forget that a running gag is how the adults and parents are obsessed with stopping fart jokes…despite hypocritically, constantly cracking jokes about dysentery. Moral panic will never die, will it?

south park 1.6.1
Comedy Central South Park

Jokes and attitudes and actions are bearable in real life, but when they’re reflected in media — that’s when people get upset. Despite the Grim Reaper, the embodiment of Death itself, chasing the kids and them interested in trying hard drugs and watching pornography — their parents are more interested in stopping cuss words on TV. 

One could take this episode as a takedown of “PC culture” and it’s very possible to get that reading since Trey and Matt have spent so much time in recent years lambasting “PC” principles. But I think this episode is more nuanced than that, because many times that “PC police” are cited as a problem by people, it’s in regards to offensive jokes or opinions aimed  to genuinely hurt minorities or struggling people. But in this case, the commentary is aimed at overzealous parents and dismissive critics, but “the snowflake Libs.”

Despite going after critics and offended parents, it’s nice that the episode doesn’t say, arms figuratively crossed, that parents are lame for not letting kids watch South Park. Instead, the show, through Stan makes the point that parents should me more involved in their kids’ lives instead of blaming bad behavior or moral corruption on art or media.

The creators joke around and are elusive about whether they think kids should necessarily watch South Park, but they know and say that watching the show won’t instantly warp a child to be worse. Is South Park really that much more subversive than any other show when it comes down to what conservative parents find objectionable? (example A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pmW5KXNUOo)

On another note, this episode’s subplot is a far lighter affair — dealing with assisted suicide. Marvin Marsh, Stan’s grandpa, desperately wants to die due to the droning, seemingly unending tedium and complacency from being over 100. Shockingly, he says to Stan: “I killed my grandpa when I was your age!” Despite having characters say they won’t touch the issue, Trey and Matt do seem to come down on a point: putting somebody in that moral dilemma and situation is selfish. According to IMDb trivia, gleaned from the episode’s commentary track, that is more or less what Trey actually thinks.

Goin' Down to South Park Guide S I E 6: 'Death'
Comedy Central: South Park

As South Park continues, Trey and Matt express their centrist opinions more clearly, making characters total idiots on many sides. But it’s interesting to see them early on give many of their characters genuine confusion about an issue, like the fact that nobody wants to discuss assisted suicide, pushing it away with metaphorical poles that keep growing longer and longer. Even Jesus refuses to give answers. 

No matter the jokes, there is commentary to be had on the Marsh family. Despite their Grandfather continually expressing pain, they don’t try to comfort him and dismiss him as senile. Maybe if they were more loving, listened more, and actually cared for him, he wouldn’t be so eager to die?

Now it’s time for our favorite segment: Cartman Hits a New Low. He’s given a pretty anti-Semitic line bashing Mrs. Broflowski, although the joke lies more in Mrs. Cartman’s indifferent reaction: “Oh, OK sweetie.” More screwed-up parental priorities. 

Speaking of Mrs. Broflowski, her plan is clearly the blueprint of the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, which has virtually the same premise: Terrence and Philip inspiring moral panic and chaos. 

Finally, there are a handful of extra-textual censorship examples that make this episode even more amusing. Apparently this episode no longer airs on Comedy Central (although it’s accessible on HBO Max currently); according to IMDb a reason could be a throwaway line from Cartman about meth. 

Originally Trey and Matt wanted Marvin to be a molesting pedophile, but the network pushed back, which the creators acknowledged was a good call. There’s an awkward beat where Cartman wiggles his butt at somebody…and it’s awkward because originally, C-man was supposed to be mooning us. But, you guessed it, the network pushed back. 

CITATIONS: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0705920/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

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