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Goin’ Down to South Park Guide S 1 E 8: ‘Starvin’ Marvin’

Television

Goin’ Down to South Park Guide S 1 E 8: ‘Starvin’ Marvin’

Despite smart commentary, does South Park cross the line with fat shaming?

“THERE ARE NO STUPID QUESTIONS, JUST STUPID PEOPLE.” 

Original Airdate: November 19, 1997

“The boys sponsor a starving Ethiopian child, only to have him show up on their doorstep.”

Usually, sitcoms recycle plot devices through the years, and South Park takes the plot of kids mail-ordering something (a la Leave It to Beaver) and delves into themes of humanitarianism and classism. 

Firstly, the boys are interested in humanitarian efforts not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because of a prize offered. We can look poorly on the kids for their selfishness, but aren’t we all like this? There’s a reason humanitarian foundations have to throw in extra incentives for people. 

Goin’ Down to South Park Guide S 1 E 8: ‘Starvin’ Marvin’
Comedy Central: South Park

Trey and Matt have a lot of fun mocking American excess and simultaneous stinginess, comparing Cartman’s gluttony to donating disgusting creamed corn to starving people who don’t even have frickin’ can openers! In Africa for only a short time, Cartman gets a little justice done to him since he can barely take the malnourished conditions. Again, it’s easy to write off Cartman as weak and pathetic (which, I mean, he is), but how many Americans could survive in a third world country having lived such excessive lives? 

However, the commentary is hindered by mean jabs at Sally Struthers, who apparently started the whole humanitarian effort to get more food (or another reading is that she was overcome with gluttony). All the sharp if broad commentary is reduced to fat shaming, which is a shame. Perhaps the joke would have worked if the hoarding character was made up and represented America itself, but actually pinning a large woman as the target comes across as cruel (especially because, according to Trey and Matt in the commentary, the real Struthers cried upon seeing the episode). 

south park 1.9.2
Comedy Central: South Park

In the commentary, Trey justifies the choice by saying Struthers should, in effect, lay off the Twinkies before going on TV to talk about starving children. But at this point, it’s common knowledge that larger people aren’t often large because they’re lazy or don’t work out or don’t care. Many larger people are born that way or are genetically pre-disposed. Many larger people love their bodies. Many larger people struggle with other elements like mental health which effects their weight—etc. 

Although the plot regarding crazed turkeys seems like an unnecessary non sequitur, and perhaps it still is as the creators have admitted in the commentary, Scott Calef, a professor of popular culture wrote in his article, “Four-Assed Monkeys: Genetics and Genetics in Small-Town Colorado” that the turkeys represent nature and the notion of ethics, which South Park previously toyed with. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but hey, overthinking South Park is a fun pastime. Regardless, it allows the South Park company to impressively, ambitiously spoof Braveheart. And spoofing movies and their self-importance and grandeur is something we’ll see much, much, much more of in the future.

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