“I’M A CLINICALLY DEPRESSED FECALPHILIAC ON PROZAC”
Original Airdate: December 17, 1997
“The town is forced to remove anything that either has anything to do with Christmas or is offensive in the least bit to anyone. And Kyle tries to convince everyone of the existence of ‘Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.’”
A mainstay of South Park is the lambasting of over-sensitivity by people and culture at large. In this case, Kyle’s mom is upset that her son is being “forced” to be in a Christmas play because her family is Jewish.
Of course most outrage in culture is from Christians, so it’s amusing to see righteous anger be directed at them for a change. After all, usually Evangelicals are the ones taking the victim stance (despite Evangelicals holding most of the power, especially in the USA). Take the Starbucks red cup controversy, where Christians couldn’t stand the thought of a coffee cup not having Christmas decorations on it because that somehow offends Jesus. (https://www.vox.com/2015/11/10/9707034/starbucks-red-cup-controversy)
However, Trey, Matt, and the South Park crew don’t do the easy thing and mock Christians complaining about a “war on Christmas” (NOTE: see hbomberguyy’s great video on that subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbZo4x0NbbI)
Obviously the creators don’t side with the Christians. Instead, themselves neither religious nor intolerant, Trey and Matt take the stance that we should all just shut up and enjoy the Capitalist spectacle even if you’re not married to the religious subtext.
The specific way Trey and Matt use commentary keeps the episode from becoming too insufferable and not just Trey and Matt complaining that “nobody can take a joke” because of “PC culture,” which is certainly an element, albeit more subtextual.
Sometimes Trey and Matt are frustratingly centrist, but in this case, their position is quite reasonable. Outlandish outrage about celebrating a holiday, from any side, is a bit too much. There are bigger things to worry about.
This is best exemplified when the denizens protest to the mayor, and the town lumps a variety of silly grievances and racism (“Can we get rid of all the Mexicans?”) together via mob hysteria. Just because one person is offended, doesn’t mean everyone else has to change at the expense of liberties/self expression.
The point remains: when the titular town takes away the specific Holiday elements to not hurt people’s feelings, much more scandalous, dangerous, and terrible material (I dig the Philip Glass cracks) is propped up instead, all of which could have been avoided by just letting the Christmas festivities play out.
The problem is when you take this overall commentary criticizing loud, offended people and apply it to hate speech, which is what most people end up doing to take down “PC culture,” as if the removal of saying slurs against any non-white or cis person is an infringement on freedom of speech…which, it isn’t.
As ridiculous as Mr. Hankey is, it’s yet another element grounded in Trey’s childhood. Most auteurs draw self-serious drama from their childhood memories — but Trey pulls from a story his father told him according to the commentary track.
Some authors have really gotten carried away describing Mr. Hankey’s subtext, like Alison Halsall who says in her book, Taking South Park Seriously, that Mr. Hankey indicates, “the inherent dirtiness of the human body, no matter how much we try to aestheticize it, Mr. Hankey’s stains systematically mess up the cleanliness of the social order…South Park refuses sensitization through the gross-out factor.”
While Halsall may be reading a bit too much into Hankey, she raises a good point that Mr. Hankey is a clever thematic insert aside from being toilet humor. The cultural discourse raised in this episode is a shitshow, so it’s fitting the Deus Ex Machina savior is a literal piece of crap.
Kyle not being believed about Mr. Hankey also functions as an amusing reference to stories like Mr. Ed, 80s movies, and horror movies where kids (or Wilbur in Mr. Ed) are never believed by their parents in regards to the supernatural until the finale when all is set right. (The reveal of Kyle standing alone in the crap smeared bathroom is hilarious.)
Committed to an insane asylum, Kyle’s institutionalization makes for some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it commentary about the uncaring hostility of mental institutions. Note how quick, almost eager, the massive guards are to take Kyle away. In South Park’s logic, Kyle actually saw Mr. Hankey and isn’t crazy…but upon being put in the terrible mental asylum, he displays mentally deranged signs, ie, the institution made a person worse and didn’t help in the least.
Before the MCU made us obsessively sit through credits waiting for Easter eggs, this episode includes an end credits gag where we see Jesus all alone at his birthday party; a fun jab pointing to the fact that even though Christmas is supposedly about Jesus’s birth…the joy of Christmas for most everyone really boils down to consumerist pleasure.
Also, you’ve gotta love the Mr. Hankey live-action ad that advertises a s----y ripoff of Mr. Potato head. Aside from being disgustingly hilarious it functions as a commentary on the fake happiness and idealized nuclear family portrayed in ads, especially in the white picket revival of the 90s.
Lastly, there’s the infamous “Kyle’s Mom is a B*tch” song. Obviously, this is offensive to women…but Trey and Matt’s defense would be that the joke is Cartman’s insensitivity since obviously calling a woman a b*tch isn’t cool. However, it’s difficult to parse, because ultimately shock effect is the joke. Whether that’s acceptable or not is up to debate. But it wouldn’t be South Park without difficult issues being raised in the most in-your-face way.
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