“THAT IS ONE FUDGED-UP LITTLE CRACKER!”
Original Airdate: February 4, 1998
“The son of Satan called Damien is sent to Earth to find Jesus. Jesus and Satan end up in a fight of good and evil. The only problem is it’s the same date as Cartman’s birthday.”
Commentary in South Park is rarely subtle, and it certainly isn’t here, but it still packs a punch. A large swath of themes are covered here, although many of them at this point are running gags and threads.
Once again, South Park takes scary, huge concepts and turns them into relatable, mundane satire. In this case, Trey, Matt, and company take the concept of Jesus and Satan locked in eternal warfare…and reduce it to a pay-per-view boxing match for money. Previously established Jesus in South Park could be a fraud or a crazy person on cable access. But in Damien, the creators of South Park outright say this is THE Jesus fighting THE Satan. Cue the backlash.
And because this is South Park, Jesus is a 135 pound doubting weakling who pales in comparison to Satan in terms of both intelligence and power. Of course when this aired, there were cries of sacrilege. However, let’s not forget Jesus was looked down on and considered a weakling in the Bible. Similar to the Biblical account, Jesus is forsaken (or “forsook” as Jesus says here) and his boxing match is clearly riffing on the crucifixion.
Yet instead of being spiritually forsaken or abandoned, here, Jesus finds the town betting on Satan to win, hilariously culminating in Jesus slinking into a bar to ask people to bet on him. Although funny, this take on Jesus could be tied to spiritually intelligent work like The Last Temptation of Christ which examine the more human side of Christ.
Even when Satan wins, the world doesn’t end and Jesus isn’t crushingly humiliated. Satan just wanted money for real estate.
The titular Damien, despite being the spawn of Satan, is here not to represent spiritual evil but instead being an alienated kid at school. Based on Trey’s experiences of being rejected and becoming angry in school, Damien is once again a way for auteurs Trey and Matt to work through and represent their childhoods. Despite wild shenanigans, this is a very personal show. I’d posit South Park is great in part because of Trey and Matt’s vulnerability in using their own mini-traumas as comedic fodder.
Damien is unsurprisingly bullied by Cartman — but also Kyle and Stan. Instead of being just one-note “nice” good guys, Kyle and Stan act like real kids: when an opportunity to make fun of the underdog comes, they go for it like real kids would. Damien is only able to escape the bullying by becoming one: blowing up Pip, another bullied child, sky high. When Damien has to leave, Kyle and Stan, who previously berated him, are saddened by his departure and act like there was a big lesson they learned from his appearance.
Trey and Matt say in the commentary that their thesis is clear: kids are inherently evil and not sullied by society as “Democrats” say. They advocate for society because to them it keeps people in control (which is a little weird for them to say since all they do is mock society). This view is decently conservative, echoing what the Bible says about the inherent evil of man.
On Cartman, a couple notes: his Mom continues to enable him, putting on a massive carnival birthday party (including a ferris wheel!) which would have cost a fortune.
Also, in “Damien,” we have the most concrete version of Cartman so far, in large part because Trey changed his vocal delivery to something more nasal and whiny, which he describes not as a regional accent but a “self-indulgent accent.” Something about the new vocal delivery really unlocked Cartman, because his actions while not crazy are incredibly selfish in an iconically Cartman way…like not letting kids eat cake unless he approves of their present to him and his tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wanted.
While there was a backlash from certain religious people, those who understand South Park’s intent and enjoy social structures and norms being playfully messed with for a greater message will find a lot to like about “Damien.” When the episode came out, Virginia Rohan succinctly wrote: “The episode is funny, and ultimately, good does conquer evil, albeit for all the wrong reasons.” South Park’s very existence and function as a balm to today’s social ills illustrates that sentiment too.