“South Park” offers intelligent political and social commentary

Entering into its 14th season (195 episodes and a full-length Oscar nominated film), “South Park” has become the unequivocal national forum for unabated political cynicism and social commentary for just about anyone who isn’t a member of the AARP.

Where other shows stop short, “South Park” will go. Its ability to spew real and formulated commentary on any subject or event is why it is the smartest show on television. AIDS is not off limits. Neither is pedophilia or the Catholic Church. Global warming? LOL.

And, of course, “South Park” is also the hottest basic cable time slot for, as co-creator Matt Stone described to Britain’s The Independent, “complete little raging bastards” (i.e. children) to get the scoop on the latest foul and sadistic vernacular and dark comedic one-liners floating around grungy bars and college dormitories.

That is the beauty of this animated show: layers. The show’s most basic elements consist of the daily fantastical occurrences of four 9-year-old boys (Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny) in the fictional small mountain town of South Park, Colo.

Often lambasting the muddled rationale and ethics of the boys’ parents and teachers, co-creators/producers/directors Trey Parker and Matt Stone shed social criticism on society’s basic reasoning and opinions through the often far more sensible and ethical stances of the children attending South Park Elementary.

At the same time, while social commentary by means of cynicism, satire and hyperbole may go right over the heads of less informed or younger viewers, the slap stick antics and random jokes that shows such as “Family Guy” (to which “South Park” devotes a two-part criticism called “Cartoon Wars”) rely on is also incorporated.

The layered approach, intended or not, is probably why “South Park” has remained Comedy Central’s highest rated show and has periodically been basic cable’s highest rated prime time show.

It is widely assumed that Parker and Stone use the children to voice their own stances on current issues. In interviews with CNN and People magazine, Parker and Stone divulged that they set one-week deadlines so they may rely on the spontaneity of current events that keeps the show one of the most up-to-date critical forums on American television.

“South Park” was able to air an episode that lampooned conservatives and liberals alike on Obama’s 2008 presidential victory within a day after he was announced the victor.

The show’s true intelligence, however, lies in its ability to use a children’s plot line to shed an outside perspective and social commentary on ongoing world issues.

During season 13, Parker and Stone created a plotline where a number of the children want to become pirates because of news reports they picked up on about the pirating crisis off the coast of Somalia. The children actually managed to get airline tickets to Africa by means of credit card fraud (further commentary on how easy it actually is to steal money using online purchases), and Somali pirates eventually hold them hostage without the children even realizing it.

Parker and Stone have the guts to evoke empathy for the ongoing and violently complex socio-economic situation that has ravaged the people of Somalia for decades – something few Americans have any knowledge about outside of references to “Black Hawk Down.”

What is remarkable is the depth of commentary given to the somewhat obscure international crisis of Somali pirating can be found in nearly every “South Park” episode. That is why “South Park” is the smartest show on television.

Season 14 debuts March 17. Decide for yourself.

Ryne Sulier is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Plano.