Let’s start by clarifying one important fact: I love South Park. Its crass, disgusting humor is a thing of beauty, wrapped in the careful, intelligent, and dare I say thoughtful comedy that serves as a framework for the whole affair. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are smart guys. And in most cases, it shows in almost every episode of the 15-year-old show. But, as their musical, The Book of Mormon, gained traction and the duo became busier, fans have complained that the quality of their claim to fame has suffered. And in some cases (sorry, “Human Cen-iPad”) they have misstepped, but for the most part, they’re still delivering the same level of absurd commentary we’ve come to expect. Unless of course, they’re taking a stab at reality television stars.
The latest starlet to get the South Park treatment is pint-sized pageant queen Honey Boo Boo Child, and unfortunately, Parker and Stone’s cartoon darling didn’t quite live up to its reputation. The episode included Honey Boo Boo and her mother, as seen on Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as the inspiration for Cartman accepting his own obesity and eventually landing his own show as Fatty Doo Doo. Now, this seems like a perfectly good set up to launch into a thoughtful parody — helped along by the series’ signature bathroom humor — aimed at television networks, like Honey Boo Boo’s TLC and the Real Housewives hub, Bravo. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to skewer them for promoting unhealthy behavior, and we almost got there.
Token, the boys’ friend from school, sets up Cartman’s show, but that storyline is quickly hijacked… by James Cameron, Michelle Obama, and Honey Boo Boo’s pig heart transplant. As a result of Cartman’s new show and Honey Boo Boo’s fame, Cameron goes on a misguided mission to move The Bar (a big taste-making device somewhere in the ocean), signaling that we, as a society, have decided we don’t want anything above pig slop on our televisions. We witness Honey Boo Boo get a pig’s heart (and act like a little oinker as a result) and as a way of mocking her mother’s “Sketti” recipe (ketchup, butter, and the integral “sketti” noodles, of course), the episode ends with a wrestling match in the high calorie stuff.
The result is little more than Cartman seated in a Rascal scooter while running over the small, pageant-loving child. Finally, it all comes to a close when Michelle Obama pummels Cartman as a way of taking out childhood obesity. And we’re all left to sit and wonder why we switched over from the admittedly boring Presidential debates to watch this regurgitation of every Honey Boo Boo joke we’ve ever heard.
But it’s not an isolated incident. Take for example, “It’s a Jersey Thing,” which took aim at The Real Housewives of New Jersey and (probably more pointedly) Snooki and her Jersey Shore cohorts. The town of South Park is threatened by a scourge of Jerseyites who excuse all bad behavior with the phrase “It’s a Jersey thing.” Finally, the invasion becomes so horrible – marked by the growling cries for “smush, smush” by the Snooki troll – that the town calls in Al Qaeda to take out the Jerseyites. That’s right. Al Qaeda is preferable to fist-pumping, table-throwing, outrageous people from Jersey. It was a knee-jerk response, and nothing better than a conglomerate of all the chatter already surrounding reality TV’s Jersey obsession.
The same thing happened when they tackled reality star and pop culture phenom Paris Hilton, whose South Park character was an idiot whose clothing line was called “Stupid Spoiled Whore” and included the tagline “Remember to party and be super lame to everyone” and touted a kit for making sex tapes. Sure, it was funny because we all needed a rest from Hilton’s fame monster, but was it clever? Not really. Later, the series didn’t even do anything special with Caesar Milan of The Dog Whisperer, who was brought in to train Cartman to behave. We were treated to an episode of Cartman voicing the things that we assume every dog on that show is probably thinking. Not quite as brilliant as most of South Park‘s other fare.
So, why bring up this issue now? Why not criticize the series for its portrayal of Snooki as a sniveling little monster who’ll hump anything? Why not get mad at the lazy joke on Paris Hilton? Well, this time around, the target is a little girl. And while the series could have taken aim at the industry, it took down a child who’s simply having fun doing what she was raised to do. And it took her down harshly.
But it’s not just that the joke was mean. South Park is always ruthless and always mean to everyone, even if it might offend an entire religious population. (And, heck, the series has been killing children — specifically Kenny — since its inception.) While everyone else is joining in on the Honey Boo Boo bashing, of course South Park is going to get into the fray. But after witnessing what South Park can do with every political topic under the sun, movies, celebrity relationships, Scientology, and its cartoon series competitors, it’s no wonder we’d expect some innovative take on the TLC phenomenon.
These are the folks who took Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and turned it into a front for an alien race of crab people who were trying to take over the world. The people who gave us an episode about the entire planet being one giant reality show run by an alien who could become anyone, even a taco that poops ice cream. These are the creative people we look to when something mockable makes its way into the pop culture realm. We expect excellence and taco-flavored kisses, not two overweight kids fighting in a glorified slop bucket.