South Park’s twenty-minute season premiere tackles numerous sensitive issues in classic South Park fashion. Cavalier humour is used to explore phenomena such as school shootings, virtue signalling and identity politics.
The episode opens rather innocuously with the student’s receiving the results of their maths test. Cartman fails despite copying his neighbour, a black student named ‘Token’. This leaves Cartman to believe that Token sabotaged him, thus setting up the A-story.
Simultaneously, the class is interrupted by a school shooting, which the teacher does her best to ignore. The dismissive attitudes of her and the students give us a glimpse as to how Trey Parker and Matt Stone intend to examine this issue, establishing the B-story.
Cartman becomes obsessed with the idea that Token sabotaged his attempts at cheating because he criticised Black Panther, a film many consider to be a cultural cornerstone for the black community.
Cartman’s shallow deduction is predicated on the idea that all black people saw Black Panther and consider it to be a major part of their heritage. Despite claiming to not like the film on its technical merits, Cartman assumes any criticism of the film is tantamount to racism.
Cartman is a parody of the typical ‘woke’ individual. He engages in insincere virtue signalling to prove that he is not a racist, despite having not said anything racist. Paradoxically, he reduces Token to his race identity by assuming that all black people think collectively.
Despite Token’s insistence that he did not see Black Panther, Cartman refuses to entertain the possibility that a black person may not have seen the film. He goes to lengths to confirm his theory that Token dislikes him as a racist, rather than as a person.
In an age where identity politics are prevalent, Cartman lacks the nuance to distinguish an individual from their race. Consequently, he concludes that rather than not actually seeing the film, Token did not like it, and is afraid to admit it publicly for fear of being ostracised from his entire race.
Whereas Cartman used to be explicitly despicable, he is now implicitly racist. Rather than be honest, Cartman signals his virtuosity to black people by espousing how much he loves Black Panther in a desperate attempt to appear tolerant.
The B-story is handled in a comparatively less subtle manner. Stan’s mom, Sharon, is understandably distraught about the recent shooting at the school. However, her husband, Randy, and fellow parents cannot understand her distress.
Randy becomes convinced that her frustration is due to being on her period, and eventually concludes that she may be forgoing the menopause. The message here is self-evident, as Parker and Stone highlight the normalisation of school shootings in America.
The jokes are simplistic, and the story ends on a rather harrowing note as Sharon accepts that perhaps she is overreacting to what should be considered a trivial issue. Evidently, Parker and Stone have taken a fatalistic attitude to the school shooting epidemic, offering no solution to the mass desensitisation towards such a painful issue.
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