Sometimes the intensity of politics and social issues can feel overwhelming. I feel obliged to stay updated on current events and have opinions about who is right and wrong. Luckily there are shows like “South Park”and HBO’s new show “Watchmen” that provide social commentary and bring an odd sense of sanity to the chaos that is modern politics. These shows offer catharsis and an opportunity to view our socio-political climate through a different, somewhat removed lense.
The 23rd season of “South Park” is in the middle of airing, and it is one of the most politically poignant to date. Though only six episodes have been released, the season has showed satire of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the situation in China, meat alternatives and plenty of shots at Trump.
“South Park”’s satire of ICE is disturbingly inhumane, portraying the officers as camp counselors, and children separated from their parents as dogs in a dog pound. When one of the main characters is sent to an ICE detention center, he warns the officers that what they are doing is wrong because they will create a “Mexican joker” by traumatizing a child so horribly that they hold a violent grudge against America into adulthood. This is critiquing American xenophobia by calling out those who are scared of potentially violent immigrants.
The overarching plot of this season sees a father in the town of “South Park” moving to a farm in order to start a marijuana business. The man ends up selling much of his product to China in order to make money, which the Chinese government plants on protesters so they can be arrested. One episode has many well known Disney characters and NBA players flying to China to increase viewership, but they are instead arrested for going against the Chinese censors.
The season also addresses anti-vaccers, and the industrialization of plant based meat, critiquing them both harshly. There is a vaccination rodeo where cowboys lasso children so they can be vaccinated while a crowd cheers, and a nameless shady figure comes to town with the promise of changing all their meat to processed ‘goo.’
The satire on “South Park” is almost too on the nose, directly calling out individuals on Trump's cabinet and specific issues like vaccination. Seeing our world mirrored in the exaggerated town of “South Park” reminds one of how egregious certain practices in America and around the world are.
“Watchmen” uses more nuanced satire aimed directly at American racial politics.
The story takes place in a world where Nixon is elected for two consecutive terms, the Klu Klux Klan commits even more violent atrocities and superheroes exist.
After a coordinated attack against individual officers, the police become required to wear masks at all times, and their guns remain in a lock until they can be approved for use. Tulsa, Arizona is at the center of the story, where the KKK dropped firebombs in the ‘40s.
Reparations for this attack are fully present in the form of redfordations, in reference to the current president, Robert Redford.
This alternate version of history highlights the deep seated racism in America’s past, but presents a future in which affirmative action and reparations are successful initiatives.
These two shows offer a new framework through which our current politics can be viewed. “South Park” forces us to reflect on how bizarre and cruel our society has become, while “Watchmen” takes a more serious look at the history of America and what our future could look like.
Depictions of modern America in entertainment have the power to shape how we view our country, and though “South Park” can be crass, it is only as a result of our reality.