Did South Park Give Donald Trump What he Deserved?

TV Features Donald Trump
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While Caitlyn Jenner and long-running back-up joke Canada hardly emerged from the episode unscathed, it was Donald Trump who bore the brunt of South Park’s barbs last week. The business magnate, Apprentice host, and current Republican frontrunner had not one, but two animated stand-ins onto which Trey Parker and Matt Stone projected criticism: One was the newly politically active Mr Garrison, incensed by the number of Canadians who had crossed the border into the States and got him wondering “Where my country gone?” (a moronic slogan echoing those heard at Trump rallies).

Mr Garrison found popularity for his local anti-migrant campaign, despite his admittance that he didn’t “understand politics, or immigration policies, or the law, or basic ideological concepts.” Some reactionary xenophobic bluster and a vague promise to “make American great again,” though, was all it took to secure this misguided bigot’s appeal with the angry mob. But in case viewers didn’t get it, the other Trump-like figure made the episode’s key target plainly obvious: he was the ‘Canadian president,’ a brash, orange-combovered brat who had somehow managed to be elected leader of Canada, built a wall to keep outsiders away, and driven the country to ruin and its hard-hit people into the sanctuary of the US.

None of this is what made “Where My Country Gone” controversial. There aren’t likely many, beyond a gullible few, who think a man that’s been declared bankrupt four times and that doesn’t believe people “care” about policies will really ‘make America great again.’ There are probably even fewer people who tuned in to the latest South Park and thought depicting a nation under Donald Trump as a crumbling wasteland was misleading or in poor taste. Tellingly, no vocal contingent seems to be taking issue with South Park’s notion that President Trump would be disastrous for America.

Still, even fans of the show wondered whether THAT scene constituted a step too far; said scene being the one in which the ‘Canadian president’ was pinned down and “f—ed to death” by a raging Mr Garrison. Even for South Park this was brutal, with Parker and Stone making clear their disdain for Trump in a way you’d think they’d only reserve for fictional characters, for fear of being sued off the air. They’ve put Tom Cruise in a closet, turned Kanye West into a gay fish, and portrayed Bono as a literal giant piece of shit, but arguably no celebrity has ever had as much reason to be pissed at South Park as Donald Trump.

Naturally the talking point following the airing of “Where My Country Gone” was whether or not using rape as a gag was too extreme. What apparently nobody thought to mention was how this was the second time Donald Trump had been involved in a controversy regarding attitudes towards rape this year. Only the earlier incident was much more serious, considering it didn’t arise courtesy of a pair of notoriously mischievous showrunners, but a genuine favourite for presidential candidacy. Lest we forget, only back in June, Trump took to a public platform to sweepingly label all Mexican people “rapists.”

Like Trump, Trey Parker and Matt Stone approached the subject of rape flippantly in “Where My Country Gone.” The difference is that South Park is an absurd cartoon comedy, while Donald Trump has a real chance—surely slim, but a chance all the same—of bringing his inflammatory views with him to the presidential office of one of the most powerful nations on Earth. Yes, THAT scene did approach an uneasy topic in what was perhaps an ill-advisedly insensitive manner—but Donald Trump is only as carelessly provocative every time he takes to a podium. And maybe the point Parker and Stone were trying to make is this: if it’s okay for a prospective US leader to act this way, then isn’t it fair game for everybody?

Donald Trump has built himself a repugnant, cartoonish public persona, and lately made a ghastly show of American politics through his cynical election run, one built on enormous inherited wealth, with the sole naked objective of increasing the runner’s personal power. This is a man who’s been content to make himself into a caricature of a person, even more so lately by trolling a serious contest with incendiary remarks and casual bigotry. In the already infamous rape scene of “Where My Country Gone,” South Park attacked this Trump PERSONALITY—Trump’s shocking public avatar—rather than the human being that supposedly resides underneath.

Still, the fact remains that the latest episode of the show risked offending by playing violent sexual assault for laughs. But was that scene really any more insulting than the offhand “rapists” remark made by the focus of the episode’s ire? Was it any worse than Trump’s campaign on the whole so far? Making bogey men of foreigners, inciting hatred against ‘anchor babies,’ declaring veterans “losers” for getting captured in war-time, behaving with archaic chauvinism towards the opposite sex—is it so surprising that Parker and Stone view this backwards grotesque as worthy of a risqué joke? It must be said that theirs is a joke with underlying seriousness: In Mr Garrison’s violent act, you have Parker and Stone pondering the effect of Trumpian xenophobia if it’s allowed to fester.

The scene in question is disturbing, but its main target is not Trump, it’s Trump’s politics. A recurring proposition of Trump’s during his campaign has been to surround the US with a wall to keep outsiders away, by inference turning the US people into elites, and citizens of the rest of the world into an underclass. Distasteful or not, “Where My Country Gone” is fundamentally critical of racial hatred brought about by the dehumanization of outsiders—a dehumanization Donald Trump is keen to espouse. And as Trump freely uses his (bought) platform to peddle his obnoxious brand of scaremongering, Parker and Stone have used their platform to criticize him for it—and they chose to respond in the kind of outrageous, hateful manner that Trump himself deems appropriate.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have treated Donald Trump (bafflingly, somewhat terrifyingly still at the head of the Republican pack) with the same contempt he has for society’s already-vulnerable. Perhaps it was beneath them to stoop to Trump’s level in the way that they did. But where South Park was clearly satirical in its handling of taboo subject matter on Wednesday night, Donald Trump’s xenophobia, misogyny, and willful ignorance is real, not satire, and it’s potentially harmful for an entire nation. Via trademark controversial means, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made that point perfectly.