A cartoon show that knew no boundaries and helped usher in an era of more thoughtful, adult-oriented animation.
…because if you still think animation is childish and immature, then you can suck Cartman’s balls. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s foul-mouthed fourth graders have offended pretty much everyone as they evolved into media’s most perceptive satirical voices. The show’s simple cut-and-paste animation style allows the creators to comment on (i.e. mock the living crap out of) relevant social, cultural and political issues almost in real time. "South Park" has also played an important role in challenging censorship by consistently pushing the limits of acceptable content and defeating critics with self-referential humor.
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The trademark look of “South Park” is tied to the show’s now legendary origin story. Inspired by the paper collages of Terry Gilliam’s "Monty Python" cartoons, Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a crudely animated DIY short, providing all the voices (and curse words) that would define the comedy of the show. After their early short became a viral hit among film and television executives, the creators insisted on using the same cut-and-paste techniques for the series. They realized that the cheapness of the production costs meant that they could have more control over the material. The show has also taken a self-aware approach to its own shoddy craftsmanship, poking fun at the aesthetic while also using the “my kid could have done that” quality to their advantage. Perhaps ironically, the cardboard paper animation gives the show a realistic quality, as though it were a project that Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny put together in their spare time. However, perhaps the most significant effect of the show’s signature is the insanely fast (for animation, at least) production schedule. As the show developed, its voice became more and more topical, so the simple animation style has allowed the creators to address real-world issues almost as they happen. These have ranged from parodying the obvious terribleness of Jar Jar Binks before "The Phantom Menace" hit theaters to, more recently, the rise of Donald Trump. While it seems crazy in the digital age that anything needs to be watched when it actually airs, let alone an animated series, "South Park’s" ability to quickly – and more importantly, intelligently – produce cultural commentary have kept the notion of must see TV on life support.
Like “The Simpsons,” “South Park” has embedded itself into our cultural consciousness well beyond the show itself. Whether through the feature film, the toys, the video games or your friends’ dueling Cartman impressions, “South Park” has emerged as its own media empire. However, at its core “South Park” is still the personal product of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In addition to writing, producing and directing nearly every episode of the show, they also provide most of the characters’ voices. The title town is based on the Colorado communities where they grew up, and the main characters Stan and Kenny have elements of Parker and Stone’s respective biographies. Moreover, Parker and Stone have turned the series into a vehicle for their own individual views. Whether it’s their opinion about a popular movie (or a rival irreverent animated series), their thoughts on a political controversy or simply their own off-kilter take on the world at large, the show always makes its creators’ point of view clear. This is probably most evident when “South Park” has dealt with issues of censorship that have always circled a show too daring for prime time even on paid cable.
The real genius of “South Park” may lie in its own awareness. After all, everyone knows cartoons are for kids, right? Especially when the characters are all children who should not be engaging in adult behavior! The central joke of “South Park” is that the kids curse like adults while acting their own age. And the format of the show mimics this through its childlike presentation. Additionally, the show always tries to approach storylines from a somewhat realistic perspective – essentially, the characters appear how contemporary 10-year olds might feel and act, but with a lot more f-bombs. Parker and Stone have also brilliantly contrasted the world of the kids in the show with the world of the adults for comedic effect. When the kids do terrible, stupid things, it’s funny because, at least in the world of the show, they’re just kids who really shouldn’t know any better. However, the adults, especially Stan’s dad and Kyle’s mom, don’t have this excuse when they act like idiots and turn a minor conflict into a huge, sometimes world threatening, ordeal. In the end, it’s usually the kids who provide the voice of reason while the adults lose their minds. Indeed, it’s tempting to take this as a reflection on the show itself: a cartoon that indulges in scatological humor, but ultimately presents the most mature and rational voice in the world of contemporary media.
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