South Park (97- ) is an American animated television series that was created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker in 1995 (Stratyner 23). The South Park television series made its premier debut in August 1997 (Stratyner 23). The program has enjoyed tremendous success since then.
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The show is widely known for its crude language and surreal humor (Stratyner 23). The show is a production of Comedy Central television network and the plot revolves around four 4th graders as they go about with their bizarre adventures. The four main characters of the series are Kenny, Kyle, Stan and Cartman (Stratyner 23). South Park is a fictional town in central Colorado which is the main setting of the series.
Television production has been undergoing tremendous changes since 1990s when South Park was first presented (Stratyner 23). The trends in television programs in the mid 1990s influenced the production of reality shows and dramas such as South Park (Stratyner 23). In 1995, drama was the most popular program category in the U.S.
The comedy genre had the largest audience at that time and this influenced Parker and Stone to come up with the South Park comedy series (Stratyner 29). Reality and game shows were not popular then and producers of television programs were reluctant to try them because they were not sure if the television audience would actually like the shows (Stratyner 29).
Fiction programs were slowly becoming popular in early 1990s and this actually influenced the production of South Park (Stratyner 29). Domestic fiction had been a common trend in Europe and America from 1995 to 2002 and this made Parker and Stone to give it a try (Stratyner 29). South Park is a domestic fiction drama and was well received because that was the trend at that time. The emphasis on having television programs of domestic origin reached its highest level in mid 1990s (Stratyner 29).
Historical, social, political and cultural factors have a great influence on American television program trends. American movies and series, especially drama series, were very popular in Europe and the rest of the world at the time South Park was produced (Weinstock 122). The need for quality programs increased in 1990s with many networks fighting for leading positions in the competitive drama and film market (Weinstock 122).
The Gulf war in the early 1990s influenced television programming in America. Many Americans would rush home to get updates on the Iraq war (Weinstock 122). This made many program producers focus on producing satirical programs that were less polite. Animated programs were a great hit in 1990s with Stone and Parker being great fans of animated films (Weinstock 122).
The South Park series generated a lot of political debate because of the use of vulgar language by some of its characters (Weinstock 122). The South Park series was condemned by conservatives but Americans with center-right political beliefs accepted the show (Weinstock 122).
Ideological differences between democrats and republicans generated a lot of debate about the relevance of the show. South Park mocked liberal view-points and this made it receive a lot of support from right –wing politicians and ordinary viewers (Weinstock 122).
The South Park show is very skeptical about political correctness but holds strong libertarian beliefs (Weinstock 127). Although Stone and Parker deny that the South Park show is non-partisan, the content of the show has some political undertones (Weinstock 127). The show seems to make fun of liberal viewpoints but some analysts claim that South Park does not completely ignore conservative view-points (Weinstock 127).
It is sometimes difficult to tell whether the show supports liberal or conservative view-points. The rivalry between conservatives and liberals in the 1990s influenced the ideologies that guided television programs (Weinstock 127). Satirical shows in America became very popular in the 1990s because of the heightened conflicting opinions between conservatives and republicans (Weinstock 127).
South Park was made at a period when America was just recovering from the economic recession experienced in early 1990s (Weinstock 127). The social life of many Americans at that time was very restrained due to inadequate disposable incomes (Weinstock 127). The South Park show was produced right at the height of the Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky that threatened with removal from the presidency through impeachment (Weinstock 127).
The usual rivalry between democrats and republicans was affecting the economic and social life of Americans (Weinstock 127). Many Americans turned to their televisions for entertainment in order to forget about the political drama that was going on in the country (Weinstock 127).
South Park was made when the media was getting involved in shaping political ideologies in America. Television shows such as South Park enabled Americans to shape their thinking and ask questions about their politics. The issue of sacred cows was very popular in the 1990s and shows like South Park were meant to satirize all the sacred cows in the country (Weinstock 127).
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The American society was full of discrimination in the 1990s with ethnic and racial minorities having no place in the American system (Weinstock 149). One of the reasons why South Park was made was to represent all the minority groups that were being discriminated on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion and disability (Weinstock 149).
South Park was made at the time when there were growing political and social debates concerning global warming, racism, drug abuse and vulgarity (Weinstock 149). Conservative and liberal media have always been on the fore front in criticizing opposing ideologies (Weinstock 149).
South Park was made at a time when many Americans began appreciating the importance of sex education to their children (Weinstock 149). The media was playing a significant role in sex education and the creators of South Park were not left behind (Weinstock 149). The Proper Condom Use episode of South Park was inspired by the sex education campaign in America at that time (Weinstock 149).
Religious stereotypes were very common in America with Muslims, Jews and Christians portraying their religious bias openly (Weinstock 149). Parker and Stone, who are the creators of South Park went ahead to highlight the exciting religious stereotypes in their South Park show (Weinstock 149).
The South Park episodes depicted the social, political and cultural atmosphere that dominated in America when the show was being made (Weinstock 149). Parker and Stone were greatly inspired by the events that took place at that time and went ahead to exalt the good ones and, at the same time, satirize the negative ones (Weinstock 155).
The South Park fan base has continued to increase since the show was first aired in 1997 (Weinstock 155). The program’s animation style together with the use of primitive sense of humor has endeared many viewers to the show (Weinstock 155). The majority of South Park viewers are between 18 and 34 years. The use of dark humor and satire is what endeared many viewers to the show (Weinstock 155).
The show has always generated a lot of controversy because it made fun of certain celebrities and religions (Weinstock 155). The show received a backlash from Muslims when it made fun of Prophet Mohammed. The show depicted Mohammed dressed in a bear suit which was not well received by Muslim viewers (Weinstock 155). Despite the controversy, the creators of the show still maintain that they abused all religions in equal measure (Weinstock 155).
The creators of South Park have been able to retain both conservative and liberal viewers because the show did not align itself with any of the sides (Weinstock 149). The show criticized both conservative and liberal beliefs in equal measure. South Park generated a lot of interest because it tackled taboo issues compared to other animated comedy shows (Weinstock 162). South Park satirized current events and tragedies.
The Two Days before the Day after Tomorrow episode was used to highlight and satirize the cause of hurricane Katrina (Weinstock 162). In this episode, Stan and Cartman accidentally caused a fictional Katrina by destroying the main beaver dam without intention (Weinstock 162). By highlighting such important issue, the show continued to expand its audience.
The South Park show took a lot of its reference from the pop culture that is very common with city viewers (Weinstock 162). The use of pop culture drew many viewers to the show, especially teenagers and young adults (Weinstock 162).
The South Park show touched upon different topics in its episodes and people were interested in watching the show because they enjoyed how various controversial topics were highlighted in a humorous manner (Anderson 34). Every South Park episode delivered moral and social lessons using humor (Anderson 34).
The number of websites generated by South Park fans clearly demonstrates the large following that the show enjoys (Anderson 34). The South Park show depicts celebrities as ordinary people and this endears many viewers to the show (Anderson 34). Guest celebrities are impersonated in the show and this has helped many viewers to clearly understand that celebrities are not super humans but ordinary people like others.
America’s culture is outrageous and hypocritical in many ways, but the South Park show tries to make it real (Anderson 34). Realists are great fans of the show because the show highlights all social and cultural issues without any reservations. The South Park audience is segmented with each episode tackling issues affecting each segment of viewers (Anderson 39).
The messages in South Park are meant for the contemporary audience because the creators believe that the show must aim at the present and not the future (Anderson 39). South Park is a family show with the adult audience being the most targeted. The issues tackled in the show may not be understood by children, but the show uses children to highlight the failures of adults (Anderson 39).
In conclusion, cultural, social and political issues affect the trends in television production. The issues and themes highlighted in television shows reflect the social, political and cultural nature of a particular country (Anderson 39). The South Park television series is an example of programs that clearly highlight the social, cultural and political situation in America (Anderson 39).
The show covers a variety of political, social and cultural topics in an attempt to educate and enlighten viewers using humor (Anderson 39). Despite being criticized, the South Park show continues to enjoy a large following because it articulates social, political and cultural issues in America (Anderson 39).
Anderson, Brian. South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias, New York: Regnery Publishing, 2005. Print.
Stratyner, Lesile. The Deep end of South Park: Critical Essay on Television’s Shocking Cartoon, New York: McFarland, 2009. Print.
Weinstock, Jeffrey. Taking South Park Seriously, New York: SUNNY Press, 2008. Print.