Like its predecessors on DVD, South Park: The Complete Fourth Season doesn’t offer anything new in the way of bonuses or background on the South Park universe and its creators. Once again, the only extra is some very brief (and mostly pointless) commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone on each episode.
The South Park shenanigans are also familiar, even as their irreverence and vulgarity remain refreshing. Eric Cartman’s (voiced by Parker; all characters voiced by Parker and Stone unless otherwise noted) mother is a whore. Mr. Garrison is a self-hating, closeted homosexual, at least until he finally comes to grips with his sexuality in the episode “Fourth Grade.” Poop jokes and potty mouths are de rigeur. Kenny comes to a gruesome demise in every episode, and puerile humor takes precedence; the boys’ new fourth grade teacher, for instance, is named Miss Choksondik, and a running gag concerns her bra-less and pendulous breasts.
But it hardly matters that such material is standard Parker-and-Stone, because The Complete Fourth Season also demonstrates how brilliant they can be. Originally airing from April until December of 2000, the episodes take frequent aim at U.S. culture and politics. “Quintuplets 2000” considers the firestorm of the Elian Gonzales case. In the pre-dawn hours of 22 April 2000, the FBI raided the home of Elian’s Miami relatives, commando-style, to snatch the little boy into federal custody. The picture of a uniformed soldier grabbing Elian from out of a closet where he was hiding, with an assault rifle apparently pointed at him, caused national outrage and became yet another controversy for beleaguered Attorney General Janet Reno.
Astonishingly, the episode originally aired on 26 April, just four days after the event. Kyle, Stan, Eric, and Kenny befriend a group of Romanian contortionists who run away from a Cirque du Soleil-type circus to defect to the West. After much legal and juridical wrangling, an imaginary, still-Communist Romania demands the return of the little girls, while citizens of South Park see their remaining in the U.S. as a victory for democracy and freedom. Eventually, Parker and Stone enact the above iconic picture of Elian being plucked from the closet, but this time with Janet Reno directly holding the gun on the girls. Re-staging the case so it pits the U.S. government against a Communist regime underlines the ideological struggle and flare-up of Cold War politics instituted by the Elian Gonzales case.
Later that spring, national political turmoil raged again, this time over the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse. In “Chef Goes Nanners” (aired 5 June), Chef (voiced by Isaac Hayes) starts a petition to change the South Park flag, which depicts a group of white stick figures dancing around a black stick figure hanging from a gibbet. The white South Park residents deny the flag has anything to do with racism, asserting it is only “about” history, honoring tradition and sacrifice.
Chef is particularly disheartened when Kyle and the gang agree with the adults and don’t see how the flag is racist. Eventually, the boys explain that when they look at the flag they don’t see race, they only see violence, which is not all that bad, they claim, as history and people in general are incredibly violent. Chef’s faith in the boys is renewed when he realizes they are not “crackers,” but “color-blind,” and a compromise is reached. The flag is changed slightly so the figures below the hanging man are white, yellow, red, and black. It’s a lame compromise, and that’s the point: it’s as lame as the easy multiculturalism expressed by South Carolina’s decision to keep flying the Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds, just not on top of the statehouse.
No politically engaged cartoonists could leave the year 2000 without commentary on hanging chads. In “Trapper Keeper,” the secondary story details Mr. Garrison’s return to teaching at South Park Elementary after his nervous breakdown over coming out. Newly assigned to the kindergarten class, Mr. Garrison’s first activity is to elect a class president, which pits a boy named Filmore (an obvious play on Al Gore) against Kyle’s adopted brother Ike. The class vote is tied 6-6 while a girl named Flora hems and haws for days over whom to support. When she finally casts her vote, and Ike is named the winner, Filmore demands recount after recount until he finally concedes the victory to Ike out of exasperation with the political process.
While Parker and Stone seem here to dismiss the political fallout of the Presidential election, it’s hard to argue that the partisanship on both sides of the affair was petty, if not downright infantile. I, for one, am glad to see that snark-masters Parker and Stone see it for what it is and treat it accordingly.