[15 September 2004]
Andrew Breitbart and Mark Ebner’s new book, Hollywood Interrupted, features a tediously partisan interview with Matt Parker and Trey Stone. It’s not that I don’t think satire needs people unafraid to shit in the punchbowl, but I question their sense of equal opportunity insults, as they’re contributing to a book whose point is to belittle celebrities who espouse liberal viewpoints (and exonerate the conservative ones) in order to destroy Hollywood’s perceived influence on our culture. Parker and Stone rail against liberalism’s assault on comedy, to the point that I wondered what they think comedy would look like with fundamentalist Christians in power.
Parker and Stone’s project is sometimes hobbled by their apparent belief that anything offensive is inherently purgative, and that we all should feel comfortable saying “nigger” and “Jew” because, well, just because. But South Park episodes usually devolve into a mishmash of moderate conservatism and touchy-feely bromides. Nowhere is this more evident than in their treatment of religion. For The Passion of The Jew, three of the South Park episodes dealing most directly with Christianity are gathered together in one place.
The episode called “The Passion of The Jew” is the centerpiece, and easily the funniest in the package. Cartman decides that Mel Gibson’s movie is actually delivering instructions for The Final Solution and Kyle is so deeply moved by Jesus’ pain that he asks his synagogue’s congregation to apologize for killing Christ. This sends the community’s Jews into a frenzied campaign to get the film banned.
Meanwhile, Stan and Kenny travel to Malibu to ask Gibson for their money back because they think his movie “totally sucked.” Gibson is portrayed as an insane megalomaniac horny to be tortured. Though this starts as a parody of The Passion of the Christ (and Braveheart), Parker and Stone’s ire is stoked by a celebrity claiming his “art” has God’s blessing. By the time Gibson arrives in South Park, raving, everyone has reconsidered their view of the film. The townsfolk agree that it’s better to focus on the good works of Jesus and not his death, a fixation that has so often led to the oppression of others. Amen.
The episode “Christian Rock Hard” combines Parker and Stone’s barely secret love for Jesus (they consistently revere some de-Americanized version of the Lord, peaceful, loving, and non-capitalist) with their open hatred of celebrity. Cartman becomes a Christian rock star, penning sexually suggestive songs about the Savior. At the same time, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny go on strike to protest illegal file-sharing, after they’re arrested by the FBI for downloading Metallica and Judas Priest songs. They come to this epiphany after the agents show them all the extravagant items pop stars haven’t been able to buy (like a gold-plated shark tank) because of file-sharing. Such cheap shots at rich celebrities are repetitive and obvious. There’s no subtlety in having Britney Spears saying, “We’re in it for the money” while protesting with the kids.
In the final episode, “Red Hot Catholic Love,” Priest Maxi worries about waning church attendance due to molestation scandals, and goes to the Vatican in an attempt to persuade the Pope to do something about the pedophilia epidemic. He finds that sleeping with young boys is a cherished tradition among the Church hierarchy, written into Church Laws. Back in South Park, Cartman discovers that if you shove food up your ass, you shit it out your mouth. This is South Park at its most puerile and, depending on your tastes, you’ll either love it or groan at the many variations of people defecating from their mouths.
For me, the joke is thin. Priest Maxi ends up braving the Church catacombs to find the missing list of Laws, but tears it to shreds when the Church elders consult a giant spider to find out whether they should stop molesting boys. Although the spider is the funniest bit in this episode, it’s also an example of the rote absurdity that makes South Park predictable.
In the end, everyone returns to the Church with renewed faith in the Bible and God, showed here to be essentially good things perverted by institutions and extremism. Despite all the people shitting out of their mouths and priests talking about boy-on-boy action, this is an uncontroversial conclusion. Parker and Stone could be the modern incarnations of François Rabelais, whose bawdy commentaries affirmed his own Catholic traditions by offending nearly everyone.
Still, even if they are repressed traditionalists, they can still be laugh out loud funny. And so, your money would be better spent purchasing the entire seasons in which these episodes appear. (This even though Paramount has released The Passion of The Jew to coincide with the DVD release of The Passion of The Christ.) I remain a huge South Park fan, even if its politics leave me leery and its celebrity hatred seems excessive.