South Park is, very likely, the most fearlessly offensive, juvenile, and provocative program in TV history. As a result, it is also among the most divisive shows in recent memory. The basic model for that much-overused you-either-love-it-or-hate-it description, South Park is indeed designed so that it seems impossible to respond to its caustic humour with casual indifference. Rather, South Park inspires ferocious responses, divided audiences, and protracted debate.
Funny thing is, in most of these debates the two sides are really arguing the same thing. To some, South Park represents the final apotheosis of secular decadence: a deeply cynical exercise in irreverent nihilism masquerading as social satire. To others, South Park is the final triumph of said same.
Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are self-described “equal-opportunity offenders”, and their wide-netted approach to cultural terrorism does indeed spare few issues. Their favourite subjects are, as a rule, those liable to insult the deeply-held beliefs of at least someone in the audience on a pretty essential level. Indeed, one wonders if that isn’t their basic process: seek out an issue that is defined by fierce and reverential belief, and take the most appalling approach to the thing as possible.
In recent years, for example, their half-hour cartoon has skewered everything from Scientology to Christianity to abortion to terrorism to gay marriage to, in what might have been their riskiest moment, the so-called Cartoon Wars over images of Mohammed. Consider, if you will, this bit of commentary on the then-broiling controversy, in the form of a schoolteacher’s explanation to his class: “Now put yourself in the shoes of a Muslim. It’s Friday night, you can’t have sex, and you can’t jack off. There’s sand in your eyes and probably in the crack of your ass, and then some cartoon comes along from a country where people are getting laid, and mocks your prophet. Well, you know what? I’d be pretty pissed off too.” See? You-either-love-it-or-you-hate-it.
This little collection, a compilation of seven Christmas episodes from the years 1997-2004, is a pretty great one-disc example of both the deeply disgusting depths and the insightful heights the show manages to reach. While totally inessential for collectors (since there is absolutely nothing new here, and no special features of any kind), casual fans of the show should be very happy with this bit of gross-out Christmas entertainment.
But, to the uninitiated, beware: what you get here is an assemblage of holiday specials that, while openly celebrating crass commercialism as the real point of the holiday, feature a trigger-happy Jesus, a clutch of Satanic forest animals, Charlie Manson as a babysitter, an Iraqi guard electrocuting Santa’s testicles, Saddam Hussein as the new Prime Minister of Canada, and a magical piece of poo named Mr. Hankey. Spotty, and rife with scenes – like the nearly indescribable visit to the abortion doctor in “Woodland Creature Christmas” – that are so unsubtle as to come across as more lazy than clever, there are still enough good bits here to make for some hilarious un-family viewing.