Spoiler Alert: South Park Season 20 Episode 1 will be discussed in detail. Don't read if you don't want any spoilers.
One of the best innovations South Park has used in recent years is embracing a continuous storyline, allowing grander and more potent themes to develop over an entire season. Last season, the big theme was PC culture, arguing that the development of micro-aggressions and "safe-spaces" prevented people from having a real discourse about race and gender, only leading to further intolerance and the rise of extreme right-wing figures like Donald Trump.
Check out the song "Safe Space" from Season 19:
These concepts appear to be developing in the season 20 premiere, which manages to combine online trolling, the Kaepernick scandal and nostalgia in order to tackle the current US election. As usual, this makes for sublime satire. According to Trey Parker and Matt Stone —who famously have very quick production schedules to comment on current events —neither Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton make a good candidate for President. This results in:
The Return Of The Giant Douche And The Turd Sandwich
It's said that The Simpsons predicted everything — including The Trump Presidency! — but arguably South Park predicted the present apathy towards politics in 2004 with "Douche and Turd". In that episode a school election featured two joke candidates: a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Aired a mere week before the 2004 election, it's seen as emblematic of South Park's middle-of-the-road worldview, making fun of both sides as a way of indicting the political process as a whole.
Updated for 2016, the Giant Douche is Donald Trump (a very orange Mr. Garrison) and the Turd Sandwich is Hilary Clinton. This may seem like South Park is running out of ideas, but cleverly enough recycling the famous gag actually ties into one of the hottest trends around:
If last season showed that PC Culture is designed to make people feel safe, then Season 20 seems to be saying the same about reboots: give us more of the same but with a tweak to make more people feel welcome. This metaphor is symbolized through the member berries who say things "Remember Chewbacca" and "Remember Bionic Man" in a soothing tone seemingly to make anxious old white men feel comfortable. Randy notices something is amiss however, when they start saying things like "Remember when there were less Mexicans" and "Remember when we felt safe". Its a very funny gag, which appears to understand the key appeal for both reboots and Trump: just make things Great again, whether its Star Wars, or America itself.
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Reboots, according to the South Park creators, are like Trump in that they offer the same warm feeling of nostalgia but packaged in a slightly different way. The premiere understands this collective feeling for both change and stability by hilarious rebooting the American Anthem, something Congress feels needs changing due to:
The Kaepernick Scandal
In many ways the Kaepernick Scandal was only a scandal because the media made it one. When the football star sat down during the anthem he was simply exercising his right to protest police brutality towards African Americans. Yet the media blew it up into a huge brouhaha that focused more about who is standing up and who is sitting down rather than looking at the reasons why Kaepernick was carrying out his protest.
This hilariously ties into J.J. Abrams — seen here as a mysterious Spielbergian figure who turns on one light in his house for yes, and two for no — who congress hire as just the man to make a national anthem suitable for everyone. In a stroke of genius he writes just the same anthem again, but this time you are allowed to either sit, stand or take a knee — making it one of the cleverest jokes about how The Force Awakens is basically A New Hope all over again. The thing with this cynical change of anthem is that it doesn't address any of the actual problems of structural racism in America, it seems instead to just ignore that there is a problem in the first place.
Why This Could Be The Best South Park Season Yet
So far season 20 has already looked at election apathy, reboot culture and the Kaepernick scandal in order to make pointed remarks about the current divisiveness being felt in America. On top of this, there is a whole plot regarding internet trolls, misogyny and Cartman being offensive under the guise of political correctness that shows how the larger political machinations are played out on the micro scale by the kids. There is a lot to unpack, and like any franchise starter - episode one does feel quite overstuffed.
Nevertheless, the last three seasons of South Park have prided themselves on both their detailed storylines and their kitchen-sink approach: things will become clearer in later episodes. With so much on their plate, not everything will coalesce perfectly, especially with the extra burden of airing episodes right up to and including the Presidential Election. For such a contextual cartoon, the very course and meaning of the show could change depending on who is elected, especially as every episode is made a mere six days before airing. But right now, we have the same old dilemma we saw in season 8 — choosing between the turd and the douche.
By repeating a twelve-year old joke South Park looks set for its most creatively brilliant and ethically thought-out season yet. Now that's one reboot we can all get behind!
What Did You Think Of The Season 20 Premiere?