Following last episode's sprawling reach, taking in everything from reboot culture to the Kaepernick scandal, Skank Hunt scales back the ambition for a look at what constitutes a troll and the real-life effect trolling has on everyday lives. The result is a less ambitious but far more focused episode of South Park which works to upend conventional expectations in order to deliver its laughs.
Moving away from issues of national pride and the upcoming election, episode 2 is largely concerned with the impact of internet trolling, a golden topic for the likes of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The hunt continues for Skankhunt42, a troll revealed at the end of last episode to be Kyle's father Gerald.
Is This What A Troll Looks Like?
One of the biggest laughs of the episode is seeing Gerald at work. His trolling schtick, such as that seen in the horrific abuse of Leslie Jones, is to photoshop dicks in women's mouths; abusing school messaging boards and Facebook pages with glee. Everyone assumes the troll is a sad young man, living in his mother's basement. But Gerald is actually incredible well-adjusted, and listens to Boston whilst he trolls, riffing on the keyboard like he is rocking out for real. Additionally, when he walks down the street it is with a smile on his face, soundtracked by Len's "Steal My Sunshine".
This suggests something far more insidious about misogynist internet abuse. Instead of being perpetuated by mentally disturbed men, it is merely something people do for fun with little to no concern for those who they are disturbing. As it takes place online it resembles more of a game than something with real-life consequences, of which there are many, inducing self-harm and even suicide in the victim;
Social Media Life vs Real Life
Yet nothing is free from South Park's acerbic mockery. Heidi, a constant victim of trolling, is seen posting onto her twitter that she is going to end it all. She stands on the edge of a bridge, the camera pans upwards, then we hear a splash in the water. The great joke is that she hasn't killed herself; she merely threw her phone in the water, thus deactivating her Twitter account — reflecting real life decisions by female celebrities to leave twitter after suffering horrendous abuse.
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What makes this hilarious is the way she is treated as if she has actually died, with cops surrounding the school, and Mr Mackie having to address the class discussing everyone's loss. It shows how much our internet avatars have become indistinguishable from our real selves, to the extent that if we quit the internet we are in effect lesser people. If South Park were to develop this theme in later episodes, it could be moving right into the depths of cartoon allegory usually only tackled in the best of anime. With the girls ready to strike back against the boys, it leads them to accuse;
The Wrong Man
The boys are worried about the girls imminent revenge for all the trolling they have endured, and decide that a pre-emptive strike is necessary. As the person usually behind these types of schemes is Cartman, they realise they have to take him out; and by taking him out, they mean destroying his Iphone, Macbook and iPad. They lure him out to a cabin in the woods on the premise that they are going to have a group session of Counter-Strike and eat junk food all night.
How do you generate pity for someone like Cartman? Cleverly, he is viewed as mostly the same sanctimonious prick he has been throughout the majority of the series, only this time, it genuinely wasn't him. This utilises The Wrong Man theme, most coherently popularised in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Seeing Cartman so stoked to play Counter-Strike in the middle of the woods, and trying to get everyone else hyped up, whilst knowing what was going to befall him, was sad to see. If he wasn't an internet troll now, chances are he will become one in order to exact his revenge. Cartman is not really the forgiving type.
Gerald's trolling continues, even managing to reach CNN news, leading the girls to use a tactic that borrows from:
In an expertly over-exaggerated scene that borrows from the soundtrack of Black Hawk Down, the girls all hand their boyfriends a note telling them that their relationship is over forever. This conceit, wonderfully deployed here, is actually over two thousand years old, and comes from the comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Similar to South Park, the women of Greece decide to withhold sex from the men as a way to stop them from fighting in the Peloponnesian War. This has also been seen recently in the Spike Lee joint Chi-Raq, which updated it to modern day, gun-riddled Chicago.
With the season premiere, South Park seemed to be going back to its earliest episodes in order to make points about nostalgia and reboot culture — now the show appears to be borrowing from ancient theatre to lend it some overarching structure. Yet, in both the play and the Spike Lee movie, women deciding to ignore their men's needs doesn't so much stop the fighting between the men as create an even stronger tension between the sexes. Whether South Park follows suit remains to be seen. As for the rest of the season, it looks like South Park is settling much better into the correct balance between self-contained episodes and continuous storytelling.
Did You Enjoy Episode 2?