Trey Parker and Matt Stone have admitted that, as events in the real world become increasingly outlandish, it's harder from them to create razor sharp satire for their comedy vehicle, South Park. It's not a surprise; following the election of Donald Trump as President of the US, today's current affairs are yesterday's parody.
After the surprise election of Trump caused issues in production for Season 20 of South Park, Parker explained that he and Stone "decided to just back off and let [politicians] do their comedy and we'll do ours." The result? "White People Renovating Houses," a season debut that does everything to allude to the political climate without explicitly saying so — lacking conviction as a result.
Warning: Spoilers for South Park Season 21, Episode 1 below
The episode's title refers to Randy's new professional as a host for a reality TV show based on, you guessed it, renovating houses. Randy's input doesn't move much further than "open concepts" to knock down walls, but his show acts as a gateway to South Park's true focus; a rally of disgruntled Red Necks, who march nearby in a clear reference to Charlottesville's recent white supremacist rally, "Unite the Right."
In a call-back to #SouthPark's eighth season "Goobacks," the group, with tiki torches and Confederate flags held proudly aloft, are dismayed that "they took our jobs!" Whereas "Goobacks" replaced the "they" subject of illegal immigration with actual aliens, "White People Renovating Houses" replaces racial intolerance and white supremacy with modern gadgets such as Amazon Alexa, Siri and Google Home. When Randy asks their reason for marching, they complain that "big corporations are turning to automation."
Randy Attempts To Fix White Supremacy
Randy won't let the group's protests have a negative impact on his show, so he takes the group to court. During the trial, he tells the judge the group are "taking our brand and running it through the gutter — people are going to associate white people renovating houses with their hateful stupidity." It's this comment that explains the synopsis of the episode ("Randy comes to grips with what it means to be white.") Rather than overt racial intolerance, the target is the subtle but damaging nature of inherent racism and, as a subset, white privilege.
Perhaps connected to Parker and Stone's comment on not openly picking apart political issues, the undercurrent becomes less about the "Unite the Right" rally, but more the denial of its true purpose, a denial that comes from a place of ignorance, at best. Randy attempts to plaster over the issue by coming up with a cunning plan to create jobs for the group — replace the low-level AI.
Daryl, the ringleader of the group, becomes disillusioned quickly. Bluntly laying out the facts, Randy tells him that he shouldn't be surprised the job is "degrading and menial" as he has no qualifications. Following an argument, Daryl then unleashes a furious rant, revealing his true colours:
"This whole country's going to shit. Muslims trying to kill us, black people rioting and Mexican's popping out babies, pretty clear it's either them or us, so I say, kill 'em all!"
Randy's surprise only serves to reinforce the idea of ignorance. He believes the worst damage is to other white people's reputation, and that the rally's frustration is as simple as a lack of jobs, and not a front for something more sinister — much like alt-right campaigners who claim their behavior is purely based on saving the USA's "heritage" and "history" in the form of statues honouring Confederate generals, when, you know, books exist.
Cartman's Bizarre Love Story
As these events unfold, Cartman is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He develops an unhealthy relationship with Alexa, attracted by its submissive nature (in a possible Mr. Robot reference, he asks Alexa to "define subservient" by telling it to shut up moments later). He struggles to deal with his real life relationship with girlfriend Heidi, becoming frustrated when she doesn't submit to his every command.
On top of being a commentary on how modern technology also impacts our ability to communicate and express emotion, the side story does lead for the episode's funniest moment — having found a graveyard of discarded technology, Cartman collects them all together and orchestrates a domino effect of childish insults to echo out in a chain reaction of voice controls.
Back with Daryl, and Randy has finally managed to knock down the wall of his home, renovating his house and providing him the fulfilment he has been seeking (another metaphor taking aim at Trump). As the episode draws to a close, Randy tells us viewers: "Remember, no matter how bad the country gets, you can always count on white people renovating houses."
Over the years, no matter how bad the country has been, South Park has been on hand to satirize it with aplomb. However, by landing between obviously targeting Trump and tackling a serious issue without enough venom, "White People Renovating Houses" lacks its iconic potency. Perhaps true events are too absurd to parody, after all.
What did you think of the opening episode of South Park Season 21?