I Hate How Much I Like ‘South Park’

South Park is nothing short of one of the most successful shows airing today. Premiering in 1997, Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s low-budget and off-color animated series has as many accolades as it does seasons. South Park has won five Emmys, have made its creators obscenely wealthy, and is arguably most responsible for the prolonged success of the Comedy Central channel. More than anything, though, South Park is a cultural touchstone and I’d venture that there’s not a single American between 13 and 65 who wouldn’t recognize the iconic paper cut out art style.

I, like just about everyone else I know, watched South Park religiously as a teen and young adult, which is a decision I deeply regret now. As the show continues to voice tired and dangerous ideas, I hate how influential South Park was to me and how relevant it remains in my social life. South Park is to me what I imagine Harry Potter is to a lot of other people and I’m nothing short of exasperated every time the show comes up. In the midst of this frustration, all I can do is remind myself that I’m trying to be a better person than the show and people who inspired many of my values and hope that I succeed in this effort.

Being a South Park Fan Between 2010 – 2016

I watched South Park in my free time between my Freshman year of High School and Sophomore year of college. This means that I watched a lot of South Park, since Comedy Central had reruns of the show playing constantly. Looking back, I probably watched an average of an hour of South Park every night between the ages of 14 to 18; maybe more if you count playing it as background noise while on my laptop or doing homework. I don’t think I made a conscious effort to watch the show as much as I did; it was just always available, had so many episodes that reruns rarely got stale, and was popular enough that I could talk to my friends about it.

Oh boy, did my dumbass friends and I talk about South Park a lot.

In High School, it was almost a game to see who had watched more of it, or who got the most references. I’m not sure if it was because the show was already popular, or because it had a lot of swears in it and was therefore ‘adult,’ but my buddies and I were obsessed with South Park. In my first two years of college, about eight of my friends would cram into a dorm room, overtake a common area, or pile into an apartment to watch new episodes as they aired. In fact, the second ever non-mandatory student social event I attended (the first being Sex Out Loud’s Kink and Consent on Campus event, because even at 19 I was on brand) was a watch party and cooperative analysis of the ‘Go God Go’ episodes.

I didn’t just watch South Park, I dissected episodes for meaning and learned about the world through them. I first learned about trans people from South Park episode “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina”. This show was the first program I ever watched to call out specific politicians for their failings or flawed beliefs, like in the infamous “ManBearPig” episode. South Park gave me perspectives on the US immigration policy and illegal immigration that I certainly wasn’t getting from mostly conservative adults in my small, rural hometown; as seen in the episode “Goobacks”.

I don’t know if I’d be who I am today if South Park didn’t exist. I was doing media critique and analysis on the show before I even knew what that was and it was a shared interest that helped cement some of my most meaningful relationships. Which, really sucks, because South Park is bad and I hate how much impact it still has on my life and broader culture.

Hating South Park From 2017 – Present

I grew to despise South Park as I realized that its creators didn’t actually believe in the ideals presented in a given episode and figured out that their “both sides” mockery was cowardly instead of brave.

As a teenager, I really bought into South Park’s integral belief that all jokes are okay and should be allowed, or none of them will be. The implication here being that any kind of censorship or criticism of humor will eventually led to the stifling of content that the person leveling the critique does enjoy. As someone who liked subversive content and niche media, this really resonated with me. Sure, I hated classmates who made bigoted jokes, but rationalized that to suppress that kind of material or thinking would stop jokes that I did like from existing. Of course, as a teenager the irony of one of the most successful animated shows ever making itself out to be the little guy that needed to be protected , nor was I aware of how desperate I was to be apart of any kind of perceived counter culture.

Then the 2013 episode “Informative Murder Porn” aired and a seed of doubt germinated in my psyche. This episode seemingly came off as pro-censorship and argued that people shouldn’t watch, and channel’s shouldn’t air, true crime shows. I was surprised and confused that a program that had so vehemently opposed censorship would advocate for it in this episode. Brushing it off, I continued watching South Park regularly, but noticed more and more that the show would often go back on its biggest and most controversial messages.

Now that I’m an adult and have all the benefits and horrors that come with that perspective, I realize that the reason South Park episodes have so many contrary themes is because the people behind it don’t actually believe in anything. South Park exists solely as a means for it’s creators to make fun of the things that annoy them; meaning the show will only get worse as Matt and Trey become older, richer, and more libertarian. For as much as the creator’s like to boast that they make fun of everyone, South Park advocates for the perspective of the privileged more so than perhaps any other airing comedy. After all, these are the people who convinced millions of Americans that Democrats are as bad as Republicans in “Douche and Turd,” because to them ineffective leaders are just as bad as those who want to do harm to the marginalized.

(Before anyone @s me, I’m acutely aware of how bad Democrats are and their role in upholding a status quo that also harms the marginalized and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the human race. We aren’t talking about them right now, though.)

The final nail sealed my South Park fandom coffin in the show’s 20th season, which failed to lampoon internet culture and provide an entertaining, season spanning narrative. Between the show whitewashing the Trump campaign and trying to make Cartman, the show’s stand in for the worst people in the world, more relatable; it became blatantly clear to me how little I connected to the show and the people who liked it. I’ll never forget a tweet the South Park account retweeted (yes, I used to follow the official South Park Twitter account and deeply regret it), where someone thanked the show for having Cartman enter into a relationship, as they were afraid he’d be alone forever.

Cartman should be alone! He’s awful and that’s the entire point of the character! I dropped the show after realizing how little my values overlap with the show and how little in common I have with the people who still like it. This irks me to no end because the show helped inspire a lot of my values!

Life Post South Park

About once every other week a friend makes a reference to or reminds me of a joke from South Park. Most of the time I’ll laugh because the joke their alluding to is genuinely funny, especially in the given context. South Park has been on the air for 25 years, so of course it has some good jokes. I still giggle every time I think of the joke where Butters excitedly reveals that his birthday is on 9/11 or the (now strangely titled) “Pandemic” episodes where the supporting character Craig roasts the main characters for…being main characters in an adult animated series.

I have to catch myself every time I do fondly remember the show, though, because it spends so much time elevating dumb and harmful ideas. In the latest special (labeled a movie for some asinine reason despite having a 62 minute runtime) South Park postulates that those advocating for wearing a mask during a global pandemic are as bad as anti-maskers. Never mind that the latter group is quantifiably more dangerous and perhaps responsible for the pandemic lasting as long as it has, they both annoy the millionaires who make the show so they’re equally bad. Which of course only excuses and normalizes the behavior of anti-maskers, and now I remember why I hate this show.

I go through this train of thought at least every other week and it’s exhausting. Someone please put me or the show out of our misery so that this cycle can finally end. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a non-zero chance that South Park will still be cranking out bad takes by the time I’m on my deathbed, and that’s deeply depressing.

I imagine the loop I find myself in isn’t all that different from the purgatory that that socially responsible Harry Potter fans call home. My fondness for the series is constantly put in check by the harm that it and its creators perform on a regular basis. The big difference being that South Park remains the primary medium through which its creators espouse their shitty, contrarian beliefs. So I guess I just need to co-opt the countless pieces of advice and guidance lobbied towards the Harry Potter fandom over the years.

It’s okay that I found meaning, value, and community in a piece of media that I now recognize as deeply problematic and detrimental to social progress. That being said, I can’t ignore the issues in the show and the troubling politics perpetuated by its creators. So I now need to do everything I can to offer a complete picture of the series and its impact, while simultaneously advocating for its finale, so that we as a society can move on and a new, better show can hopefully fill its shoes.

This, of course, isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s all that can be expected when art you value turns into something that you despise. Although, it’d be more apt to say that I’ve turned into a person that despises art that I used to love. My grudging affinity for South Park has been weighing on me for a while, and I’m glad I could finally purge all of these thoughts from my system. I never want to think about this dumb show again, but I know that the world isn’t going to let that happen.

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bye

I Hate How Much I Like ‘South Park’

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Jackie Daytona

I’ve thought about Jackie Daytona from What We Do In The Shadows about once a week since his episode aired in May of 2020. Formally titled, ‘On The Run,’ this is the sixth episode of the show’s second season. I’ve only watched it once prior to working on this essay, but it’s forever ingrained in my memory and I think I finally figured out why that is. 

What We Do In The Shadows is just an incredibly well written, performed, and directed television series. For those unfamiliar, the setup behind the show is that a group of centuries old vampires are living together in Staten Island. They are incredibly out of touch with society, and are only really aware of major cultural events that vaguely line up with their own interests; such as Nandor, a relentless former soldier of the Ottoman empire, really liking the dominating force that was the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. 

Nandor, played by Kayvan Nocak, is the de facto leader of this clan of vampires, but that’s mostly because no one else wants to do it and it’s the only thing he really has going on in his life. Nadja — Natasia Demetriou — and Lazlo — Matt Berry — are a married couple that alternate between being madly in love and at each other’s throats whenever a squabble from their several lifetimes long relationship pops up again. Then there’s the energy vampire Colin Robinson, played by Mark Proksch. We’re not really sure what his deal is, but he feeds off of negative emotions and is exceptionally good at making people upset or frustrated. 

Basically, he’s every annoying coworker you’ve ever had. 

Anchoring these self-absorbed vampires somewhat is Harvey Guillén’s Guillermo De la Cruz, Nandor’s familiar. Guillermo desperately wants to be a vampire, and became Nandor’s familiar because he thought it’d be the easiest way to achieve that goal. Several years after taking the job, he’s frustrated that he isn’t a vampire and has an existential crisis when he learns that he’s actually really good at killing vampires.  

The first season of What We Do In The Shadows mostly focuses on these characters getting into hilarious situations because of their baggage or eccentric personalities. Like when Lazlo ends up in the pound after turning into a bat to mess with their neighbor. Other episodes, and the ones that I tend to like more, focus on exploring tropes in vampire fiction, and showing how they would go in a slightly more realistic setting. Like in the episode ‘The Orgy,’ when Nandor and company fear they’ll be ostracized from vampire culture if their kinky sex party is subpar. 

It’s a genuine delight to see this show depict how weird, sad, and horny vampires are, without dressing those characteristics up in any kind of mystique. Just about every vampire in this show is an out of touch theater kid with more confidence than they deserve, and it’s hilarious to watch these barely functioning people explore the lore and rules of their universe. What We Do In The Shadows does what good fantasy storytelling is supposed to, and uses impossible situations to explore the human condition and the societies we create. 

Things change abruptly in episode six of season 2, though. Until this point, each episode had focused on these characters living their mostly petty lives in the greater New York area, and bouncing off each other all the while. When Mark Hamill’s Jim the Vampire arrives unexpectedly to collect a debt from Lazlo, the foppish vampire just bails. He puts on a human disguise, renounces the culture and relationship that had defined him for hundreds of years, and fucks off to Pennsylvania because he thinks it sounds cool. 

Now going by Jackie Daytona, he starts a brand new life and is pretty successful. He takes over a bar after killing and eating the former owner, becomes a prominent and appreciated member of his community, and helps out the state bound High School Volleyball team as an assistant coach. 

Lazlo just decided to stop being a vampire and is having the time of his life as a townie in rural America. 

This abrupt shift works for a couple of reasons, with the first being that this episode absolutely nails the feel of small town America. From a hole in the wall bar that’s somehow a cornerstone of the community, to people caring way too much about High School Volleyball, this is what the so-called real America is really like. Having grown up in a community of around 5,000 people, I can confidently say that this is an accurate snapshot of this kind of town. For reasons I still can’t fathom, folks in my hometown lost their goddamn minds when our Volleyball team went to state, but barely got out of bed for the Girl’s Cross Country team which routinely made that level of competition. 

This is a really weird idiosyncrasy, but it’s in this episode of What We Do In The Shadows and it speaks to me. It validates an odd, but apparently foundational, experience in my life and that’s what makes Jakie Daytona the television equivalent of an earworm for me. I see this episode of television, and I see the most nostalgic version of where I grew up on screen. 

There’s another reason why I think ‘On The Run’ resonated with so many people, though. Like the other episodes of What We Do In The Shadows, this one sells a fantasy that people wish was real. It just hits a lot harder here because the desire behind it is much bigger. 

Every character in What We Do In The Shadows represents something that we want to be true in the world. Nandor embodies the idea that those in positions of power really do care about others, and that whatever harm they do comes from incompetence rather than malice. Guillermo as a character makes a viewer believe that they also have inherent worth and that they could be a badass if they just got over their own insecurities. Lazlo and Nadja show that even the most bizarre people can find a romantic partner and that they can make that relationship work. 

Then there’s Colin Robinson who validates a viewer’s frustration with the most annoying people in their lives, and feeds the darker impulse of thinking that the people behind these annoyances are acting intentionally; meaning that your anger towards them is completely valid. 

Just like all of these other characters, Jackie Daytona — and yes, Jackie Daytona is basically a unique character — depicts an idea that we all want to be true. Jackie Daytona makes us feel like we could also just uproot our lives and be totally fine with wherever we end up. In fact, we might even have a better life waiting for us if we just took a chance and decided that we wanted a change. 

I like my life. I think it’s a pretty good one! I can do the things I enjoy pretty easily when there isn’t a pandemic, and I have plenty of people in my life that are usually a part of those experiences. I do find myself wondering from time to time, though, what my life would be like if I made completely different decisions. 

Where would I be? Would I be happier? Would I be more successful? Whatever that means. 

Jackie Daytona, on top of being a fun idea and incredibly entertaining, makes me feel like I would be okay if my life went differently or if I just decide that I’m sick of my current one. That’s a pretty big comfort, and I think the main reason why I, and so many other people, can’t get Jackie Daytona out of my head. 

Also, Colin Robinson turning out to be a ‘what’s your deal?’ guy when he shoots his shot with Doll Nadja and gets rejected, is fucking histerical! 

Thank you so much for checking this out. If you enjoyed this essay, please follow me on Twitter, @LucasDeRuyter, to keep up with all of my work. If you’re reading this on BaddaBing BaddaBlog, please like, reblog, and share it on social media. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please like, comment, subscribe, ring the bell, and also share it on social platforms. Lastly, I’m on the Voluntary Viewing podcast, where I talk about pop-culture news, as well as the stuff I’m checking out. So please check that out if you can, as I’ll definitely talk about season three of What We Do In The Shadows when it finally releases. 

Thanks again for your support, and best of luck out there.    

I Can’t Stop Thinking About Jackie Daytona