Monday, May 25, 2009

The Role of Satire

It sometimes seems that the comedic realm is one of the greatest forums for consciousness-raising efforts. Granted a cloak of immunity, comedians are able to say things others won’t, because their remarks can easily be written off as punchlines without social truth. It is no wonder, then, that Jon Stewart (and his cohorts) thrived during the Bush era, which was characterized by concealment and its lack of transparency.

Similarly, South Park sometimes takes the meat industry head on. This clip from an episode titled “Fun With Veal” is working at both the comedic and the social level:

The rows of wide-eyed cows look back at the parallel rows of wide-eyed children, as this fun field trip inadvertently turns into an exposé of an injustice. Cartman - the gluttonous and irreverent embodiment of opportunistic capitalism - upholds the "meathead" viewpoint of the fat kid who thinks cute animals are tasty. Kyle’s claim that “city kids get to go to museums for field trips, we get cow farms,” brings to light the urban versus rural disparity. As the bourgeois, museum-visiting kids are presumably also a part of the strain of society that consumes this veal, the rural “redneck” children of south park depict a relationship with meat that does not extract the animals from it. As industrial factory farming takes residence in areas with scarce populations, urbanization distances consumers from the meat they eat to the point where the industry becomes invisible and impenetrable. South Park’s project, then, is not only to take the children behind these closed doors, but also to take the viewer to a place that is otherwise inaccessible to them.

This episode adheres to the general South Park formula, where critical examination of a social wrong is immediately followed by the characters flippantly dismissing their cause, none the wiser:

After the children somewhat successfully save the baby cows, Stan’s brief foray into vegetarianism is brought to a close when it literally turns him into a “pussy.” The political message of South Park episodes is difficult to ascertain and sometimes the end-goal is the shock the slapstick humor elicits rather than a real call for social action. The 8-year-old boys, however, almost always serve as mouthpieces for some deep social criticism, as their tabula rasa naiveté renders common and overlooked absurdities anew. In the end, the viewer cannot comfortably accept and inhabit the characters' rejection of vegetarianism, so is left with an unsettling sense that all is not as it should be. The social criticism that occurs prior to the final punchline is where the consciousness-raising efforts of comedy lie, as the humor is not sufficient compensation for our new painful state of awareness.

watch the entire "Fun with Veal" episode here.

1 comment:

  1. Another good video: http:/