Religion and Culture in the South Park Film
The South Park, a sitcom on air since 1997, presents a satirical way of looking at societal issues, including culture, politics, and religion. The animation is based on the lives of four young boys and their adventures in a Colorado town. Trey Parker and Matt Stone created a unique production, especially in the fact that they have used animated characters to tell their story. Culture and religion are among the dominant topics in the artistic production. This paper analyzes culture and religion in the sitcom, particularly how they are presented in various episodes.
The animation series is set in a fictional park of Colorado called the South Park. The town is close-knit, where the characters appear to know each other quite well and can tell when a stranger comes into the town. The mayor is depicted to be forever concerned about the image and harmony of the town dwellers. The interaction of the characters is evidence of the strong cultural bond between the inhabitants, who are depicted as being extremely conservative as well as resisting innovations and changesThe main characters in most of the episodes are two young boys from the South Park who are friendly to each other, although Marsh and Brovlowski appear different from the other boys and adults as the two have a kind of curiosity and desire to understand their world. Brovlowski is from a Jewish background, the only Jewish family in the town. In essence, the movie portrays a sense of modernity, which is used to show the life within the modern American society and its creators’ personalized views.
Eric Cartman is another character in the movie, brought up by an over-caring mother. As a result, he disregards everybody else and only cares about himself. Eric plays the main character of his idol, Adolf Hitler, as seen in his racist, egocentric, social pathetic and manipulative person. Kenny McCormick is the fourth boy in the story, and his difference from the others is that he comes from a poor background. The boy is daring, although he dies in many of the initial episodes of the animation. The movie has a chef working in the school cafeteria who is shown as a close ally to the four boys. In fact, his role is highly esteemed in the animation as he appears to be the only close adult the boys befriend. He closely understands the boys and keenly listens to them even when other people ignore them. Another controversial character presented is Jesus, God’s son and the founder of the Christian religion and a native of the South Park town. In this case, every character presented has been given its role for the big aspect of plot development.
Using these and other supporting characters, the creators highlight the themes of religion and culture in a comedic and humorous manner. The movie is a clear depiction of these themes as they occur within the modern American society, although in a satirical manner. The different episodes highlight instances of mockery and criticism of the various religious beliefs represented in the society.
The movie is filled with diverse religious views as held by the characters. As it would be common in any society, the film features the interactions of peoples from different religious faiths, including Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Jewish, and Islamic faiths. Additionally, as in a common society, there are views that support atheist movements and which form the position of criticism.
The Mormon religion is depicted for the first time in the movie in the seventh season, “All about the Mormons,” with the arrival of the Harrison family in the town. The household belonged to the Mormon religion, which Stan quickly admires due to the family unity illustrated. From the season, it is possible to understand the religion as its story is provided through the eyes of the Harrisons. Stan quickly starts questioning the faith and could not easily accept the system of belief ascribed to by the people. As associated with Joseph Smith, the believers ascribed to the teachings of the Book of Mormon as he provided. The end of the episode is in a pro-religious tone when Stan is told by Gary, “Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that…” (Parker and Stone). It is evident that in all the episodes featuring the Mormons, the movie highlights the critical elements of the religion and answers questions that many of the Americans have had concerning the system of beliefs.
Another religion depicted in the film is Catholicism, evidence mostly in season nine. The religion is presented in a critical view, with the majority of the believers being depicted as ill-informed, hypocritical, and highly insensitive to the other people. Priest Maxi and Jesus are depicted in the episodes to propagate the system of belief, which centers on the Biblical God. Accordingly, the two characters strive to illustrate the strength of the Biblical God with Jesus engaging in miracles. A major controversy emerges with the death of Jesus, which leads to the questioning of how the son of God could die. Evidently, the film portrays the Christian faith as built on the belief that God had only one son who came to the earth for humanity. In spite of the religion purporting that Jesus was God, he was to die in the animation.
Season 10 of the film, featuring “Cartoon Wars,” focuses on the Islamic religion and prophet Mohammad. The primary intention of creating this season was the evolution of censorship in the American society. At least for Parker and Stone, they knew that showing the image of the Islamic prophet in any way could be considered a sin and blasphemous. Thus, the intention to touch to the core of the religion encouraged them to write about the interaction between Mohammed, Jesus, and Moses in the fifth episode. The collaboration of the religious leaders in the storyline was important in destroying the tyrannical magician David Blaine. Blaine had been criticized for his magic that made people question their faiths and ascribe to Scientology. However, the episodes on the Islam religion could be altered in the light of the rising controversies as warned by the staunch believers. Such a depiction would allow the creators to evade the challenges that come with controversial writing on religious issues.
On the season, “Trapped in the Closet,” there is a rising level of intolerance and an appreciation of scientific views. Tom Cruise is the character that is commonly seen to practice Scientology. The animation of the South Park can be argued as being effective in highlighting the controversial issues in the modern society regarding religion. From the episode, the writer makes it clear that “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology… he wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin” (Parker and Stone 1). Evidently, from various episodes, atheism has also featured as an important aspect of religious and belief systems, with the supporters questioning the existence of any form of a deity
From the movie and within the mainstream society, there are divisions along religious beliefs, systems of faith, and modern science. Christianity and Islam are the two most dominant religions in the society that attract a large following. There are also other forms of religion, as evident in the movie, including Jews and Mormons, among others. It is also evident that a significant number of individuals have been subscribed to atheism, and such have been depicted in the animation by the increased criticism of religion by the authors. The entire film presents the views of the authors in analyzing the society from a religious perspective.
By viewing most of the film, it is evident that religion is one of the central themes. As such, the animation successfully evaluates modern day society from the perspective of religious beliefs. From a modern view of the society, there is a clear sensitivity on religious issues than ever in the past. While some people could defend their religion by all means, an increasing number of individuals question the basis of the different systems of faith professed. Clearly, the film is founded on a highly sensitive topic in the modern society.
The South Park production has a strong socio-cultural theme based on the American society. The film is a depiction of a social message on how the society should be, their interactions, behavior, and treatment towards each. The major political parties have been accused of associated subjective agendas with the animation, while the authors have been skeptical in the same aspect. While the film has a political aspect, the major part is on the social and cultural effects. The film effectively alludes to the people’s attention by touching on politics, religion, and such issues as the modern way of life in sexuality, including homosexuality and bisexuality. The majority of the episodes in the animation touch on particular historical periods and events in the history of Americans.
The storyline focuses on creating a good person, as seen in the context of relationships within the society. Therefore, the message can be said to promote morality, safe and respectful interactions between people and the authorities. Morality and social interactions, as depicted through government and the celebrities, touches on the core of the American Society. A clear element of culture in the movie is evident in the family and other social relationships. The children are used in the movie as they relate to their peers, families and society. The creators of the animation intended to pass the message of social interactions and the role of the different people in any society. Family values in sharing, worship, education for children, and marriage and unions are fundamental elements of the film. Besides highlighting the contrast between families united by love and religion while others divided by occupations, the animation film illustrates the roles of the adults in educating and setting the example for the children.
The religious systems highlighted also depict a cultural factor of the American society. The authors use the animated children to unravel the mythical and cultural mysteries behind embracing a given system of belief. The culture of the Mormons, Christians, Jews, and Muslims are revealed in various episodes of the film. The children are fascinated by the religious beliefs inherent in the society, with their inquisitive nature revealing their thirst to understand. A good example is the fascination of Stan with the Mormon religion. However, the film has been criticized from a moral perspective, including children’s use in depicting adult content and profanity, hence attacking the moral fabric of the American society.
The South Park animation is rich in thematic illustrations, the most common being religion and culture, as evident in the American society. The animation series utilizes cartoon characters to discuss these themes. Among the religions touched by the plot are Christianity, Mormonism, Jewish, and Islamic. Besides, the film regards the beliefs of the atheists who question the existence of any form of a deity. Similarly, the plot highlights important elements of the culture, with the family unity, work, and education featuring dominantly. Therefore, the authors and makers of the film successfully highlighted the American life in the animation.
Parker, Trey and Matt Stone. South Park, Film (1997).