South Park
Freak Strike
episode #601

"Oh, gee, I didn't mean to almost kill grandma."

The social critics at South Park take aim this week at the too-easy target of daytime talk shows. Most people even tangentially aware of American pop culture know about the spread of sleaze TV, which includes talk shows, so-called "reality shows," and the recently-aired nadir of the genre, "Celebrity Boxing." Of course, some might consider South Park's focus on scatological humor to be part of this collective lowering of the American tastes into the toilet. Others might argue that South Park uses that humor as a way of satirizing it. And, finally, some might argue that it's just funny.

The episode starts with the boys watching the Maury Povich show. The show features people with unusual physical disabilities, and Maury not-so-gently questions them on their difficult lives. When the guests receive a lovely parting gift at the end of the show, the boys decide to create a "freak" to secure their own parting gifts. Nobody is surprised when they choose Butters, but Carman's idea of his physical issue is something only an eight and a half year old boy (or the South Park writers) could imagine: Cartman tells the Maury Povich show that Butters suffers from "chinballitis," or the heartbreaking syndrome of having testes growing on one's chin.

Of particular interest to the readership is the appearance of the local sci-fi fanboys, complete with their "Resistance is futile" t-shirts and suspiciously familiar speech cadences. (For reference, see the bearded, comic book-selling guy on The Simpsons.) Their reward for creating a chin prosthetic for Butters: the original AVID cut of Episode 1, upon which they fall like hungry wolves.

In the Maury show green room Butters introduces himself as "Napoleon Bonaparte" to several other guests with unusual physical challenges. They are professionals on the talk show circuit - a modern-day freak show. At the end of Butters' appearance with Maury, he is sent directly to the world's largest putt-putt course as his prize.

The boys back in Colorado are enraged that their plan resulted in Butters going alone to the putt-putt course. Cartman decides to get himself on the Maury show, but they have switched to that other staple topic of the daytime talk show: parents with out of control children. Cartman talks his way onto the show, appearing in drag and giving the most outrageous examples of bad behavior: "I slaughtered four baby seals with my bare hands!" Leann Cartman, as usual, remains happily oblivious.

In the meantime, the freaks go on strike for better parting gifts, and Butters is forced to join the picket line so the others don't discover his fraud. When the police break up their demonstration because they're "not people," the freaks interrupt the Maury show by sending a video feed into the show monitors. In a clever sendup of pro-union television spots circa 1975, the freaks gather to sing "Look for the True Freak Label." Maury is forced to negotiate when his ratings start to plummet.

Chef was again MIA this week, no doubt because he was in New York City for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kenny, despite the misleading appearance of the beloved orange parka on Butters, continues to be dead.

Who should be offended by this episode: The physically challenged. The hosts and guests of sleazy daytime talk shows deserve nothing better than this treatment, and given their penchant for voluntary humiliation on national television, it is difficult to imagine what could possibly offend them anyway.

This week's Worthy Message illuminates how our culture exploits people with extreme physical or social problems ("freaks") because they are a source of pity and relief for most of us: much like cars slowing down to view a wreck on the side of the road, we are horrified, but cannot look away. While this might be true for the normally-functioning members of society, one suspects that the deeply damaged folk who most often populate the daytime talk show milieu serve as a mirror for people whose lives are nearly as complicated and unpleasant as theirs. Or, as the president of the TFU (True Freaks Union) says, "they're stupid trailer trash from the South." (Although, to be fair, stupidity can be found in any of the fifty states, and perhaps even Canada.)

This episode had some nice moments, but because I do not find genitalia by nature funny, the nature of Butters' physical issue amused me less than, say, Kyle's mouth-breathing cousin from Back East. However, Cartman in drag and his efforts to out-misbehave the out-of-control teenager were truly excellent. It is true that anything can be justified for the love of putt-putt.

Laura Proud




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