Cyberlizard goes to the movies
South Park has become something of a cult cartoon for adults and youth in the past two years or so, so a major cinematic version was probably inevitable. For those few of you who have never seen it or read about it, it was created by two hard-up graduates influenced by the humour of such shows as Monty Python who suddenly found they had a major success on their hands. The main characters are four pre-teen (I think) boys from fairly dysfunctional families (shades of Beavis and Butthead): Stan, Jewish Kyle, the self-consciously fat Cartman and the hooded and muffled Kenny, whose voice can hardly ever be understood and who normally gets killed during each episode.
The film starts with the four boys sneaking off to see a foul-mouthed film by Canadian artists Terence and Philip, who major in foul language and flatulence. While the rest of the audience walks out in disgust, the boys lap it up but then find themselves swearing all the time, including in front of their mothers and teachers. While they are deprogrammed, Kyle's overbearing mother decides to blame Canada for inflicting this filth on Americans, and soon the US is marching to war against Canada while simaltaneously planning to publicly execute Terence and Philip. To complicate matters, Kenny has been killed (as usual in South Park) and this time goes to hell, where he learns that Saddam Hussein (also killed in the film) is in conjunction with Satan and that both are planning to return to earth and rule.
There's a thin line between genuine satire and using satire as an excuse, and I'm afraid South Park crosses that line by a big margin. I laughed loudly at some parts of the film, but others left me cold and even a little disturbed. Thus while the underlying "message" (if South Park has got one) is that censorship is evil, free speech is good and that people should tolerate one another, the film almost seems to bend over backwards to provoke those reactions which it ostensibly decries. Thus we have liberal use of the f-word, several other obscene expressions and, probably more disturbing to most people, several lines in the script (notably from "The Mole") that are extremely blasphemous and profane. In fact "Mole's" lines seem to make no sense, not even in the humour department. Saddam is also portrayed as having a sexual relationship with the devil in a very in-your-face manner, including one very graphical scene and again several suggestive lines. Call me puritanical, but I don't find the idea of hell particularly amusing either, certainly not the way it's vividly portrayed in the film. To be sure, there is a lot of corny religion in the west, particularly in religious broadcasting, but again this seems to be used as a pretext to beat religion with, whether Christian or Jewish. Finally, there are some violently graphic scenes, with body parts being scattered liberally especially in the second half of the film. Animation it may be, but again it's over the top.
So did I actually enjoy any of it? Less and less as the film progressed, I must admit. There are some funny ideas and visual gags in there, and in a way that is what is so sad and frustrating about the whole concept of South Park: it's funny, but it doesn't need to be filthy. You get the feeling that the duo that wrote it could appeal much more, if only they'd drop the sniggering undergraduate humour. Probably unintentionally, they have placed another milestone on the path of popular culture towards our complete desensitization.