After watching the last two weeks’ South Park episodes, I’d come to the conclusion that the season was slowly beginning to fall into a downward spiral of mediocrity. So, when I learned that this week’s episode was going to cover the hot-button issue of bullying, I kept thinking to myself, “How are they going to address the topic while maintaining a strong sense of comedy and activism for the cause?” That’s when I remembered that South Park has one of the funniest, most pushed-around kids in all of television: Butters Leopold Stotch. And boy, did they take advantage of him!
The episode began with the boys having lunch at school while Cartman goes on a hilarious, albeit completely true, rant about music no longer being about love, but rather women’s ”vajayjays”. The conversation shifts to Butters though when he arrives at the table with a black eye and no lunch, the boys try to tell him that he has to tell someone about his bullying problem. Of course, Butters doesn’t want to be an Anonymous Andy, or as Cartman so greatly put it, a Cliché Conflict-Resolution Kevin, so the boys tell him that he should talk to someone he trusts, like his Grandma.
Unbeknownst to them though, the bully is actually Butters’ Grandma. The idea was definitely the greatest storyline of the episode, as this unlikely bully causes a great deal of physical and emotional pain for Butters. Not only does his Grandma berate him verbally with death threats, but she also beats the crap out of him and stabs him with forks. Butters can’t seem to find the help he’s looking for and gets extremely frustrated about the issue. He decides to take matters into his own hands. Changing into his evil, alternate persona of Professor Chaos, Butters musters up the courage to face his Grandma and tell her how it is. Although, much to his surprise and chagrin, his Grandmother is also dressed as a super villain, and “gummy bears” Butters into submission.
After experiencing torture, and bearing witness to various forms of bullying that are engaged by children and adults alike, Butters comes to a great realization about his Grandma. In what was probably one of the funniest moments of the entire season, Butters politely, and eloquently, tells his Grandma that he understands why she does what she does – because of loneliness. Butters also explains that he understands she is going to die soon. He makes it pointedly clear that he is going to live a long, happy, and healthy life, and will make sure to remind her of that fact while she’s on her deathbed. It was the ultimate guilt trip, spoken in the true blunt Butters fashion. I only wish I could say that the rest of the episode was just as fantastic.
The parallel storyline of Stan’s anti-bully music video had a few great moments but it felt much too obscure in reference and flat in presentation. I actually had to look up what video they were referencing, and found its source – a high-schooler made a music video in the same vein as Stan’s. I’m quite confused as to why Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to use this video as it doesn’t really have any widespread recognition, only about 100,000 views and a single story shown on Fox News Texas. Even knowing of the reference now though, still doesn’t make the joke all that entertaining. Save for the few short moments of Cartman dressed up as a female singer, referencing his past lunch conversation, the reference was bland and wholly unfunny.
What was great about this storyline though – which also intertwined with Butters’ – were the bathroom-stall bully scenes. The episode alluded to the fact that bullying is a prevalent practice in more than just schools, while creating a hilarious hierarchy of people bullying those in lesser positions than them. This all comes to a climax when a movie producer enters the school bathroom and, to our surprise, is bullied by the only one with more power than him: Jesus. It was a great way to end the various stints of bathroom bullying, but I can’t help but feel more could have been drawn from these conversations, especially with Jesus – a man who preaches universal peace – being at the top of the bully food chain.
The end of the episode seemed to fall flat as well, despite the fact that it was an obvious poke at Invisible Children’s Jason Russell, and his mental breakdown from a few weeks ago. The whole thing just seemed superfluous, and really didn’t have any connection to the topic of the episode, save for the connecting factor that awareness videos were made.
Overall, I really did enjoy most of the episode and found Butters’ plight to be pure comedic gold, but most of the laughs seemed to draw more from random statements than from the theme of the episode. Bullying really is a difficult topic for South Park to handle though, considering most of their analyses of current events are critical and subversive. It seems that they had to tread carefully as not to trivialize the bullying epidemic, but then again, when has South Park ever tried not to offend people?
7 out of 10