Actually, I forbade my son from watching South Park when it first came on the air because of the content.  I only became a fan of the show after his teenage rebellion phase ended, and I didn’t have to worry about encouraging disrespect and foul-mouthed bad attitudes.  Nick Gillespie at Reason argues as the show starts its 17th season tonight that I had it backwards all along, and that in this era of Big Nanny-State Government, we need to teach our kids to watch out for abuses of power and infringement of freedom:

1. Disrespect My Authoritah!

Virtually every episode points out the difference between legitimate authority and the abuse of power and scare-mongering. Whether it’s the show’s Jew-baiting jerk Eric Cartman going nuts as a traffic cop or former Vice President Al Gore trying to scare the boys into hysteria overManBearPig, South Park always emphasizes thinking for yourself rather than blindly following what leaders say.

2. Respect True Diversitah!

Today’s kids are constantly force-fed hosannas to tolerance and diversity that ring hollow and false. But even when it’s brutally satirizing something like Mormonism, South Park actually fosters a true live-and-let-live ethos that’s sadly lacking in most K-12 curricula.

3. It Emphasizes Personal Responsibility

Among South Park’s core values is taking responsibility for one’s actions. In the episode where Stan’s father develops a drinking problem and seeks supernatural intervention for a cure, it’s the child who lays out the case for self-control and accountability.

Well, most of the above is true, and I later became a big fan of the show, although I haven’t kept up with it lately.  However, some of the “thinking for yourself” messages come across more as “ridiculing anything that Stone and Parker don’t like,” which isn’t exactly the same thing.  I’m also a fan of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit,” even when I sometimes vehemently disagree with their point of view, because they tend to offer a little more respect to competing points of view.

Of course, the material in both shows is raw, and I definitely wouldn’t have kids watching the Penn & Teller show, which is aimed at educating adults, not children.  I don’t find Nick entirely convincing on this point, but perhaps more so on an implied point — which is that most of the rest of the programming that kids and teens watch have very different messages aimed at them. My son used to watch The Simpsons, and I found it necessary to deconstruct the multitudes of straw men erected by that series until he grew out of his interest in it. I also am inclined to think that most kids would be more likely to emulate Cartman than to see him as a bête noire.

Nick makes his case in this video, but please Note: this clip is definitely Not Safe For Work, and has enough in here to offend most people, at least once or twice. If you are easily offended (and one episode in here offends me), just stick to Reason’s post on the subject:

And just how far are parents supposed to go to encourage open-mindedness?  I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be this far.