But the show is great because it’s true parody and satire not simply of particular people and causes, but the very way we tell stories, and the media forms we use to delude ourselves. It has this in common with Parker and Stone’s Team America: World Police (2004), the R-rated, all-puppet movie that holds up long after most of us have forgotten exactly who Janeane Garofalo, Helen Hunt, and Hans Blix ever were. Team America targets buddy movies, Broadway musicals, United Nations gatherings and self-important celebrities, and so much more that it deconstructs virtually all popular forms of persuasion.
So it is with South Park, which edifies as it offends—or maybe edifies because it offends. Curiously, back in 1997, South Park was the very first show to get a dreaded “MA” rating when networks started rating their shows to forestall legal action from Bill Clinton’s Justice Department. That means it’s for “mature audiences” only.
Yet South Park is actually the perfect show for kids and not simply because it takes seriously all the travails of grammar school and traffics in obsessions of childhood. Virtually every episode explains how people in charge wield power by whipping up hysteria over nothing, or try to force all of us into the same social or political straitjacket. Yes, there’s a lot of cursing and blue material, but there’s no better classroom for kids to learn the entwined lessons of skepticism toward authority and respecting true diversity of opinion.