The problem with South Park’s Penn State episode, which aired last night on Comedy Central, is that it didn’t really say anything. Usually, the show uses its offensiveness as a means to drive home some sort of larger point — Scientology is weird, the Catholic church is messed up, etc. — but “The Poor Kid,” an episode that centered around Kenny and Cartman being taken away from their parents and sent to a foster home, didn’t make any sort of point at all.
If you want to make rape jokes, specifically child rape jokes, you better be saying something. You better be making some sort grand statement on the institutional failure that is Penn State, and it better blow people’s minds to the point that they are talking about it the next day. The stakes aren’t high when you’re making fun of Tom Cruise being trapped in the closet, but in this case, they are.
Instead, you didn’t say anything, South Park. It was almost like your show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, sat down to try to write a Penn State episode, couldn’t figure out what they wanted to say, and settled for jokes that weren’t directed at anyone or anything. I felt uncomfortable laughing at them last night, because I read the grand jury report of what Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing to those kids, and it’s affected me. But at some point you have to laugh to alleviate the tension induced by the soul-crushing things you’ve been reading in the last week, and I thought I’d get something out of it in the end. I thought I’d be rewarded for laughing at dumb Penn State jokes with some sort of larger statement made in the show’s closing moments. When that statement wasn’t made, I was mad at myself and mad at the show.
I don’t know what South Park’s making fun of here. Is it making fun of people who make too many offensive Penn State jokes? Because I don’t think those people exist. Is it making fun of Penn State itself? If so, it didn’t do a good job — these are all throwaways. I don’t think it knows who it’s making fun of. I think it threw a bunch of shit at the wall, and hoped some of it would stick. I think when Parker and Stone are interviewed about this at some point over the next few weeks, and asked who or what this episode was criticizing, they’re going to pick the most convenient target at that moment. Because I’m pretty sure they had no idea who they were criticizing when they were writing this episode. And that shit is offensive.
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