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South Park: It's Schoolhouse Rock with cussing

Sometimes South Park seems to be Schoolhouse Rock with cussing. I mean that in a good way. There are way too many potty jokes and smutty remarks to ever be pious edutainment- which is the best groundwork for real useful social analysis. Wednesday, 4-9-03, Comedy Central broadcast "I'm a Little Bit Country," the 100th episode of South Park. And an excellent civics lesson it is.

The title comes from the jingoistic country singing pro-war side of the debate, countered by the even considerably more ridiculous bigots of the anti-war side who presume to speak for the children and are, naturally, a little bit rock and roll. Is the titling of the episode Parker/Stone's discrete endorsement of the war effort? Of course, they are singing the goddam Donny and Marie theme song throughout the whole episode. South Park again earns it reputation for spreading obscenity.

Damn, but this episode was excellent, and nuanced. In a way, it represents a cynical take on our republic's way of doing business, but yet not really. It shows the system set up in an adverserial manner that legitimately works out the concerns of hawks and doves- and makes us look nice even when we decide that we have to kill people.

In a sense, you could describe the show's take on our system of government- going all the way back through Cartman's flashback to the signing of the Declaration of Independence- as an excercise in proper, healthy cynicism. It doesn't represent cynicism about the result, but presents the the construction of our system of governance as based on making properly skeptical expectations about human nature in order to mesh together clashing interest groups in a workable manner that functions optimally.

We don't want to be at war all the time, and we don't want the rest of the world to hate us, so we need people to resist going to war. But we can't be a bunch of pansies who won't stand up for ourselves, or we'll be run over by terrorists or the Chinese. The founders' genius was in the intricately involved mechanisms they created for shaking out and meshing these differing interests in a manner that will get the best and most balanced result. That's not really cynicism at all.

Also, South Park actually should rate considerably higher than Schoolhouse Rock in educational value. Schoolhouse Rock did a good job in presenting some basic facts in a memorable manner. I don't mean to take anything away from it.

However, South Park really represents a more sophisticated level of trying to understand the bigger picture of why and how the system works. They do this week after week at this point, dissecting public issues and social expectations in useful and thoughtful ways. It's just amazing. They're doing more to actually educate young people than the federal Department of Education.

And they don't require a multi-billion dollar hoseline from taxpayers to do it.


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