SOUTH PARKMedium: TV animation
Produced by: Avenging Conscience Films
First Appeared: 1992
Creators: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
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The sweetness-and-light 1970s and '80s TV cartoons, such as Care Bears and Rainbow Brite, mandated by parent action groups, had an inevitable backlash in the '90s. Shows like Eek! the Cat and Beetlejuice were only baby steps in that direction. Before the decade
was out, animation was replete with the likes of Ren & Stimpy and Beavis & Butthead. Probably no other show rejected the parent action group standards as strongly as South Park.
South Park had its pre-beginning in The Spirit of Christmas, which was made by college buddies Trey Parker and and Matt Stone, who entered it into a student film screening in December, 1992. It was made with an 8-millimeter movie camera, using cut-out animation. It contained several characters who strongly resembled those later seen in the cast of the South Park series. They repeated the effort three years afterward, with improved techniques, and sent it out as a sort of Christmas card, to several of their friends. Copies were made and sent to others, and before long it was even available on the Internet. To distinguish between the 1992 and '95 versions of The Spirit of Christmas, both of which lampooned the conflict between religious and commercial aspects of the holiday, they're referred to as "Jesus Vs. Frosty" and "Jesus Vs. Santa", respectively.
The second version contained fully-realized depictions of the major South Park characters. Particularly faithful was Kenny McCormick, who was killed during the story, prompting a frequently-used schtick in the series. Over and over during the first few seasons, the cry of "Omigod, they've killed Kenny!" would ring out, as Kenny suffered more frequent (and less lasting) deaths than any superhero who ever "lived". No explanation was ever given as to how he came to be up and around, healthy as ever, at the beginning of the next episode.
Parker and Stone, encouraged by their film's reception as a "Christmas card", made an attempt to sell it as TV programming. At least one broadcast network was put off by the character Mr. Hanky, a talking turd, even in a show for an adult audience. It finally wound up on Comedy Central. There, it debuted on August 13, 1997.
The show centers around four third-graders (who finally moved on to the fourth after about four or five seasons, but still haven't gotten into the fifth) in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, "a pissant white-bread mountain town," according to some of the characters. Many of South Park's locations are taken from Fairplay (no relation), a real life Colorado town which dates back to the Pike's Peak Gold Rush of the late 1850s. The grade-schoolers are Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick. Parker and Stone provide voices for most of their own characters. One of the problems would-be censors have with the show is that the kids talk as crudely as real kids do. They seem cool with Kenny getting killed all the time.
Only the strongest of taboo words are bleeped by the broadcaster and maybe not even those, if there's a comedic point to be made by their inclusion. But while the show quickly got a reputation for very funny vulgarity, reputation still had it that it was nothing but a pile of vulgarity. Apparently, Parker and Stone figured if they were going to be vilified for offensiveness, they might as well offend in other ways as well. From early times, they were outspoken in tackling religion, politics and other topics that are simply not spoken of in non-offensive comedy.
The show devoloped a fan base that refuses to be offended by its often irreverent humor. Its characters sometimes take outrageous stands, so Parker and Stone can ridicule them. Often, the kids, with their outlook on the world shaped less by experience with it, constitute the closest thing the town has to a voice of reason. Production techniques are geared for getting on the air rapidly, so the show can remain topical in fact, breaking news is often less than a week old before South Park is making fun of it.
And yet, its persistent critics insist it represents everything that's wrong with American society. Parker and Stone find such criticism less than compelling, as their show continues to be the most popular thing Comedy Central offers.
A feature-length movie version, titled South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, was released to theatres on June 30, 1999. Back at Comedy Central, Parker and Stone continue to turn out new episodes like clockwork. Even after more than a decade, audiences continue to watch enthusiastically.