Earlier this week, it was announced that South Park would be joining Hulu, and removing its episodes from Comedy Central’s South Park Studios website. This move was met with widespread disapproval because — while the episodes had previously been available for free — folks will now have to sign up for Hulu Plus if they wish to watch their favorite South Park episodes at their leisure. The disappointment is certainly understandable, but the move shouldn’t be all that surprising. South Park has never shied away from siding with big business, and if you don’t believe it, you may want to re-watch these five episodes.
“Gnomes” – Original Air Date: December 16, 1998
This episode is probably best known for the first appearance of Tweek, as well as the immortal Underpants Gnomes, but this was also one of the first South Park episodes to take an unabashedly pro-business stance. When a Starbucks-like coffee conglomerate threatens to move to South Park and destroy the local competition, the town mobilizes against it, holding protests against the evils of corporate America. The boys are asked to give a presentation on why corporations are bad, but they throw the entire town a curve ball, deciding instead that corporations are good, and that the reason why companies like Starbucks become so popular is because they make a quality product. It’s as close to a libertarian manifesto as Trey Parker and Matt Stone ever got.
“Rainforest Schmainforest” – Original Air Date: April 7, 1999
This time, it’s environmentalists who get the business, and the boys are forced to join the touring choir dedicated to saving the rainforest. When they get there, they find that it’s a nightmarish place full of murderous animals and deadly quicksand traps. The main point here was that organizations that advocate for saving the rainforests when they’ve never actually been there are a bit hypocritical. But the kicker is when the group is saved by a logging company who are in the process of eliminating thousands of trees. Yet another case of South Park presenting the groups we generally perceive to be evil as the good guys.
“Butt Out” – Original Air Date: December 3, 2003
This one might be the most boldly unpopular stance South Park ever took. At a time when smoking was being banned in bars and restaurants, and the anti-tobacco movement was rapidly gaining momentum, South Park decided to do an episode that could be fairly described as pro-tobacco, even if there’s a hint of irony. Obviously, Matt & Trey aren’t being serious when they portray tobacco employees as happy little elves singing joyful work song all day, nor do they actually think the anti-smoking movement would murder a child just so they could say he died from second-hand smoke (as Rob Reiner attempts to do to Cartman), but they are merely presenting the other extreme in order to illustrate that there are some grey areas. On one hand, it’s a bit troubling to ignore the legitimate dangers of smoking as this episode does, but on the other hand, I was in the middle school when this episode aired, and it’s portrayal of anti-smoking demonstrators as the lamest people on the planet (which is what draws the boys to smoking in the first place) is absolutely spot-on.
“Something Walmart This Way Comes” – Original Air Date: November 3, 2010
In which South Park takes on everyone’s favorite store to hate, and comes out with a fairly measured take. They don’t deny that Walmart is a rampaging beast of a company that takes over people’s lives, but instead they point out that the consumers are what put it in that position in the first place. This becomes clear at the end of the episode, when, after destroying the Walmart once and for all, the citizens of South Park vow to only support local businesses. Naturally, the main street store they decide to support eventually grows into another Walmart and they have to destroy that is well. While the message is not as unabashedly pro-big business as “Gnomes,” it makes a similar point: big corporations become big not because they are inherently, but because consumers support them.
“Canada On Strike” – Original Air Date: April 2, 2008
It was early 2008, and the writer’s strike had just ended. Free to create new South Park episodes once again, Matt & Trey come out with a clear point: the writer’s strike was completely pointless. Using the premise of Canada going on strike to gain “some of that internet money” from the United States, they present the strike as being directionless, and making no sense, as the Canadian protesters appear to be aiming for money that doesn’t actually exist. It would be a stretch to call this episode anti-union as a whole, but it was a stark critique of the actions of the Writers’ Guild, and the main argument was that the strike was a terribly idea, and that by banning themselves from producing content for four months, all the writers had done was hurt themselves. Of course, it was also an excuse for some great humor at Canada’s expense, particularly when they “send adrift” the organizer of the Canada strike.