Part of what makes South Park so clever and even important is the procrastination that goes into making each episode. We almost missed out on “Member Berries,” the first episode of this monumental 20th season, because of a technical issue, but it also didn’t help that Matt Stone and Trey Parker took their sweet time in producing the episode. Still, what seems like an inconvenient and poorly-planned process to us nerds watching at home has clearly worked for South Park, because with each new episode we keep wondering, “What will they make fun of next?” and “How will they top that?”
There’s a lot of good material these days. Too much, even. That’s clearly on display this season, between “Member Berries” and this week’s episode “Skank Hunt,” as the focus of the story shifted from asking why, God, why is it always a Turd Sandwich vs. a Giant Douche to the real reason trolls do what they do – to kick the anthill and laugh as the ants scatter. The focus is less on the election (good) and more on Gerald Broflovski’s secret life as SkankHunt42, and there are some truly fun, clever moments to unpack from “Skank Hunt.”
“Nobody can hide from these monsters.”
Nothing will ever paint an internet troll as accurately as Kyle’s dad did in “Skank Hunt.” Of course, before we watched his dark, revealing, and sadly spot-on moments, there was the equally accurate blubbering school official telling all of the concerned parents that SkankHunt42 is a student, because it’s always just a kid acting out. In this case, 42’s agenda starts out as a simple case of photoshopping penises into the mouths of students’ moms; specifically, those of the girls who sat out of the national anthem before the volleyball game in “Member Berries.”
“It could be just someone who just kind of thinks it’s funny to stir the pot and watch everyone freak out,” Kyle’s dad says to his wife, trying to get her to see the light, his light, while she digs the hole deeper for kids. He’s right, too. It is fun to rile people up and watch random strangers freak out from a safe distance, which is why we laugh each year when that funny guy ruined fantasy football mock drafts. Harmless, sure, but it’s a gateway troll. Once you start laughing at people who are “Mad Online” you want to laugh more and more.
And the way Gerald basked in the glory of international recognition for his trolling mirrors reality. Trolling has become a legitimate industry that pays well for people who don’t care about having a soul. Look at the alt-right and/or men’s rights movements and “leaders” like Milo and Roosh, who generate headlines with vile behavior while hiding behind fabricated causes. (Read this nauseating profile of the former to get a better idea of the “celebrity” worship of a troll.) Hell, look at the sports-media landscape. Skip Bayless makes $5 million a year to dish out hot takes and people eat it up. It all started with people on the internet and has infected every aspect of our lives. Gerald’s dick-to-mouth photoshopping might seem like vulgar hilarity, but it’s real.
“You’ve been dick-slapped!”
This is more of a sub-moment that mattered, but it deserves the spotlight perhaps more than any moment in this episode. Kyle’s dad’s whole trolling performance is spectacular, from “What’s wrong with your ovaries, bitch?!?” to him typing on double keyboards, like he’s right out of a classic rock music video. And it is basically a classic rock video, because f*cking Boston shows up! BOSTON! Just when you think you’ve seen every pitch that South Park can throw, here comes Gerald rocking out to Boston while he pastes penises onto family pictures. Amazing. More television shows should add the music of Boston. F*ckin’ Boston, man, rock on.
(Gerald’s happy stroll set to Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” was also great, but not Boston great.)
“You didn’t hear? Heidi Turner, she… she quit Twitter.”
If someone isn’t online to tweet or constantly share tired memes, screen caps of someone else’s tweet, or photos of food, children, and vacations, do they really exist? The mourning of Heidi Turner’s Twitter account is particularly funny because of how infectious and toxic social media has become. All of the kids staring into the abyss of their cellphones perfectly captures the hive mentality of social media, in which validation comes in the form of likes and retweets. It’s easy to understand why trolls feed on this stuff, because some people just like to watch the world, and our perfect (and fake) digital lives, burn.
Along comes Scott Malkinson to add to the absurdity that a person’s Twitter account means anything. Poor Scott is fed up with the jokes and he’s ready to delete it all, dammit. I’ve never felt more empathy for a lispy cartoon character in my life.
“It’s time to make the boys suffer!”
This week’s cliffhanger featured the girls launching their first attack in the Gender War, as they all dumped their boyfriends. While the boys were doing something that we’ll get to in a second, Wendy and her army were executing a plan based on the classic idea of a sex strike. Except, of course, this involves children, so it’s a dating strike. Essentially, what happens if girls simply stop giving men want they want most? We recently saw this premise in the film Chi-Raq, in which the male response to the sex strike is to simply escalate violence, so we can expect or at least hope that the weepy boys of South Park Elementary become even angrier in their quest to discover the real identity of SkankHunt42, since, you know, it’s not who the boys think it is.
“That’s how the world works now – you get blamed for the group you belong to, even if you didn’t do nothing.”
Holy cow, this line is just too *Italian chef kisses fingers*. It’s hard to dive into this one without stepping on a landmine, but it ties into the whole aspect of Twitter hive minds. Let’s put it this way: I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and what do people hate about baseball these days? Cardinals fans. Go check out the Best Fans in Baseball Twitter account and see what I’m talking about. Sure, all sports teams have awful fans, but a fan base that is constantly lauded as the best and therefore refers to itself as the best is going to piss people off. Hence, a Twitter account that retweets generally terrible behavior from those so-called best fans. Do I tweet terrible and even racist comments when the Cardinals lose a game? No, because I’m a person with a functioning brain. But am I lumped in with those Cardinals fans as if all Cardinals fans are terrible? Yes, every day. That’s the simplest way I can explain Butters’ fantastic line without opening a whole sh*tty can of sh*tty worms.
Instead, let’s look at the ramifications of the boys’ counteroffensive to the impending “gender war.” (If it’s not clear already, I love getting really deep about South Park.) Is it possible that we somehow haven’t seen the worst of Eric Cartman? Fifteen years ago, Cartman fed Scott Tenorman’s parents to him in a bowl of chili, and from there his unprecedented evil evolved, but now we face a Cartman whose most important possessions – his MacBook, iPad, and iPhone – have been destroyed. And not only were they destroyed, but it was all done under the false presumption that Cartman is SkankHunt42.
The fun of South Park in recent seasons is trying to figure out where the story may go, and seeing as even Parker and Stone don’t even know until the last second, it’s almost pointless to guess. But Cartman wants to be the hero of the Gender War by stopping it, so it might be safest to predict that he’s going to be the hero of season 20. The crude, hilarious, insanely offensive hero. And we’ve never needed him more.