by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy: three long-running American animated television shows that have left a mark on American society that is nearly impossible to miss. These three shows have become staples in American culture. The characters are recognizable throughout the world, and none of the shows appear to be going off the air anytime soon.
All three of these shows have dealt with LGBT issues to varying degrees. But how have they portrayed their LGBT characters over the years? Have they given America an ill-informed view of LGBT people? Do they fuel hate and ignorance? Is it enough that these shows bring LGBT characters and issues into millions of American homes every day?
This is part one of a three-part series analyzing each show individually in regards to their relationship with LGBT characters, storylines, and issues.
First up is South Park, the Comedy Central hit which follows the lives of fourth-graders Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny in their small Colorado town of South Park. The show has found its niche in making fun of everything and everyone, with its motto being 'Either everything is OK to poke fun at, or nothing is.'
Surprisingly, South Park has more LGBT characters than most non-Gay shows on television.
From Mr./Mrs. Garrison, the fourth-grade teacher of the four boys; to Cartman's mom, Liane, who is Intersex; to Big Gay Al, the show's first openly Gay character; to Mr. Slave, a romantic partner of both Mr. Garrison and Big Gay Al; all the way to the devil himself, Satan, who had relationships throughout the series with a quiet Gay man by the name of Chris and the more memorable Saddam Hussein.
With the plethora of LGBT people living in the small mountain town of South Park, the show has had at least one episode dealing with LGBT issues and dilemmas in every one of their 14 seasons.
Let's take a look at some of the major characters and episodes that have drawn controversy over the years.
Cartman is one of the four main characters of the show, and is often portrayed as the series' main antagonist/protagonist. He is the catalyst for around half the episodes of South Park.
Cartman is foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, overweight, selfish, and spoiled. He is likely the most popular character of the show and one of the most recognizable characters on television today.
Although Cartman hates just about everyone, his iconic status in the show and in mainstream American culture have made him a profound influence on youth. Youth use his language, his catchphrases, and his jokes - and when a character that commands that much attention uses the words 'fag' and 'faggot' in abundance, whether referring to Gay people or not, it resonates with youth, giving them the impression that his anti-Gay behavior is acceptable.
This can leave a foul impression on Gay audiences watching the show, because South Park's most recognizable character is a sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, lazy, misogynistic, xenophobic vigilante.
'Gay people are evil. Evil right down to their cold black hearts, which pump not blood like yours and mine, but rather a thick, vomitous oil that oozes through their rotten veins and clots in their pea-sized brains which becomes the cause of their Naziesque patterns of violent behavior.'
This was Mr. Garrison's first reference to homosexuality in episode four of the series, 'Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride.' Early on in the series, Mr. Garrison is a closeted, self-loathing Gay man. As the series progresses, he comes out of the closet and his 'flaming' nature seems to fluctuate from season to season.
In season nine, Mr. Garrison decides to get a sex change operation, thus becoming Mrs. Garrison and identifying as a straight woman. Upon discovering that his old boyfriend Mr. Slave is having a relationship with Big Gay Al and they intend to marry, he becomes a 'Protect Marriage' activist.
After Mrs. Garrison experiences many problems with men, he decides that he is a Lesbian and has casual relationships with other women. Later, in season 11, he decides that he 'misses his penis' and clones another one from his DNA and becomes Mr. Garrison again.
As you can probably deduce from my brief description of his behavior throughout the series, the character isn't exactly the most positive image of an LGBT person on television today. It seems as if he is a mockery of LGBT people, as if the creators are trying to point out the outrageousness of the social norms that we as LGBT people break every day, just by existing.
BIG GAY AL, MR. SLAVE, AND SATAN
Although all these minor characters are quite eccentric and often over the top with their Gayety, their relationships and personalities, apart from Mr. Slave's gerbil fetish, are all fairly normal.
With Satan, in his relationship with Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone create a portrait of a Gay man (or demon) struggling with relationship strife. Satan is usually portrayed as quite a down-to-earth (or way below earth) Gay character.
South Park's first Gay episode, 'Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride' from season one, showed that the creators were willing to tackle Gay issues early on. In this episode, Big Gay Al teaches Stan that homosexuality is normal and OK, and Stan tries to tell the townspeople. The episode was nominated for both a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Award and an Emmy Award.
The 'D-Yikes!' episode from season 10, a parody of the film 300, features Mrs. Garrison, who begins to identify as a Lesbian. The only girl bar in town, Les' Bos (pronounced 'le bo'), is at risk of being sold and taken over by Persian club owners.
The Lesbians battle the Persians in the style of the film 300, and eventually win, thanks to a ploy on Garrison's part, hiring Mexican Americans to disguise themselves as Persians and spy on the enemy.
The episode was quite funny - in fact, many people quickly began blogging on the Lesbian/Bi women's entertainment website afterellen.com about how funny it was, saying things to the effect of 'you have to be able to laugh at yourself.'
What the episode essentially did was take every Lesbian stereotype and amplify it for Mrs. Garrison's outlandish behavior. She is angry, man-hating, shallow, and ugly.
As I am obviously not a Lesbian woman, my view is somewhat skewed, but personally I found the episode offensive, strictly because of its stereotypes of Lesbians and Latino and Persian Americans. But that's what South Park does best: it offends. That said, I can see the entertainment value in the episode.
'THE F WORD'
Finally we get to South Park's single most controversial episode involving LGBT people, the season 13 episode 'The F Word,' where the boys lobby to officially change the definition of the word 'fag' from an anti-Gay slur to a term describing loud and obnoxious Harley Davidson motorcycle riders.
Throughout the episode, the word 'fag' is said 60 times. The word 'faggot' is said 13 times, and 'fag' is written eight times, including on a Gay activist's sign which reads: 'Gays Against Fags.'
In the episode, the children attest that they have no problem with Gay people, and with the help of Gay rights activists, they successfully change the meaning of the word.
Big Gal Al, who leads the Gay rights activists, claims that Gay people must accept that the words 'fag' and 'faggot' 'are simply too much fun for everyone to say.' Thus they must support the campaign to change the word's meaning.
GLAAD released a response to this episode that properly summarizes my feelings.
'The creators of South Park are right on one important point: more and more people are using the f-word as an all-purpose insult. However, it is irresponsible and wrong to suggest that it is a benign insult or that promoting its use has no consequences for those who are the targets of anti-Gay bullying and violence.
'This is a slur whose meaning remains rooted in homophobia. And while many South Park viewers will understand the sophisticated satire and critique in last night's episode, others won't - and if even a small number of those take from this a message that using the f-word is OK, it worsens the hostile climate that many in our community continue to face.'
From 'Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub,' where two straight men masturbate in a hot tub together and quarrel with their sexuality, to 'South Park Is Gay,' where the boys discover the fad of metrosexuality, to 'Cartman Sucks,' where Cartman ends up in a Christian straight camp after performing oral sex on another boy, South Park has certainly provided both positive and negative visibility for LGBT people.
Aside from Scientologists and Mormons, South Park has never been outright slanderous to any single group of people in an episode's entirety. And South Park's somewhat moderate stance on LGBT issues tend to rationally consider both sides of the debate, while at the same time proposing solutions which aren't necessarily concurrent with the Gay rights movement.
Although the show has pointed out many social incongruities in their own witty and unique style over the years, South Park simply has not made enough effort to reflect LGBT people in a positive or realistic image. South Park, as liberal-minded as it can be, gives far too much anti-Gay ammo to kids, which can lead to bullying, intimidation, and worse.
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