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According to Stratyner and Keller (4), South Park has offended Christians, specifically individuals following the Catholic faith, numerous times in the show. The Catholic League has expressed their distaste over South Park’s depiction of the Virgin Mary, claiming that the show and specifically the episode “Bloody Mary,” “defiled Our Blessed Mother and offended Catholics Nationwide” (Stratyner and Keller, 4). Moreover, the song “The Most Offensive Lyrics Ever” that was sung in the show by the Jewish character, Kenny, and Mr. Hanky, was considered offensive because religious icons of Christianity, who Christians revere or praise, were depicted insultingly. The image of the Virgin Mary, for instance, was tainted when she was portrayed as a kind of woman who gives oral pleasure to men. Christians were offended because the image of the Virgin Mary, which is innocent and pure, was blemished in the series. Aside from the Catholic League, another notable Christian organization, the Christian Family Network (CFN), has expressed their concerns regarding South Park. According to the CFN, the show is “irreligious and blasphemous” and the organization believes that it is not the kind of show that children should be exposed to because it does not help develop “a strong moral foundation, one with strong sense of faith and values” (Singh, 216).
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Aside from Christianity, South Park has also offended followers of other religion, like Islam, Scientology, as well as those who are atheists, which means that the show is not targeting one religion but the idea of organized religion in general. Therefore, Stratyner and Keller argue that while notable religious sects and organizations express their aversion to the religious slurs in South Park, other people should understand that the show does not intend to be offensive. Lipoma (15), for one, argue that South Park is merely trying to represent reality through humorous contradictions. Lipoma mentioned the ideas and methods of humorist Soren Kierkegaard. According to Kierkegaard, “humor is the mediating and defining bridge between the religious individual and the ‘aesthete’. The humorist understands our constant struggles with guilt, fear, and despair, and his or her jests reflect the reality of the contradictions which those strivings reveal” (Lipoma, 15). According to Stratyner and Keller (16), the ability f humorists to create contradictions , whether they are offensive or not, makes watching South Park a thought provoking experience.
One of the main characters in South Park is Satan and instead of portraying him as the evil entity that we all know him to be, the show portrays Satan as a good character. Famous critique, Roger Ebert, admitted that Satan’s character in the show is hilarious and he is sometimes ridden with guilt when he laughs at the offensive comments said on the show or done by Satan. However, watching the show also helped him reflect on important issues like the difference between right or wrong. For instance, believing that Satan is evil and then seeing the character as a good person on the television show allows the audience to reflect on what elements make characters or people evil. Based on Ebert’s arguments, Stratyner and Keller (16) argue that the contradictions presented in South Park help people understand themselves, especially how they view certain situations, and that kind of outcome is valuable enough even if it means using humor that some people might find offensive. Pinsky (267) also supports this argument. According to Pinsky, underlying the narratives in South Park are “fundamental questions about faith… the nature and purpose of God, the role of prayer, salvation, hell, Jewish identity, cults, euthanasia, and the Christian missionary experience” (268). Other critics who attempt to view the show open-mindedly emphasize that South Park is one of the few shows that always tackle religion in their narratives. While many people from different religions may be offended by some of the comments on the show, Pinsky (268) says that the show provides opportunities for people to be critical about their faith and their religion without the influence of religious leaders or other people who attempt to impose their beliefs on other people.
Moreover, Weinstock (177) discusses the idea that the kind of humor that South Park uses should not be seen as something that is offensive but something that helps people see the truth or reality in things. Weinstock argues that although comments in South Park are generally derogatory to religions and religious figures, “the implications and the potential religious value of their criticism might often extend beyond or even subvert their intention” (177). As an example, Weinstock mentioned the “Red Sleigh Down” episode where Jesus rescues Santa Claus from an Iraqi torture chamber. When viewed critically, the episode teaches the viewers that Christmas is about Jesus Christ, the man brave enough to save other people from sins, and not about Santa Claus. In that episode, the character of Santa Claus also confesses that Christmas is about Jesus and that Jesus was the one who saved him from the villains. Therefore, Weinstock argues that although audiences brand South Park humor as offensive, people realize the “profundity of either the show’s commentary or its potential value to religious communities” (177). Ezell (2008), on the other hand, argue that “South Park subverts religion primarily because the creators recognize that the practice of religion and atheism in this society have become hollow.” The comments on South Park that some people find offensive were meant to mock the people who are misguided by their own religion or their beliefs, but not to mock the religion.
Gournelos (129) also argued that South Park is satirizing or mocking the flaws of human society by blatantly portraying these shows. Thus, the criticism towards the show is brought about the critics’ denial of the true nature of human beings in society today. South Park is mocking organized religion, generally, because today, human beings take advantage of the faith and beliefs of people to their advantage. Gournelos (129) compares religiosity to alcoholism where people rely too much on their religion when there are other ways to practice their faith. However, religious leaders discourage them to do so and work instead on solidifying people’s reliance on them. According to Gournelos (19) “Religion and alcoholism are juxtaposed in order to demonstrate the double follies of reliance upon institutionalized escapism; the religious or sick individual or community are here distinguished from the structures in which that individual or community function”. At the same time, South Park exposes the flaws of religious groups. In one episode, the show tackles scandals that are sexual in nature committed by Catholic priests.
The arguments that support South Park and what the show is trying to do are more solid than the arguments of those who say the show is offensive. While some people, like major religious organizations, may protest against the show due to the comments that offend them, a closer inspection of the show reveals that it is trying to more good than harm. The show is adept at mirroring reality and those who get offended are the people who do not like what they see about themselves. The show is merely trying to use humor and satire in order to either show reality or make it absurd to make a point or to contradict what every believes in order to make them think about the rightness or wrongness of their believes or what they have been taught since through their religion. The arguments point out that the people behind South Park have good intentions and that when people take a minute to think about what the show is trying to say, they would realize that the show is not offensive at all.
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