Earlier this week, I explained why I have nothing but contempt for people who use the “equal opportunity offender” defense when they make jokes that are hurtful or reinforce the status quo. I have even less respect for people who use that defense and try to apologize simultaneously, because in my mind, an “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apology is even more gutless than no apology at all. As said eloquently in this post, “No comedy is really equal-opportunity. Why? Because our society is not equal-opportunity. We are not all the same.”
I agree with this…for the most part. Because despite my firm belief that people who honestly believe that we live in an equal opportunity society have their heads up their asses and have no concept of the idea of “privilege,” I have an enormous amount of respect for two of the biggest and most vocal equal opportunity offenders of all: Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon.
There are a few reasons for this. Right now I’m going to focus on why I love their humor from South Park, because I have a much longer post extolling the virtues of The Book of Mormon that will appear sometime next week.
1) No, they’re not going to apologize. You won’t catch Trey Parker or Matt Stone apologizing for writing something offensive. To offend is part of the point. I think that most people who find South Park’s brand of humor triggering or hurtful know this, and make the decision not to watch. But sometimes, groups will write to Trey and Matt, demanding them to apologize. And I just wonder why these people waste their time. They’re not going to apologize. And while every once in a while I find their humor a little lazy and gratuitously graphic, they never promote or encourage bigotry or violence through their comedy. If they did, THEN I would say something about it.
2) They challenge the status quo more than they reinforce it. I haven’t enjoyed every episode of South Park. Sometimes Parker and Stone choose incredibly obvious targets for their humor and I roll my eyes like crazy. They spent almost an entire episode making fun of Hillary Clinton’s private parts and another episode using an extended rape joke to make fun of the reaction to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Unnecessary Sequels.
But more often than not, the comedy on South Park is used to challenge stereotypes, and more importantly, to challenge privilege. One of my favorite episodes is “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson,” where Randy Marsh used the n-word on Wheel of Fortune. Randy goes on his apology tour until he decides he’s tired of feeling bad about “one mistake” he made, and, along with Michael Richards and other racists, successfully lobbies to make it illegal to make fun of white people who used the n-word. Congress cheers while a group of black activists look on with dismay. In the subplot, Stan tries to defend his father’s behavior to Token, but finally realizes that, as a privileged white person, he will never truly understand what it feels like for a black person to hear the n-word.
Another episode I love is “Eat, Pray, Queef,” where all of the male characters who love themselves a good fart joke are appalled, absolutely appalled, when their favorite show is preempted for an airing of “The Queef Sisters.” They think queef jokes are disgusting and awful, and the women they know are appalled by this hypocrisy and double standard. The men are so deeply offended, in fact, that they lobby to make queefing illegal. The episode is a brilliant indictment of male privilege and how people react when their privilege is challenged.
This isn’t to say that I think they’re above criticism – far from it. I think sometimes their humor is lazy. Sometimes their humor is also sexist; the end of “Lice Capades” ‘revealed’ that Angelina Jolie has an infestation of lice in her pubic hair – a joke that is nothing but cheap, lazy slut-shaming. I’m not impressed and I’d take them to task for that kind of joke (but not demand an apology, because again, what’s the point?) Still, I find their humor thought-provoking and insightful (not to mention LOLarious) more often that I find them lazy, so when they do make a joke I don’t like, my reaction is to simply shake my head and say, “Come on, guys. You can do better than that,” rather than write them off.
3) Hypocrites and privileged people are their primary targets. Equal Opportunity Offenders like to say things such as, “I make fun of everyone! Stop policing me and making me be P.C.! Now be quiet so I can make a joke about gay guys wearing dresses, or girls and their periods.” But Parker and Stone take a different approach to equal opportunity comedy: “Whether you’re white, black, gay, straight, male, female, etc. etc., if you are a hypocrite, we are going to nail you to the wall.”
By and large, their targets are hypocrites, whether they come from the left or from the right. They lampoon left-wing hypocrites who sprain their arms patting themselves on the back when they adopt a pet cause for the sole purpose of feeling better about their privilege (“Conjoined Fetus Lady”), and they lampoon right-wing hypocrites who blather a lot of hate speech and conspiracy theories instead of real news (“Dances with Smurfs”).
Perhaps best of all, Parker and Stone routinely make fun of people like Privilege Denying Dude. They are true equal opportunity offenders, because while they mock characters from different backgrounds, they spend just as much time, if not more time, mocking privileged white people. Most people who claim to be “equal opportunity offenders” seem to make a LOT of jokes about women, gays, disabled people, and people of color while (just coincidentally, I’m sure) neglecting to joke about the privileged. Not so with Parker and Stone. If you’re ignorant or full of yourself, they will mock you, no matter what your background, and bless them for it.
Now, I don’t like every episode of South Park. I can think of five or six episodes off the top of my head where I thought they completely missed the point when commenting on a particular issue (“Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina” comes to mind). But by and large, I appreciate them, admire them, and wish other Equal Opportunity Offenders would take a page out of their book.