The South Park Movie: Definitely Uncut

In thinking about what I felt went wrong with The Dictator, yesterday I decided to put on my South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut DVD.  Recently I’ve been watching South Park episodes on Netflix (as well as at which streams every episode for free), and even after 16 seasons it amazes me how the show can still keep itself fresh and sharp in its ruthless social commentary.  I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, and since it first came out in 1999, I wondered if it was going to feel dated.  With the exception of a few jokes, it’s amazing how strongly this movie holds up in the 13 years after its release.  The themes about censorship and freedom of speech is still just as relevant today, and the most awesome thing about it is that it’s a film Parker and Stone never allowed their artistic vision to be compromised.  
In reading about the film’s history, Parker and Stone took a lot of heat from Paramount, who wanted them to hold back and tone down the film.  At one point the studio tried to push for a PG-13 rating, which right away the two went, “no fucking way”. The creators apparently had to fight for the NC-17 rating to be brought down to an R.  What’s funny is that the brutal gory violence in the film wasn’t an issue as opposed to the foul language.  The movie even takes a jab at this with Sheila’s great line: “Remember what the MPAA says; Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don’t say naughty words!”  The films original title was forced to change as well, which was originally called South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose.  The word “hell” for an animated film title was considered inappropriate by the MPAA, which felt that all animation film titles should be G-rated.  So Parker and Stone managed to undercut that by changing the title to South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, which pretty much describes a penis (Heh, I never actually got that until now).  
I was 17 when this movie came out and it practically killed me when I saw it. It was so goddamn funny, and it felt so wrong to be in the theater watching this thing. But in the end I think this movie had a strong impact on me. I’ve felt for so long that animation could be so much more than the films we’re continually saddled with, which most often are safe and pretentious with their comedy.  My heroes have always been those filmmakers who got away with their vision, who managed to dance around the line and have their voices be heard, despite all the forces of antagonism that tried to put a stop to them.  Parker and Stone not only crossed the line, they dropped a nuclear bomb on it, leaving no one unscathed in its path.  That, to me, is how you make a satire.  When the film The Dictator came out, I had kind of hoped for the same thing.  As advertised, that film looked like it wanted to cross the line into all forms of bad taste in an effort to say something about America’s response to the fascist countries of the world.  But what we get instead is something of a lark. 

Sure, The Dictator sprinkles in a joke here and there about 9/11, but the film never cuts you deep inside, never lets you become unsettled or shocked by its message.  In fact, it goes against itself by having the dictator give in to democracy, which just feels completely wrong.  We never see the repercussions or watch it poke fun of having a democracy suddenly forced onto another country.  To me, it feels like a compromised vision with a Hollywood ending, and it’s just false.  Which is a shame because you’d think with a films premise like this there’d be fights with the ratings board to make a hardcore jab at terrorism and fascism.  The only thing this movie probably fought for was to keep an arbitrary gag of the inside of a woman’s vagina.  By comparison to South Park, the value of what The Dictator has to say is very little, and it only serves to hold itself back.  It gives in too easily at the last second and misses out on something that could have been so much more.  Saddam Hussain in bed with Satan already says so much more about a dictator than The Dictator could ever say for itself.

I think great satire is often misunderstood in this country, and there are so few shows or movies that manage to use it in such a cutting way.  It’s a shame that other animation series don’t use it in such a strong degree.  The Simpson’s used it so well in the first seven years of its run until South Park came along. Where would we be without satire to tear down such big institutions as the government, the war in the Middle East, the TSA, Walmart, The Academy Awards, Brooke Sheilds…all just ripe for plucking.  We need more shows and films like South park, not simply to make fun off these institutions, but to say something about the absurdity and outrageousness of it all.  But in most cases artists have to be courageous enough with their work to really take a stand and cut deep with the truth of their comedy.

The South Park movie serves as a reminder of studio executives and the MPAA acting like big parents when it comes to the content of film, allowing themselves to be scared of religious groups and the PTA who believe their films will damage their children.  The South Park movie sends the perfect message that it’s up to parents to monitor what their children see, not the job of Hollywood executives.  The film endures the test of time because of the strength and power of its message.  It goes to show that when you really have something important to say, you should be allowed to say it uncensored and without holding back.  And the message shouldn’t always have to be safe, or neutered because of angry parents.  That’s just a lot of noise.

South Park reaffirms the power of freedom of speech time and time again, and its a blessing that we have it as an outlet for all the fucked up things that happen in this country.  The South Park movie still serves as one of the greatest, most offensive and vulgar animated films ever made, as few films ever manage to get away with it and still go on to be successful.  If you ever feel you have something to say but are afraid to let it out, you can always pop in the South Park movie, let Parker and Stone inspire you, and then let your voice be heard.


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