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And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats - Matthew 25:32

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March 09, 2009


South Park is inappropriate for young children - unless they watch it
South Park is a very curious and unique artistic achievement, but totally inappropriate for a lot of people who would be naturally attracted to it - children specifically. It's a cartoon about a bunch of fourth graders - with exceedingly foul mouths which are among the least objectionable elements of the show, what with the drug and sexual and violent themes.

Of course, it's labeled MA for "Mature Audiences." It's not really designed for children, who really don't need to be seeing the tale of Lemiwinks and his mystical journey through Mr Slave's colon. No parent with any sense of responsibility would be letting their pre-teen children watch South Park.

But you know that a lot of young kids nonetheless do watch South Park - but that's probably good. Parents who would be letting their children watch South Park are probably letting them watch a lot of other crap that they really shouldn't be seeing. Plus, such kids are probably seeing a lot of stupid crap in their own home that they definitely should not.

But to the extent that kids are taking South Park to heart, it's likely to be something of an antidote to some of the other bad things they're seeing. Note how the chillen of South Park tend to have to show better judgment very often than their foolish parents.

Eric Cartman as HitlerYes, Eric Cartman says and does a lot of mean, evil stuff - but mostly ends up hurting and humiliating himself consistently worse than anyone else as a result of his wickedness - and his assumption that other people are as bad as him. Consider his slide show at the end of the "Cartman Sucks" episode, for example. The idea of the photo that Cartman engineered to humiliate Butters by supposedly proving him gay only ended up utterly humiliating himself. It's raw and funny - but even a pre-pubescent child would probably get the point that Cartman was a jerk, and that you wouldn't want to be like him. The joke pretty clearly ends up being totally at his expense.

I've had the idea of South Park as being unfortunately appropriate to some young kids coping with dysfunctional homes for some time, but I recently heard fourth or fifth hand of what I'm sure is an all too common example that would illustrate the point. This involves the ignorant ass cracker ex-husband of a friend of a friend.

Said cracker has 10 and 12 year old daughters around the house, but apparently gives not a second thought to routinely leaving porn videos laying around or even in the DVD player. This is obviously not good - and not uncommon.

But if this 12 year old girl is inevitably going to be watching nasty porn, I suspect that she's watching South Park as well. I hope those girls are in fact watching South Park.

Paris Hilton deep up Mr Slave's ass

In particular, I hope they've seen the "Stupid Spoiled Whore" episode with Paris Hilton's titular boutique shops. Among other things, her Stupid Spoiled Whore boutique shop sells toy video cameras so little girls can make their own pretend homemade porn videos, like Paris Hilton.

But the show doesn't make Paris Hilton out to be cool. It is by far the most withering condemnation of Paris Hilton and everything she stands for ever made. By the end of the episode, as the just desserts for her sins, she ends up in Mr Slave's colon, just like the gerbil Lemiwinks. Even a 10 year old would likely get that they're intending to say that the likes of Paris Hilton are disgusting and bad, fit and deserving of ridicule and ostracism rather than emulation.

That's really raw and crude. That's pretty strong medicine for a 10 year old girl to see the final images of Paris Hilton crawling through Mr Slave's colon, most likely to a particularly yucky death. You shouldn't let your little kids watch South Park. And if you've got enough judgment and control to limit your kids from watching things as rough as South Park, they probably don't need it. But for kids wading unsupervised in the cesspools of modern culture, strong medicine like South Park might be needful.


posted by Al at 3/09/2009 07:12:00 PM

June 24, 2006


Ptolemy, Manbearpig, Global Warming and Epistemological Humility
What do the astronomer Ptolemy, Christian apologist Josh McDowell, South Park and Al Gore's Manbearpig have to do with one another?

Find out in my heart and Earth warming 3000+ word Deeply Meaningful philosophical narrative "Ptolemy, Manbearpig, Global Warming and Epistemological Humility"



posted by Al at 6/24/2006 01:35:00 AM

March 22, 2006


South Park "Trapped in the Closet" Photo Gallery Notes
South Park and Scientology are two great tastes that taste great together. It's a bit like the classic battles between Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell, but better on both ends. Parker and Stone are FAR sharper tools than the old pornographer- and the Scientologists far more venal and despicable than a simple country preacher like Falwell.

I wrote a review of the "Trapped in the Closet" episode when it first ran in November 2005. Of course interest has been ratcheted way up in the last few days way past when the episode first aired with out any pre-release hype. Isaac Hayes' departure due to his employers' religious "intolerance and bigotry" have made it a hot item. The cancellation of the rerun of the show last week under supposed pressure from Tom Cruise and their mocking response hailing Xenu ratchets it up another notch. Now they've returned fire, addressing the situation in tonight's season premiere with "The Return of Chef," with his lines extracted from previous shows as the Super Adventure Club turns him into a child molesting Chef Vader.

So then, I've been obsessing over this beautiful and perfectly silly November satire of the Scientologists. Naturally, I've whooped up a big honkin' 150 image photo gallery of "Trapped in the Closet" images. Doing video captures and editing for these galleries always brings out new things.

Probably the funniest new thing that jumped out from looking at it as still images was the quick ending of the closet storyline. Tom Cruise and John Travolta emerge from Stan's doorway with R Kelly sandwiched in between them. Travolta and Cruise are smiling and waving, but check out the images of R Kelly in this few seconds, with his arm protectively crossed, shifting his eyes anxiously from side to side, and looking down in shame. I wonder exactly how they imagined that playing out? I bet that'll learn R Kelly to stay out of closets.
Tom Cruise, R Kelly and John Travolta on South Park

But really, I don't much care who which celebrity is rubbing wee-wees with. It's fun to torment Tom Cruise though, on general principles. In the first place, he's got some ridicule coming just for being duped to be involved with this nonsense. The show is presenting it that he's actually in the closet because the supposed reincarnation of L Ron Hubbard isn't impressed enough with his acting.

But watching it closely, Stan does NOT "hate" Tom Cruise's acting, as it's sometimes been said in stories about the episode. It's the best attack on his ridiculous celebrity insecurities that the lukewarm response "You're not, like, as good as Leonardo D'Caprio, but you're okay" was all it took to crush his little ego so completely. It would be someone with that much ridiculous insecurity that would be drawn into foolishness like Scientology.
Tom Cruise on South Park image

Rolling backwards and forwards through this episode, it dawned on me to actually hunt down the R Kelly song "Trapped in the Closet." I haven't yet figured out just how many parts of this damned thing there are, but holy jumpin' Jebus, this thing is cheesy. I got the 20+ minute video of the first part of the story.

What's really funniest now about the R Kelly stuff is how little they embellished this for the South Park show. In fact, the high drama of the actual R Kelly video - and just the first part of it is about the length of this entire episode - is FAR more ridiculous than what Parker and Stone are doing. He's hiding in some woman's closet because her husband has shown up unexpectedly. Then the husband responds by bringing in his boyfriend. After that, it starts to get cheesy.

R Kelly threatens to cap a bitch in South Park
In fact, this South Park image is actually less ridiculous than the R Kelly video. About the time the gay boyfriend is getting all up in the mix, the real R Kelly is whipping out his gun, saying, "Man, it's getting scary, I'm gonna shoot somebody." Note that in his video, he's the only one wielding a weapon, so he's presenting it that he's scared enough of the husband and his gay boyfriend to be thinking about shooting someone. The South Park version of R Kelly seems distinctly less absurd than his real video (let alone his actual life)- which realization makes both South Park and R Kelly seem funnier.

So I've gotten a lot of mileage while I'm working on this stuff listening to the R Kelly video and the trimmed down ten minute audio installment of "Trapped in the Closet" again and again. For contrast, try mixing it back and forth with the similarly themed Elvis Costello recording of the Dave Bartholomew song "That's How You Got Killed Before."

I swear this gets funnier the more times you watch or listen to it. A lot of this comes from bouncing R Kelly off the South Park. Imagine how much fun it would be just watching MTV with Parker and Stone. It'd be like Beavis and Butthead elevated into an Algonquin roundtable.

However, the real core of the South Park episode wasn't silly gay jokes, but the transgressive exposition of the top secret Scientologist story about the evil Lord Xenu. Looking at still images of this less than two minute sequence, you can see that they took a little extra effort. It's executed broadly in their basic purposefully crude style, but it looks like some measure of extra care was taken in these depictions. They're still crude, but rather more detailed than typical South Park. This segment would make a good stand-alone briefing on the group.

Lord Xenu image
Looking at it as images, it's really mostly purposely not funny. There is the general presentation, they make evil Lord Xenu look like the cheesiest Saturday morning cartoon villain. Mwa-ha-ha!

But the actual text, the Scientology leader's narration, appears to be a scrupulous exposition. Transcribing it for captions, the whole section came up about 237 words total. Here is the Cliff Notes version of the story of Xenu, per Parker and Stone:
Usually, to hear the secret doctrine, you have to be in the church for several years, Stan. Are you ready to hear the truth?

I guess.

You see, Stan. There's a reason for people feeling sad and depressed- an alien reason.

It all began 75 million years ago. Back then, there was a galactic federation of planets which was ruled over by the evil Lord Xenu.

Xenu thought his galaxy was overpopulated and so he rounded up countless aliens from all different planets, and then had those aliens frozen.
frozen space aliens from the Xenu story on South Park

The frozen alien bodies were loaded onto Xenu's galactic cruisers, which looked like DC8s except with rocket engines. The cruisers then took the frozen alien bodies to our planet, Earth, and dumped them into the volcanoes of Hawaii.

The aliens were no longer frozen- they were dead. The souls of those aliens, however, lived on, and all floated up towards the sky.

But the evil Lord Xenu had prepared for this. Xenu didn't WANT their souls to return, so he built giant soul catchers in the sky.
Lord Xenu's alien soul catchers

The souls were taken to a huge soul brainwashing facility which Xenu had also built on Earth. There the souls were forced to watch days of brainwashing material, which tricked them into believing a false reality.

unfrozen alien ghosts invading human bodies in the Scientology story
Xenu then released the alien souls, which roamed the Earth aimlessly in a fog of confusion. At the dawn of man, the souls finally found bodies which they could grab onto. They attached themselves to all mankind, which still to this day causes all our fears, our confusions, and our problems.

I have laughed all the way through that segment repeatedly, but breaking it down in fact Parker and Stone did not ham that up. They presented the text and the images basically straight. Really, the only laugh line they needed was the flashing words on the screen during much of the segment declaring that "This is what Scientologists actually believe."

volcanoes of Hawaii
Now, I've noticed one little discrepancy. The South Park version of the story has Xenu dropping frozen souls INTO the hot Hawaiian volcano, whereas another version of the story on Wikipedia would have it that he dropped the souls AROUND the volcanoes, and then used nuclear weapons on them.

Someone's got something wrong, or perhaps L Ron Hubbard had different details between the original writing vs the screenplay treatment Wikipedia is quoting. The obvious solution there would be for the church to publicly release all of Hubbard's Xenu writings so we can get the story straight, but that doesn't seem likely to be happening anytime soon.

Ah well, then. Let's leave it with Stan's widely quoted final words.
Stan Marsh in South Park



posted by Al at 3/22/2006 11:05:00 PM

November 18, 2005


South Park, Scientologists and Tom Cruise "Trapped in the Closet"
Trey Parker ends the new South Park episode 912 "Trapped in the Closet" by daring the Scientologists to sue him for telling their big secrets about the crazy alien Xenu and such.

CLICK HERE to get my full notes on this South Park insta-classic- including the summary of the basic crazy-cool alien story the Scientologists believe.

Tom Cruise, John Travolta and R Kelly in South Park


posted by Al at 11/18/2005 01:09:00 AM

March 21, 2005


Congressional Zombies Feeding on Terri Schiavo's Corpse
Dear Congress: Please mind your own damned business. Leave the Schiavo family alone.

Who in hell do you presumptuous SOBs think you are? Let me be more specific. What part of your legal mandate, the US Constitution, gives you legal authority to interfere with particular individuals specific private medical decisions? By what authority do you overrule the state courts in this matter?

Moreover, who are you to tell someone that they have to endure endless years of being a vegetable atrophying on a hospital bed? What crime did Terri Schiavo commit in her years of conscious life to merit this endlessly slow deterioration being forced upon her by some damned politicians?

I'm particularly sickened by the ghoulishness of your gimmick of subpoenaing Terri Schiavo. On what topic in particular do they expect Ms Schiavo to testify? It's as if life has turned into a particularly gruesome episode of South Park.

As of Monday am, 3-21-2005, the Congress has got a deal worked out (coming in for a super rare out of session session) passing a bill plucking this one particular case absolutely arbitrarily out of the jurisdiction of Florida state courts and plopping it into federal court, where they think they can get the result they want, with special standing arbitrarily granted to her parents. Thus the title of the bill: "Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavoz."

Yet, if you woodburned a copy of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the US Constitution onto a baseball bat, and then used it to try to knock some respect for the Constitution into these people's heads it would come out as if YOU were the bad guy.

Congressional Republican leadership has been leading the whoring on this issue, though most of Congress appears only too happy to go along. President Bush has been right in the middle of this whoring, too. This is because they have a big bunch of boobs mostly all worked up on the "pro-life" side of this.

This case seems to be marked as the "pro-life" cause of the millenium, and no pollitician wants to be on the other side of this. I blame all of the public that is putting pressure on Congressmen to act irrationally and illegally.

Usually reasonable, conservative folks are losing their minds here. The whole National Review crew seems to be on board, cheerleading. Even the uber-calm Peggy Noonan has been reduced to talking out of her head.

"Bill Frist and Tom DeLay and Jim Sensenbrenner and Denny Hastert and all the rest would be better off risking looking ridiculous and flying down to Florida, standing outside Terri Schiavo's room and physically restraining the poor harassed staff who may be told soon to remove her feeding tube, than standing by in Washington, helpless and tied in legislative knots, and doing nothing."

This just looks like hysterical jabbering from someone almost always calm and reasonable. What are you thinking?

Besides anything else, I fail to see how forcing Terri Schiavo to keep breathing constitutes being "pro-life." She's not there. The human part is long gone. Wanting to save unborn children from being aborted so that they can have their chance to play in the sunshine- that's pro-life. Forcing the continued matinence of the unconscious brain stem functions of an atrophied corpse, however, is not furthering anyone's life or respect for life in any discernible way.

Terri Schiavo died many years ago. "We laugh together, we cry together, we smile together, we talk together," said Mary Schindler, the mother, this weekend. People have been understandably deferential to the grieving mother, but this statement is simply a lie. Terri can no longer do any of those things. Elvis has long since left the building. If you poke her face right, you might occassionally get a reflexive muscular action. That does not in any real sense of the word constitute "smiling," much less talking.

You'd think that if these evangelical types pushing this circus really believed in their Jesus the way that they claim, they'd want to release this woman to finally go meet him, rather than keeping her trapped in this hellish limbo.

If you treated your dog like this, it would be cruelty to animals. Any decent person would have mercy on the creature under their care, and put it down quietly. Mrs Schindler knows this. Her actions surely have much to do with her own celebrity. The crowds and the sympathy must be very rewarding to Mary Schindler, but she damn well knows that it's not benefitting her daughter in the least.

Instead, now the husband gets set up to be the bad guy, wanting to starve her to death. Simple euthanasia would be much more humane, but even a couple of weeks of starvation isn't nearly so bad as another who knows how many more years of laying helpless and unconscious in a hospice. There's so little of her brain left though, that the starvation probably barely registers if at all.

Schmucks have been out protesting the husband's residence, as if he were the bad guy rather than the responsible husband trying to take care of the wife's wishes and better interest.

Many have argued that he should just give the parents what they want, get a divorce and let the parents play with her corpse as long as they want. Considering the extraordinary pressures brought against him, that abandonment would certainly have been WAY the easier path. Instead, he has rather heroically stood up against a great deal of public, legal and political pressure to try to do right by his late wife.

Dark innuendo circles Michael Schiavo because he supposedly has another woman and family now. Even the hacks at Fox News have tiptoed around the idea, but wanting to move on with life opens him to evil rumor.

But he's got the right idea if that's what he's in fact done. Life is for the living. His wife's been gone for 15 years.

By any rights, the medical decisions for Terri Schiavo's corpse belong rightfully to her husband. If he had decided to push this artificial sustenance on her indefinitely, as Congress seems intent on, then people of compassion would perhaps lament the half dead corpse being put through these continuing indignities. However, the husband would be within rights to make the decision, even if it weren't the decision I'd make. Fortunately, he's acted more responsibly.

Congress doesn't get to just do anything they want whenever they want to whomever they they wish to do it to. They are not in fact czars charged with micromanaging even our deaths.

Why don't you bastards just mind your own damned business?


posted by Al at 3/21/2005 12:32:00 AM

April 07, 2004


"The Passion of the Jews" South Park Gibson satire draws big audience
From Studio Briefing:

4.4 million viewers...tuned in to watch last week's episode of South Park, titled "The Passion of the Jew." It was the highest ratings the Comedy Central show has received since 1998 and was the top-rated cable telecast last Wednesday in the 18-49-year-old demo.

This analytical satire of Mel Gibson's movie ran several good directions all at once. Cartman, of course, began literally worshipping Gibson as Lord and Fuhrer, and Kyle was consumed with guilt for being a Christkiller.

Meanwhile, Stan and Kenny just thought the movie sucked, and went looking for Gibson to get back the money they spent on movie tickets.

This set up the best part- Mel Gibson as a South Park character. SPMG was just nutsy, with a strong desire to be tortured. He was absoutely crazy, or -as Stan specifically said, "daffy." Gibson was going "woo-hoo" and bouncing off his head like ol' Daffy Duck.

Among other things, this classic episode was a pretty fair tribute to Looney Tunes.

I would take one small point of difference with them, however. At one point, the nice minister explains to Kyle that there really wasn't very much in the Bible about the details of the crucifixion, and that stuff was mostly made up for the anti-semitic passion plays in the middle ages.

With due respect, seeing the movie, I recognized most of the specific details of the presentation as specifically Biblical. There were a few things here and there added to fill in the viewing experience, but still.

Far more than that small disagreement, however, I for one am just continually impressed with how much this show totally succeeds as comedy yet consistently makes real social analysis and argument.

Is this the most brilliant show on television?


posted by Al at 4/07/2004 07:01:00 PM

December 18, 2003


South Park's timely seasonal season finale
South Park came in for a big season finish tonight, with Christmas in Canada. Ike's natural parents show up to take him away back to Canada, which results in an extended yellow-brick-roady trip north. What a delightful assortment of Canadians they pick who have issues with various laws passed by the new Prime Minister. Then, of course, there is anti-American Scott- whom absolutely every person recognizes as a "dick."

Within about 80 hours of relevant world events, guess who's running Canada from a spidey hole behind a curtain?

What would be the greatest Christmas present Santa could bring the whole wide world this year? Hint: it comes on a stick.

Indeed, they have a glorious and 100% heartfelt Christmas celebration for all people of goodwill- with no mention let alone credit for the dreaded cowboy president, which should make it easier for some of y'all to enjoy. [In this version of history, the Canadians do the job. It IS a cartoon, afterall.]

How do they go from active world events to finished half hour cartoon on the air in a matter of hours? They kick ass.

Joy to the world!


posted by Al at 12/18/2003 02:26:00 AM

April 28, 2003


South Park and sympathy for the social conservatives
I rather disagree with some of Rick Santorum's likely public policy conclusions, but I will defend him to a significant extent. Let's go back to some of the senator's recent remarks that Brian Flemming was quoting in response to an earlier post:

"If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it."

This statement is absolutely reasonable. If you create a social climate in which all choices are treated equally, you would expect to find many more people than before choosing irresponsible, self-indulgent behavior. This also jibes with an observation of facts on the ground. Hey, being a whore getting a couple of abortions a year is just another equally valid life choice to being a responsible wife and mother. Expect to see more of it.

Being a promiscuous homosexual hanging out in bath houses is arguably NOT morally equivalent to being a faithful husband and father. Some choices are much better for the individual and for society.

I don't particularly fault someone simply for being gay. For starters, there is a world of difference between the gay gentleman of Sting's "Englishman in New York" and some jackass "Act Up" fag. As Chef said in "The Death Camp of Tolerance" speaking of South Park's "sick queer" teacher who had just shoved a gerbil up his teaching assistant's ass in front of the students, "There's a big difference between being gay and being Mr. Garrison."

I would also just as much, probably more, fault irresponsible heterosexual behavior. Some guys think that humping everything, and then leaving it for the moms and the social workers to sort out is the cool thing to do. They're jackasses. This does more social harm than anything perpetrated by homosexuals, but we're not going to be outlawing non-marital sex anytime soon.

Likewise, I recognize that a lot of private consensual choices to smoke crack rocks or drink lots of booze are bad choices.

Nonetheless, I think those are choices for the individuals to make for themselves. Rick Santorum has legitimate concerns, but I don't wish to grant him or any politician the right to decide which exactly of my private behaviors are socially destructive. None of their business. Even granting that he has good intentions, I do not trust his ability to distinguish between truly socially deleterious behaviors versus things that he just personally doesn't like. Nor do I wish to grant him the powers that would be needed to enforce these distinctions.

Still, he has a perfectly legitimate point of concern. It may not be the best thing for society to define deviancy down, equating all choices as equal. It concerns me, too.

I don't have a full answer for the perfectly reasonable concerns of social conservatives such as Mr. Santorum. There really isn't one. We're dealing with the fallibility of human nature.

My best response comes from South Park, and the aforementioned "Death Camp of Tolerance" episode (perhaps their best ever). They made a big point of distinguishing between "tolerance" vs "acceptance." In their typically practical analysis, they understand that tolerance means that we have to "put up with" lots of behavior that we find inappropriate. That does not mean that we have to accept all things equally, or pretend to believe in cheap egalitarian moral equivalence.

It may not be as simple as instituting a police state, but we just have to rely mostly on non-coercive social persuasion to gently point our brethren in the right direction. Trying to set a good example and positively talking your own family and friends into constructive choices have to be the main ways things are done in a free society.

Secondarily, the stick of ostracism is a fair fallback position in egregious cases. You may have a right to destroy yourself with booze, but I have the equal right to dissociate from you. Stay away from me with your nonsense. I'm not having any of it. At some point, you're going to be on your own. You can just go off in the gutter and die. They're only going to be improving the gene pool by getting out of it.

From a legal, political level, the most thing you can legitimately do to enforce reasonable life choices is simply not to publicly subsidize stupidity. You screw up, you clean it up yourself. You may have a right to smoke crack, but you don't have a right to demand that I pay for your detox, or pay your rent because you're too stoned to hold down a job. If you want help, then you'll have to convince individuals to voluntarily support you- which will probably mean making some voluntary commitment to doing things to help yourself.

Supposed "tolerance" can also turn into fear and fascism. In South Park, the boys end up in a nazi-fied programming camp for the crime of being disgusted by the sight of their teacher's deviant sexual practices. Likewise, there hangs a pall over many American workplaces at the risk of being judged to have created a "hostile work environment" for such crimes as passing around blonde jokes in emails. Not much actual tolerance going on here.

In short then, our best bet is to put up with each other as best we can. Your hate crime laws and your sodomy and drug laws have to go.

In a free society, some people are going to freely screw it up; some will flatly crash and burn. That's just part of the deal.


posted by Al at 4/28/2003 05:26:00 AM

April 10, 2003


South Park: It's Schoolhouse Rock with cussing
Sometimes South Park seems to be Schoolhouse Rock with cussing. I mean that in a good way. There are way too many potty jokes and smutty remarks to ever be pious edutainment- which is the best groundwork for real useful social analysis. Wednesday, 4-9-03, Comedy Central broadcast "I'm a Little Bit Country," the 100th episode of South Park. And an excellent civics lesson it is.

The title comes from the jingoistic country singing pro-war side of the debate, countered by the even considerably more ridiculous bigots of the anti-war side who presume to speak for the children and are, naturally, a little bit rock and roll. Is the titling of the episode Parker/Stone's discrete endorsement of the war effort? Of course, they are singing the goddam Donny and Marie theme song throughout the whole episode. South Park again earns it reputation for spreading obscenity.

Damn, but this episode was excellent, and nuanced. In a way, it represents a cynical take on our republic's way of doing business, but yet not really. It shows the system set up in an adverserial manner that legitimately works out the concerns of hawks and doves- and makes us look nice even when we decide that we have to kill people.

In a sense, you could describe the show's take on our system of government- going all the way back through Cartman's flashback to the signing of the Declaration of Independence- as an excercise in proper, healthy cynicism. It doesn't represent cynicism about the result, but presents the the construction of our system of governance as based on making properly skeptical expectations about human nature in order to mesh together clashing interest groups in a workable manner that functions optimally.

We don't want to be at war all the time, and we don't want the rest of the world to hate us, so we need people to resist going to war. But we can't be a bunch of pansies who won't stand up for ourselves, or we'll be run over by terrorists or the Chinese. The founders' genius was in the intricately involved mechanisms they created for shaking out and meshing these differing interests in a manner that will get the best and most balanced result. That's not really cynicism at all.

Also, South Park actually should rate considerably higher than Schoolhouse Rock in educational value. Schoolhouse Rock did a good job in presenting some basic facts in a memorable manner. I don't mean to take anything away from it.

However, South Park really represents a more sophisticated level of trying to understand the bigger picture of why and how the system works. They do this week after week at this point, dissecting public issues and social expectations in useful and thoughtful ways. It's just amazing. They're doing more to actually educate young people than the federal Department of Education.

And they don't require a multi-billion dollar hoseline from taxpayers to do it.


posted by Al at 4/10/2003 08:36:00 PM

November 22, 2002


Top 10 Voices I Hear in My Head
You know how in the movies folks always have an angel and a devil pop up on each shoulder with advice? Well, for me it's not that simple. I hear a myriad number of voices in my head (uh, strictly metaphorically) giving me advice, or explaining what I'm seeing.

Here for your consideration are the Top 10 Voices in Al's Head:

1) Ayn Rand She is the top stern father figure. "A is A." The towering castle of your life must be built on the strictest foundations of adherence to reason and truth, for castles made of sand fall in the sea. She brooks no foolishness. I hear her voice frequently while watching news of the war on terror. For example, her classic description of evil as "the hatred of the good for being the good" rings in her harsh Russian accent every time I hear of another Palestenian suicide bombing.

2) Robert Anton Wilson is the permissive mother character in this lineup. He is the yang to Ayn Rand's yin in my worldview. He wrote a play called "Reality Is What You Can Get Away With." This represents exactly the opposite outlook from "A is A." He emphasizes careful analysis of the limitations of absolute knowledge, based on the limitations of our biology. His psychological insights build on an eight level model of human consciousness that is really useful in understanding my own thinking, for starters. I see his funny face as I start firing up on a lower level mammalian territorial circuit, and relax. I think of his favorite maxim "The map is not the territory" when my own BS (Belief Systems) seem to start diverging from the facts on the ground in front of me, and start re-examining my premises. [Funny how this comes all the way back around to Ayn.]

3) Robert Heinlein was a top of the line model of the freethinking, but tough-minded American. Stranger in a Strange Land turned the classic Protestant religious models of my youth up on their head and pulled them inside out and plunked them right back down. The logic of his religious mega-orgies seems perfectly reasonable- at least in theory. Yet his vision of the price of freedom in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress demands the strictest of honor and sacrifice.

4) HL Mencken provides the eloquent voice of pure joyous youthful iconoclasm. His wicked grin and fine cigars are the most highly educated and thoughtful form of the naughty schoolboy. He was the bane of all cheap morality and self-important blatherers, from the downscale preachers to the great scheming politicians with plans to save the world- at taxpayer expense. He hooked the defendant in the Scopes Monkey Trial up with his attorney, and then rushed in to cover the trial as a newspaper reporter. Ha! We're having some fun now. He had a perfect combination of recognizing human failing without excuse or quarter, combined with a good-hearted acceptance of human fallibility that largely eliminated any sense of malice or misanthropy. I often have his cigar-chomping grin looking over my shoulder as I'm writing some scathing mockery of the buncombe of the day.

4) Elvis Costello keeps the emotional politics real. Besides just being one of the best hook-writing composers in modern popular music, he has a unique clarity of vision for the political machinations of human relations. He shines a light on all the ways of emotional manipulation and vulnerability, and how all those wires get crossed. You could spend a few hours in the maze of "I Want You," separating the strands of stubborn obsession, unhealthy desire, masochism, As a corollary, much of the impacted emotional content comes encoded in the deep keyboard neuroses of Steve Nieve; sometimes it's him that I'm hearing in a moment of heartbreak, crisis, or indecision.

5) Stanley Kubrick had a great way of reducing animal psychology to a perfect chess game. The pure logical inevitability of Dr. Strangelove has made a lasting impression. It has to be possible under the combination of high technology of the weakness of our mammalian psychology, and under enough possibilities seems inevitable that we will eventually in fact have nuclear bombs flying because some general couldn't get it up, or some similar wounded ego scenario. How many times in some uncertain moment with a female have I heard General Ripper's explanation, "I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence."

6) Matt Groening Often, life seems like one big continuing episode of The Simpsons- only usually not as funny. As often as not, Homer's sloth and disregard for social norms seem to be the most practical strategy. Even the evil Monty Burns caustic contempt for his fellow man has the strong ring of truth. I veer between Lisa's dismayed idealism and Bart's cheerful cynicism. Indeed, the first words out of my mouth are often, "I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything."

7) Kyle Broslofski Other times though, life seems like one big continuing episode of South Park, which may be funnier, but severely more dysfunctional. They capture the real oppression of the society, and the pure lemming nature better than any other art going. The recent "Death Camp of Tolerance" [search kazaa for "south park 614"] captures amazingly well a great deal of the fake nature of modern "tolerance." Tread lightly on publicly expressing reservations about the liberal social orthodoxy.

8) Tom T Hall set a great model as a humble thinking country boy. He may be the most accomplished country songwriter ever, certainly in the top half dozen. He's never gone on like he was some big shot, but he knows that he's done some quality work. He has a certain way of careful observance of the people around him, an awareness and quiet empathy -without cheap sob sister display- that I aspire to on a good day.

9) Richard Pryor gives the voice to many of my frustrations, and gives voice to my feelings of oppression, which are fairly universal. He's my idea of an everyman. Sometimes it's fury at being screwed or simply disrespected by The Man. Ultimately, though, black and white, rich and poor, we end up facing many of the same indignities and fears. "Whether or not you can survive death- that's the ultimate test for your ass, ain't it? So far don't nobody we know has PASSED the ultimate test." Ultimately, we're all niggers up in this bitch.

10) Jesus Christ of Nazareth I'm not a Christian; I don't believe in the resurrection. Nonetheless, the general thrust of the teachings of Jesus, of loving thy neighbor as thyself, seems to have great value. His words and ideas often seem to be the most practical and even the most satisfying advice I can offer. For being an atheist, I don't know how many times I've started trying to advise someone by asking "What would Jesus do?"

Of course, the words of Jesus often are directly in conflict with Ayn Rand back up on top of the list, which ends up with one of them on each shoulder going at it. And on it goes...


posted by Al at 11/22/2002 06:36:00 AM

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