Things change over the years. In fact, Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This quote even applies to the animated television series South Park. While it has been on air for 20 seasons with the same characters, many things have changed throughout the show.
To begin with, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, and Butters finally graduate from third grade and begin the fourth grade in season 4 episode 11, “Fourth Grade.” Furthermore, while the characters grow in age they also grow in maturity. Cartman exemplifies this when he begins to date Heidi Turner in the 20th season. He changes from his typical chauvinistic, racist self to a sympathetic caring boyfriend. Also, up till season five, Kenny was killed in every episode. However, in episode thirteen season five, they killed Kenny for about a whole season to develop Butters’ character. Eventually, Kenny was brought back and since almost being killed from the show entirely, he has not died every episode; although he still does die on a semi-frequent basis, and yes Stan still says, “Oh my god, they killed Kenny” followed by Kyle saying, “ You bastards.” Finally, another major character change was in Mr. Garrison’s character. He moves from the gang’s third-grade teacher to their fourth-grade teacher, and from Mr. Garrison, to Mrs. Garrison in season nine, back to Mr. Garrison in season 12, and then to Mr. President in season twenty!
While the characters of South Park have undergone some major changes, the themes of South Park have also changed dramatically. This is because South Park is such a politically active show, and it discusses major political issues of the day through its brilliant use of satire. They discuss issues that had a lot of controversy surrounding them throughout their show such as: abortion, religion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and global warming to name a few. In one of my favorite episodes, “Goobacks,” South Park simultaneously tackles the issues of immigration and anti-homosexuality. South Park has also made numerous episodes surrounding the controversy in the Middle East, discussing everything from how they do not want the U.S. there to portraying Saddam Husain as the devil’s lover. Most recently South Park has been taking on major issues such as political correctness, and the 2016 election. This theme was introduced in the first episode of season 19 when Cartman breaks PC principles rules and tries to fight his punishment of four days detention. This comes precisely at the time of Tom Brady’s Deflate Gate scandal where he is fighting a four-game suspension by Roger Goodell. This just illustrates the genius in South Park; they bring together seemingly unrelated issues through a common denominator – their relevance to the time of the episode (meaning that the episodes are about the major debates in politics and pop cultural during the release of the episode).
Before I conclude this article, I would like to mention an underlying theme (conspiracy theory) that I have recently analyzed as I re-watched the episodes of South Park. It has to do with why Kenny is dying so frequently and why he cannot speak. Most people point to the fact that Kenny has some sort of supernatural power from a cult his parents went to, and that is why he is able to come back after he dies. But they do not provide theories on why he is always being killed. I believe that this is one of the overarching political themes in South Park. Perhaps the most defining aspects of Kenny’s character is that he is poor. I believe he cannot speak because this is Parker’s and Stone’s (the writers of South Park) way of saying the poor do not have a voice (especially in social and political matters). Furthermore, Cartman, who is portrayed as a rich spoiled character, always is interpreting what Kenny says and this is usually followed by an unlistened to protest by Kenny, implying Cartman says what he wants and not what Kenny said. This also is very political because it illustrates how the rich speak for the poor but do not listen to their interests. Finally, he always dies and no one pays serious attention; because he is poor, the rest of the upper-class people in South Park pay no attention to him as an individual, because there is always going to be another poor person to take his place.
I believe that South Park is an excellent show. The characters have changed over the years, and the political and social issues have evolved as well. However, it is still the same in the sense that you can make ‘stereotypes’ of the characters, and they tend to behave in accordance to these stereotypes. Also, you know that they will always take on the hottest political issues of the time in a genius and comical way. Finally, this genius forces you to think about the issues and come up with interesting political theories. If you are a huge South Park fan like me and have any interesting theories, leave a comment on this article!