Themes and Allegory in South Park  

Unified Themes

Many episodes have multiple specific themes that fit into a unified overall theme. For example, the 9th season episode Wing (episode 903) addresses several different forms of involuntary servitude in the modern world:

In addition, the choice of characters for the talent agency part of the plot (Token Black and Wing) reference the history of African-American slavery and the treatment of women as servants in traditional Chinese culture.

Normal Allegory

Normal allegory is exemplified by vampire genre (Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the present day series True Blood). In the vampire genre, the literal story is a fiction or fantasy, and the allegorical story is about something going on in the real world.

* Surface meaning (what is depicted) Implied meaning (what the audience thinks about)
plot Vampires come out at night drink blood, and convert others Gay people hunt others and corrupt them
thriller/horror fiction exaggerated reality (dystopia)

Other examples of normal allegory:

There is much direct allegory in South Park.

episode literal story allegorical meaning
Medicinal Fried Chicken fast food addiction and organized crime drug addiction and organized crime

Reverse Allegory

Night of the Living Homeless inflates the issue of homelessness in the United States by depicting a plot that parallels Night of the Living Dead.

* Surface meaning (what is depicted) Implied meaning (what the audience thinks about)
plot Homeless people overrun the town Zombies overrun a town
exaggerated reality (dystopia) thriller/horror fiction

Santa As Code for Satan

Santa is code for satan. This is is a well-known anagram, and other similarities between Santa and the devil (dressed in red, replacing the spiritual/religious purpose of Christmas with shallow commercialism, etc.) are well-known. The connection was evident from the very start, in the 1995 short film "The Spirit of Christmas". This short was created before the TV series, but featured the four boys with their present-day names and appearance, plus Wendy, Brian Boitano, Santa Claus and Jesus. Santa is shown battling Jesus in an ultimate showdown ("there can be only one!"). This conflict takes on a new meaning once "Santa" is interpreted as "satan". The children's behavior towards "santa" and his reconciliation with Jesus at the end, make for a much more controversial message.

Ginger As Code for the N-Word

Similarly, ginger is anagram code for a racist epithet, the N-Word. I do not even wish to use the N-word, because of my childhood experiences in 1960's Louisiana, but suffice it to say the N-word has the same 6 letters as ginger but starts with N. Here for convenience I will express the N-word as n***er. You can un-bleep it as you read along.

Transcripts of South Park episodes are available at several fan websites. A search through these transcripts for "n***er" will reveal that the word only appears in two episides. It is used once in the season 6 episode, The Death Camp of Tolerance. It is heard by the children as they ride a conveyor belt through the "tunnel of prejudice" in the Museum of Tolerance (it also simultaneously appears in writing) along with several other epithets. In this case its use helps teach the children (and the audience, if they take the scene's message literally) a lesson about the harmful effect of slurs and their relation to prejudice, racism, discrimination, oppression, etc. in general. The word also appears extensively in the season 11 episode With Apologies to Jesse Jackson where it is central to the plot.

This rarity of the word n***er in South Park episodes is surprising, given Cartman's proclivity for harboring and expressing bigoted attitudes, racial bias, and discriminatory behavior. There are of course many controversial references to racism and related issues, and Cartman uses several other desparaging words to refer to African-Americans or to black people in general. A viewer familiar with the series would expect Cartman to use the N-word at least every now and then. Perhaps it would be bleeped as are the words fuck and shit.

Thus it appears that n***er is unused on purpose. Its use solely in plot-related contexts in Death Camp and With Apologies has some similarities with treatment of the word shit in South Park. While normally "bleeped", the word shit was central to the plot of episode 502, It Hits the Fan, which was broadcast with shit uncensored in over 100 clearly audible instances (with an on-screen counter to help the audience keep score) and many appearances in print on-screen. Despite that episode's portrayal of a dysphemism treadmill effect (a cultural shift weakening the earlier taboo and making the word acceptable for broadcast from that point forward), in the real world shit was bleeped the next time it appeared in South Park (episode 513, Kenny Dies) and has been routinely bleeped ever since (at this writing, through the middle of season 14). Shit was okay for that one episode because it was central to the episode's plot, whereas it is not normally okay. In the case of n***er, similar rules apply, but because the word is more harmful, the censorship applied to it is even stronger — the scriptwriters and other creative artists do not include the N-word in scripts. Bleeping alone would not be enough to avoid the harmful effects of the word.

Ginger as a genetic/racial label first appears in the 5th season episode Scott Tenorman Must Die. It next appears in the episode that defines "gingers" as a name for the genetic group and Cartman's hatred of them, 8th season episode Ginger Kids. The label then appears several times over the next few years: 10th season Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy, 11th season Le Petit Tourette, 10th season episodes The Coon (itself another anti-black slur), and Fatbeard. Then the "ginger kids" have a prominent role throughout the 14th season two-part episodes 200 and 201.

Reading "n***er" as the hidden meaning of "ginger" in South Park scripts is fairly easy. On the surface (figuratively as well as literally) one need only imagine substituting the descriptions of hair and skin color. Although Cartman points out (truthfully) that there is a recessive gene involved (see red hair and Melanocortin 1 receptor), it is easy to interpret his "ginger gene" bigotry as being directed at people of any mixed racial makeup, such as a person who is partially of African descent. His claim that "ginger [people] have no souls" is supremacist.

The reader is invited to check each occurrence of ginger and imagine the word is n***er to see the connection, making other simple changes when needed (replacing "freckles" with "dark skin", etc.). In each instance the substitution results in a strong anti-black racist meaning.

Thus there seems to be a strong case for the assertion that ginger and the plot elements regarding the mistreatment of red-haired and freckled people is an allegory for the use of n***er in the mistreatment of blacks.

This intended connection between ginger and n***er is made clear in the no-longer-available episode 201, by the following exchange involving Dr. Mephesto (still available in fan transcripts). The conversation makes hardly any sense until the "ginger" kids are interpreted as being "n***er" instead. The essence of that conversation is:

(The scene is inside MEPHESTO's home/laboratory/compound. An unseen visitor knocks at the door.)   MEPHESTO: (speaking to the door) Yes?   VOICE: (An adult male voice, unseen, presumably outside the door) Hey, I'm sorry to bother you. There's been an accident, and I need a phone.   MEPHESTO: Yeah, right, let me guess: You're an African-American.   VOICE: Well, yes I am but I don't know what that has to do with anything.   MEPHESTO: Beat it! I'm not helping you.   (KYLE and STAN strongly protest MEPHESTO's behaviour, pointing out how racist it sounds and reminding him that "we have a black president")   MEPHESTO: (After briefly standing his ground, he gives in to the boys' protests, and opens the door)   (A number of GINGER CHILDREN run in.)   GINGER CHILD: A-HA!   STAN: Oh crap, the gingers!   CARTMAN: Gingers? No!

Near the end of episode 201, there are long "bleeped" monologues by Kyle, Jesus and Santa. This is an "I've learned something today" speech, a frequent element of South Park episodes that ultimately refer back to the first such speech in the Spirit of Christmas shorts. The fact that Jesus and Santa also participate in this bleeped speech make the intent of that connection more clear. Combine this with the connections already mentioned above, and another connection that was made with Santa (having to do with his initial appearance in this episode) and we get a rather intricate maze of innuendo and controversial messages, difficult to untangle. It is easy to see how these final bleeped statements about "fear and intolerance" could have been too risky to broadcast, even in part, without angering and insulting black people, Muslims and Christians alike.

The Obligatory Embedded Clip


Stan Gets Sucked In


See Also

Episode List


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