“Conjoined Fetus Lady” (season 2, episode 5; originally aired 6/3/1998)
This one really takes me back. We never had dodgeball in my school. I guess I heard the term at some point when I was a kid, but having zero exposure to it, I didn’t really know what it was. I certainly didn’t guess that there was a vast segment of the population that, having been made to participate it in as children, remembered it as this trauma-inducing nightmare experience perpetuated by sadistic adults who got a chuckle out of seeing the more brutish youngsters in their care smash the smaller and more sensitive ones across the face with a spherical weapon, as in Rollerball. I first started to catch on in the fall of 1995, when I was at a film festival and saw the audience reaction to a short film, a mockumentary about the “sport” and how it inflicted scars that will never heal. If I’d gone to a different movie that night, I might have found “Conjoined Fetus Lady” even more baffling than I did, and still do, which is saying something.
Because so many people view dodgeball as a form of ritual torture that grown-ups use to amuse themselves at the expense of the young, it makes a handy metaphor for the general practice of adults using sports to live vicariously, sometimes to the point of psychotic dementia, through children who just want to have fun playing. To really drive the point home, it’s Chef, the children’s protector and voice of reason—well, sort of—who loses his bearings while acting as the school’s dodgeball coach. After he finds a surprise superstar in Pip, he leads the team to victory at the State Finals, then to Washington, D. C. for a match that will decide who gets to face the world-champion Chinese on their home turf. When the South Park team arrives in D. C., they learn that the other team has forfeited, and Chef is too excited to ask why. The kids are not. Someone explains that, of the American team that went to China last year, “only four came back alive.”
During the school bus ride to China, Chef seizes upon the presence of a Chinese-American boy on the team to point out that you shouldn’t make fun of someone like that, but it’s okay to make fun of the Chinese they’re going to defeat, because they’re foreigners. It’s a little reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live sketch in which Richard Nixon explains that a chink is always a gook, but a gook isn’t always a chink. But then the team arrives at the Chinese stadium, in which little yellow blobs with slanty eyes and serving-bowl hats race around while the announcers jeer and make jokes about how Americans are all materialistic round-eyes with credit cards. “Wow,” says one of the boys, “China is [bleep!]-ed up!” Around this time you may begin to wonder if what Chef says on the bus isn’t intended half-seriously, the point being that it’s possible to comment on what’s crazy about an alien culture without being racist. Visually, though, the caricatures of Asians are disconcerting no matter how much irony you drape them in, and they’re part of what’s become a long and slightly creepy history of South Park returning again and again to its contention that Asians are just some intrinsically funny sons of bitches. (Remember the irritable guy at the Chinese restaurant who said “city” so that it came out sounding like “shitty,” and then said it again, and again and again and again and again, apparently on the theory that, according to the law of averages, one of those times it would be funny?)
The title comes from a visit to the school nurse early in the episode. Nurse Gollum is a pleasant woman who, because her fetus merged with that of her dead twin, has what looks like a wizened little man sticking out the side of her head. The boys are deeply freaked out about this, of course, and Kyle’s mother decides to do something about it. First, she sits Kyle and his little friends down for a walk though a book labeled “Freaks A-Z,” which earns her an angry call from Stan’s mother after he tries to puncture his head with an ice pick, screaming, “I have to get it out.” Then she takes her case to Principal Victoria (“Well, Mrs. Broflovski, it certainly is a treat seeing your bright face. What seems to be pissing you off today?”) and the Mayor, and before long, the town is holding a week-long tribute to the victims of “conjoined twin myslexia,” complete with a “parade” that consists of Nurse Gollum trudging up the street.
Nurse Gollum finally can’t take it anymore and yells, “I don’t want to be treated different. I don’t want to be treated separately or gingerly. I just want to be ridiculed and yelled at and picked on like you do to everybody else.” Parts of the Nurse Gollum story are funny—I especially like the fake Neil Diamond song that plays over an increasingly intrusive photo tribute—but around the time of Stan’s mother’s phone call, I got the feeling that all this is meant to be satirizing something, and I’m not sure what. If I were an extraterrestrial feeling my way around in the dark, I might guess that it’s about the tendency of people to demand greater understanding of and tolerance toward those who are “different” just as a way of bringing glory to themselves, but is that something that goes on a lot? Not in my experience, but maybe I just don’t get out a lot. I do find that Nurse Gollum’s speech about how, instead of being treated “gingerly” or “separately,” she wishes everyone would just treat her like shit, the way everyone normally treats people who don’t make them uncomfortable, reminded me of the kind of lectures about how blacks were the ones happiest with segregated drinking fountains and whites-only seating, and were heartbroken to have them taken away, which you used to hear from senile segregationist assholes. Those we did have at my school.
“The Mexican Staring Frog Of Southern Sri Lanka” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 6/10/1998)
The script for this one reads as if Parker and Stone somehow knew that, someday, there would be something called the “stray observations” section, and they’d better start working at becoming adept at writing the kind of lines that would fit within it snugly. It begins with Cartman asking Mr. Garrison, “What’s Vietnam?” and Mr. Garrison replying, “A question a child might ask, but not a childish question.” Then Mr. Garrison tells the children that their assignment is to write a paper based on a conversation they have with someone in their life who served in the Vietnam War. One of the kids asks what’ll happen if they don’t know anyone who was in Vietnam. “Then you’ll get an F, fail the third grade, and have to get a job cleaning septic tanks to support your drug addiction.”
Luckily, the boys know Stan’s trigger-happy Uncle Jimbo, who is doing his public access show Huntin’ And Killin’ with his friend and war buddy Ned. (On the air, they explain that the “It’s coming right at me law” has been dropped and they can now only kill animals when it’s necessary to thin out their ranks. Expounding on the dangers of overpopulation in the wild, he says, “We have to kill them, or they’ll die,” adding that on the next show, they’ll be thinning out the ranks of a few endangered species.) Cartman asks them if being in Vietnam was fun. “Cartman,” Stan says, “what kind of stupid-ass question is that? Of course it was fun.” “Well,” says Jimbo, “Vietnam was fun, but not like going to the circus fun or fly-fishing in Montana fun. No, Vietnam was more like sticking shards of broken glass up your ass and then sitting in a tub of Tobasco sauce fun.” He then reels off a Rambo-esque tall tale of life in a country that has amusement park rides in it. The boys faithfully take down every word and get an F-minus, which, in A. V. Club grading terms, is getting perilously close to Whitney territory.
The boys decide to get revenge by pranking Uncle Jimbo, sending him fake footage of a cryptozoological phenomenon, the Mexican Staring Frog of Sri Lanka, to air on his show. The footage proves so popular that Jimbo’s ratings double, inflating his viewing audience to 12 people. “Holy cow,” says Jimbo when he gets the news. “We could get an Emmy!” The only person the boys are hurting is Jesus, whose own public access show, Jesus And Pals, is in the toilet. Jesus’ producer, who sounds like Frasier Crane’s agent Bebe Glazer, is trying to repair the damage by revamping the format and bringing in a hyped-up studio audience. Jesus is reluctant to go full-on Geraldo Rivera, but tellingly, it doesn’t matter; the studio audience is so tuned-in to the demands of the tabloid formula that they react even when they don’t get the necessary cues. When Jesus tries to do a heartwarming story about a man who was in a face-mangling accident and his loyal wife, the people in the crowd shout out defenses of Michael Jackson and say things like, “She needs to dump that zero and get a hero!”
After the prank has gotten out of hand, the boys, Jimbo, and Ned all end up Jesus’ show, but things get off to a slow start, and the producer leans in to give them some direction: “I didn’t bring you on the show to be boring. Someone get pissed off and throw a chair at Ned.” “Dibs!” says Cartman. In the ensuing melee, the air gets cleared, but Jesus is so unhappy with his producer that he exiles her to the fiery pits of Hell. There she meets Satan, who is toddling around, hand-in-hand, with Saddam Hussein. They’re official!