Well here we are, kids, three chapters into the seventy-twelfth season of South Park and we’ve got ourselves the first big “message” episode. I’ve said before that I kind of love the topical SPs, the formula of which goes something like: story ripped from headlines + Randy standing in for the American people and acting like a fucking moron x Stan playing the voice of reason – anything entertaining for Cartman to do = Kyle sums up a complex issue with a tidy little speech. It’s a tried-and-truism, but darn it, it gets results. Er… most of the time.
Tonight I’m not so sure, but that’s probably because making fun of the economy—which you may have heard mentioned in a Jay Leno monologue recently, followed by a humorous exaggeration about someone doing something desperate for money—is about as scattershot as talking seriously about the economy. Bailout and bread line jokes aren’t exactly knee-slappers anyway (just ask your author, who uses them way too often in Friday Buzzkills), but it usually helps to have a specific target of your derision. As “Margaritaville” demonstrated tonight, those targets could be anyone from those clowns at the Treasury to those fat cats on Wall Street to idiots just like you who can’t stop buying every Snuggie and Snuggie accessory in sight (and come to think of it, where’s our South Park Snuggie episode?), and thus it’s not always easy finding a mocking finger to point. (And besides, finger-pointing gets us nowhere, Steve!)
Anyway, they certainly didn’t suffer for lack of trying: Turning the economic crisis into a full-blown Jesus parody is something I really didn’t see coming, and yet when it arrived it made perfect sense. After all, as Kyle points out in one of his many “sermons,” the economy is built on faith, like religion, yet some people do look at it like an omnipotent being that came in the night, snatched our homes, and—in the words of everybody’s favorite rednecks—“tuk er jeeeerbs!” In typical South Park fashion, Trey and Matt’s answer seems to be that everyone should calm down and stop acting like such an asshole and then everything will be fine again, and while I can’t exactly agree with that—at least until I get my 401(k) matching funds back and I can laugh about that stuff—I would have been disappointed if we got anything else.
For those of you who like rereading the specifics while you’re waiting around to get laid off from your own jeeerb, “Margaritaville” started off with a pretty funny sequence involving Stan trying to deposit some birthday money (is it me, or do these kids get birthday money unusually frequently?) only to have the bank tell him it’s already been lost mere seconds after deposit. Back home, things have gotten so grim that the Marshes are forced to dine on hot dogs and tomato slices (or as the Germans call it, "wurst und wolf peaches;" look it up!) as Randy rails about all the “idiots out there who bought a bunch of stupid crap they didn’t need” while blithely using his totally unnecessary but still awesome-looking Margaritaville mixer. On TV and in the streets, even more theories are flying around: It’s the interest rates, says one. It’s the brokers, says another. It’s the “covetous Jews who hid all the cash in some secret Jew cave,” says Cartman. Finally, as almost always happens when crisis hits, Randy overreacts and becomes the instigator of a full-scale panic, urging everyone to abandon their possessions, start wearing sheets instead of clothes, watch clouds instead of cable, ride llamas instead of driving cars, and make their children play with squirrels instead of video games.
Naturally it’s up to Kyle to play the skeptic, which ironically means he begins preaching that people need to have faith, and urging them to start spending money again because that’s what makes the economy work in the first place. As his followers begin to grow, he becomes the leader of his own movement, producing “miracles” like getting a platinum American Express card with no spending limit, and stopping others from “hucking squirrels” at Mr. Garrison, just because he couldn’t keep himself from buying something stupid at Bed Bath & Beyond. Eventually, word reaches Randy’s “council” about the “young Jew speaking heresy,” and plans are made to capture him. Enter Cartman, who offers to turn Kyle over in exchange for a copy of the new Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (which really did come out last week—topical!) and is thus set up to be the Judas at Kyle’s Last Supper at Whistlin’ Willy’s. But of course, Kyle is smart enough to figure out that Cartman will betray him, so he sets himself up to make the ultimate sacrifice: Paying off everyone’s debts with his AmEx “so that we may spend again.”
While all this silliness is going on, Stan is out digging up the real satire by trying desperately to return his dad’s totally unnecessary but still awesome-looking Margaritaville, only to find that Sur La Table can’t give him a refund because part of it was financed. Then Stan meets with a Carmex-abusing douche at the financing company, and he says the money was leveraged into investments, so he’ll need to talk to Wall Street. Then, on the floor of the NYSE, Stan is told that the government already bought up all the bad debt, so he’ll need to meet with the Treasury. Finally he finds a few government officials who say they can help him, but first they say they’ll need to “consult the chart,” which turns out to be the funniest gag of the episode: They chop a chicken’s head off and let its blood-spurting body run wild across a huge “jump to conclusions mat”-type thing, until it collapses on one of dozens of choices like “Print Money” or “Tax The Rich.” At this point, Stan just gives up and goes home—which is probably what everybody who has anything to do with this whole financial mess would like to do at this point.
Back in South Park, things are once more slowly returning to normal, as now that Kyle is shouldering the debt of the world, people are able to buy the things they need again—like a new, totally unnecessary but even more awesome-looking Margaritaville, now updated with a salsa dispenser. And of course, everybody has one person to which they owe their undying gratitude: Barack Obama. Boom! Roasted.
Anyhoo… Despite the trappings of its formula, this wasn’t actually much of a “message” episode, since there wasn’t really much of a “message” to impart—nope, not even an obvious one about chilling the fuck out. Yes, the economy is built on consumer confidence, which in a way is just like faith, but without an actual Kyle-like savior to come along and pay for everybody’s mortgages, the “spend more and everything will be fine” is definitely an “easy for you to say” solution from two guys who obviously have plenty of money. But whatever; we’re not looking for South Park to show us the way to salvation. At this point the best we can hope for is some gallows humor, and “Margaritaville” managed to make me laugh about the economy in a new and unexpected way—and even the expected ways, such as illustrating just how needlessly complex our financial system has become, to the point where we’re basically throwing money at problems because we don’t understand what’s going on? Well, that was funny too—but then, I’m a sucker for the old headless-chicken-running-around-to-kazoo-music gag. Which is a good thing, because before you know it, it’ll be the only entertainment I can afford! Yamiritefolks? Thankyougoodnight!
• Other options on the chart: Telethon, Bad Bank, Indian Casinos, Nationalize!!!, Sell China! Go To War, Raise Fed, Let Fail, Coup D’état, Go To Congress, Mortgages!, Socialize, Cut Education, Press Conference.
• Not to sound like Josh, but that Godfather II game looks pretty badass. Too bad my wife won’t let me have video games in the house.
• Does the AmEx Platinum let you carry a balance? Because if not, that could… Ah, fuck it.
• “We have to learn to live with only the essentials: Water, bread, and margaritas.”