The concept of the "principle of individuation" as laid out by Arthur Schopenhauer, unsurprisingly, finds its most germane interpretation in Nietzsche, who uses it to differentiate culture’s Apollonian expression from its primitive, Dionysian impulse—the intuitive yet still refined creation versus the more destructive indulgence in intoxication and abandon. I think that there’s a very clear illustration of this age-old conflict at play in tonight’s episode of South Park, one that the Athenians might well have recognized as the very essence of drama. It definitely struck a balance between plastic illusion and brute reality—particularly in those brilliant passages involving repeated use of the word “poop”—that’s evocative, naturally, of the same frenzied meter employed by Euripides in his The Bacchae, as well as some of the more colorful chapters of the trade-paperback novelization of Adventures In Babysitting. Wouldn’t you agree?
Just kidding. Sometimes I think the writers of South Park read their reviews and have a good, hearty, phlegmatic chortle at all of our coffee-klatch wheel-spinning over their silly little cartoons—and after tonight’s episode, I’m more convinced than ever. They keep saying they’re just trying to be funny; we keep insisting, “No, it’s really all about contemporary social mores in the face of sweeping conservative hmmm hmmm haw haw haw—“ and then we choke on our own gargled balls while the whole thing falls apart into super unfunny arguments over who got a joke more and laughed better. Well, not tonight my little shoulder-chips; tonight was all about daring us to shut the fuck up for once, kick back, and laugh at some vomit. Lots and lots of vomit.
But as much as I’d like to not point out everything that was—to borrow a VanDerWerffism—“meta” in an episode that was all about not doing that, damn it, the scenes with Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny writing their “masterpiece” are probably exactly what it’s like in the South Park writers’ room, i.e. a bunch of smartasses sitting around doing nothing more than trying to out-funny each other. And when they end up in front of the Supreme Court, lobbying to get their horrific, popular, horrifically popular book banned so Butters can’t reap any more borrowed glory, and every political faction—liberal, conservative, pro-life, anti-Sarah Jessica Parker—then tries to claim the “message” of The Tale Of Scrotie McBoogerballs for its own, well, that’s probably exactly what the SP staff feels like whenever some Internet blowhard goes off on a rant about their supposed “agendas.” “Will you people stop reading into stuff that isn’t there???” they scream, and while they explicitly say they’re talking about books—not television—this Internet blowhard gets the message, anyway: Not everything needs a message. As a matter of fact, yes, many writers would take the time to make fun of Sarah Jessica Parker just because she’s fucking ugly; the proof is in that “transvestite donkey wearing a dress” standing right next to Matthew Broderick.
Anyway, there were some other, probably completely unintentional allusions to Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool (check it out if you haven’t) and to that hoary old OSS/“mechanism of control” conspiracy theory about Salinger and The Catcher In The Rye (don’t bother checking it out, unless you enjoy lots of needless exclamation points and animated GIFs of swirling eyeballs), but mostly “Scrotie” was all about taking the piss out of the sort of people who point out those sorts of allusions, and who tend to use phrases like, “Obviously, that kind of stuff is going to go over most peoples' heads.” It took the vomit out, too: There was nearly more vomit than actual dialogue tonight, including some of the most realistic cartoon vomiting I’ve ever seen, courtesy of Matt Lauer and the rest of the Today Show cast. We also got Morgan Freeman reading a book called The Poop That Took A Pee (good stuff) and we saw Le Kardashian Famile take multiple shotgun blasts to their faces and butts like “big mountains of pudding,” just because. That last bit felt a little gratuitous, but that was almost certainly the point: South Park knows it can be smarter than this, but sometimes it likes to remind us that it’s way funnier to just be totally juvenile.
As to whether it was: Eh, I chuckled a few times, and I enjoyed the nihilistic verve of it all, making it a solid B- for me. I’m usually a fan of gags that are driven into the ground so hard they actually come back around again, but the vomiting really did seem like a substitute for actual punchlines. (I suspect the script for this episode was noticeably slimmer than normal.) I’ve also seen—and likely will see—funnier rips on Sarah Jessica Parker in the comments. Honestly, I laughed hardest at all the deconstructionist claptrap the episode was actually deriding, though it was really more of a self-satisfied smirk of recognition. But that’s because I’m so dark and brooding and concerned with the inner workings of the mind. Obviously, that kind of stuff is just going to go over most peoples’ heads.
- According to the most popular Google searches, Sarah Jessica Parker looks like a horse, a foot (way to achieve immortality, Family Guy), a man, a witch, Dee Snider, Bette Midler, a dog, and—my favorite—a “boiled horse.” So those have all been taken already; you’ll need to really push yourself here.