Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

South Park mixes today’s Trump with an outdated conspiracy theory

Illustration for article titled South Park mixes today’s Trump with an outdated conspiracy theory

Ever since South Park found a suitable Donald Trump surrogate in Mr. Garrison, the show has managed to get a lot of things right about his presidential campaign. First came the vicious rhetoric towards immigrants, then eventually the artificially tanned face. And because they started lampooning his bid for the oval office early on, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were able to make some colorful exaggerations that felt weirdly prophetic. Did they (or anyone) think that Trump would pick Caitlyn Jenner as his running mate? Hell no. But the ludicrous team-up did serve as an omen of how truly insane the election cycle would soon become.

At a certain point though, the election became so highly scrutinized that, if the show was going to continue to successfully skewer it, Parker and Stone had to start getting more specific. The trajectory of their Trump surrogate had to more closely match that of The Donald himself. That comes to a head in “Douche And A Danish,” an episode broadcasted literally smack-dab in the middle of the final presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Parker and Stone wisely don’t try to predict the outcome of the debate. They don’t even depict the debate at all, at least not in any kind of official capacity. But via one of Garrison’s rallies, they do attempt to capture the current temperature of the Trump campaign and the audience on both sides: how he got to where he is, how people are reacting to him now, and the hypocrisy of some of his biggest supporters and detractors.

A lot of it works. Echoing the leak of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape, Garrison starts spitting all manner of misogynistic and sexually aggressive venom onstage. It’s equal parts Trump and Andrew Dice Clay, a cigarette dangling from his fingers as he brags about forcing himself upon women. It’s only with these remarks—not any of the outright hate-speech he’s been spewing across two seasons now—that his audience starts to turn on him.

That’s an apt criticism, and one that can be applied to both Trump’s fans and his critics. As Garrison notes, many supported him through all the talk of fucking immigrants to death, but the comments about women are the tipping point. Likewise, many people who disliked Trump from the beginning still saw the leaked tape as a clearer-drawn line in the sand. There’s no denying how disgusting and unacceptable his comments to Billy Bush were, but was anyone really that surprised? Why was that the point where Saturday Night Live suddenly went from gently poking fun at Trump and allowing him to host for a second time to finally subjecting him to the ruthless takedown he deserved? After all, he had already said all sorts of horrible shit on the campaign trail back in November. “Douche And A Danish” asks this tough question of all of us: How and why did we let it all get this far? Why are we so conveniently selective about what offends us?

As Randy explains to Garrison himself in the episode’s final minutes, much of his fanbase has to do with the Member Berries. “When a civilization has become so big,” he says, “it starts to get lazy.” At that point, it’s easier to revel in the halcyon days of the past than actually try and enact change in the present. That’s when the fruit—growing around the world even before Ancient Roman times—starts to pump its poisonous nostalgia through our collective bloodstream.


That’s South Park’s other great observation about Trump mania and the election in general. I’ve already talked about this with several of you in the comments, but his (and Garrison’s) slogan isn’t “Make America Great.” It’s “Make America Great Again.” That’s a dangerous credo, one that hinges on people longing for a country that could never be replicated today or—more likely—maybe never even existed in the first place. We love to glorify the past like that. We love to think that what came before is somehow better than what we have today. We love to try and recreate the original Star Wars film instead of forging into the future with something new.

But because the show gets this point, along with the hypocrisy surrounding Trump’s misogyny, so right, it becomes that much more glaring when they get another part of his campaign wrong. In a continuation of his debate with Clinton in “The Damned,” Garrison’s trying to throw the election. He only launches into his sexist standup routine in the first place because he wants to lose.


Now, I get that Garrison-as-Trump isn’t meant to be a pitch-perfect counterpart to the real Trump. Not every single one of his plot points has to directly correspond with reality. But that’s the problem. Earlier on in the election, many people thought that Trump was doing the exact same thing as Garrison. Many people thought he was trying to lose. And while it’s quite possible that he ran for president on a whim, then found himself in over his head when he actually started doing well (another trait shared with Garrison), it’s clear to anyone who’s watched the debates over the past few weeks that he very much wants to succeed at this point, so much that the prospect of losing has sent him into a downward spiral. And if he has accepted that he’s probably going to lose, any kind of self-sabotage is an effort to take everyone down in flames with him. That’s a far cry from Garrison, who, nowadays just wants to get out of the race unscathed as possible.

Politically and comedically, that’s where “Douche And A Danish” sags a bit; its satire slightly off-balance as it nails the Donald Trump of today, but offsets the portrayal with an outdated conspiracy theory from the recent past. There’s also so much ground to cover that the jokes of the trolltrace.com plot get shortchanged. For instance, we never get to see the true payoff of Gerald and Dildo Schwaggins’ plan to strike back at the Danish. We know that Troll Trace (and Denmark as a whole) loses its support after the trolls come at them with falsified ties to ISIS. But on a show like South Park, it feels like a cheat to not see the hoax itself. It involved trolling an entire country, but did it involve anything more visually tangible? Was there a fake beheading? Was there any visible humility for the Danes beyond the brief, false reporting? There’s a missed opportunity there for some classic South Park outlandishness.


That also applies to the subplot involving the boys and girls. At the behest of Heidi and Cartman—still immersed in their vomit-inducing affection from the past two weeks—the kids set aside their differences to sell danishes in support of Troll Trace. But outside of Heidi and Cartman’s inaudible sweet nothings to one another (and even that’s a minor running joke at best), there’s no gut-busting gag to latch onto. Most of the episode’s comedy is drawn from Garrison’s tirade, which, as stated above, comes with its own set of problems. Maybe a continued expansion of the Member Berries mythology will help South Park stay crazy over the next few weeks. Lord knows there will be enough insanity in the real world to match it.

Stray observations

  • It appears Dildo Schwaggins’ shirt is sadly just a One Wolf Moon.
  • I was so hoping to get at least one more “Buckle up, buckaroo!” from Caitlyn Jenner. There’s still time, I suppose.
  • “Did you get your feelings hurt after cheering for ‘fuck all the immigrants’? Jeez.”
  • “When I was in school, kids teased me, called me a ‘midget,’ even though I’m not. My mother was a little person, but she had actually married a guy who had gigantism syndrome. She thought if she was a little person and had a baby with a giant, I would come out normal.”
  • “Sir, public opinion of Denmark is very, very shit.”