Since Eric Cartman first received an anal probe back in 1997, few could have predicted that South Park would still be offending people almost twenty years later, but here we are, waiting for the next season and with bated breath.
Even detractors who dismissed South Park’s controversial brand of humour in the beginning must concede that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have , parodying everything from and religion alongside a few Christmas poo’s along the way.
It would be easy to claim that Parker and Stone are deliberately provocative just to boost ratings, but in reality, South Park is one of the most intelligent and insightful shows out there, evolving to reflect the times in a way that even the most ‘mature’ programs have failed to match.
No one does controversy like South Park, so let’s take a look at five of the show’s most memorable episodes which featured scenes that delighted and shocked in equal measure, hitting headlines worldwide.
5. Proper Condom Use (S5, E7)
Plot summary: After Stan is caught masturbating a dog, the low standard of sex education in South Park is blamed, forcing the town’s school teachers to try their best to teach the kids about the birds and the bees.
Why it was controversial: Sex education has always been a touchy subject, so naturally, after Mr Garrison demonstrates to kindergarteners how to put a condom on using just his mouth, it’s no surprise that ‘Proper Condom Use‘ became one of the first South Park episodes to face controversy prior to being aired.
In Australia, the episode was pushed back to a later time slot after receiving a MA rating and the British satellite channel Sky One banned ‘Proper Condom Use‘ completely, citing it’s strong sexual and violent content as the cause.
During the official DVD commentary, Parker and Stone revealed that Comedy Central asked the pair to shorten the aforementioned condom scene with Mr Garrison; rather than reduce any of the content, Parker and Stone decided to cut away to the kid’s shock reaction instead, just as Mr Garrison starts to put his lips over the dildo.
Hilariously, the final cut of the episode did retain the long list of exotic sexual positions that Mr Garrison teaches the kindergarteners, including Hot Lunch, Filthy Sanchez, Pile Driver and Donkey Punch — the majority of which are real.
4. Hell On Earth (S10, E11)
Plot summary: Satan holds a ‘Sweet 16’ style party to celebrate Halloween, inviting celebrities to attend alongside the spirits of the damned. Among the guests are three notorious serial killers tasked with the unenviable job of preparing Satan’s cake ready for midnight.
Why it was controversial: Just six weeks after Steve Irwin died, the creators behind South Park decided to feature the TV presenter as one of the guests at Satan’s birthday party, complete with a stingray barb still sticking out of his chest. Ironically, the other guests are all outraged, assuming that someone has dressed up as him in bad taste, providing a biting commentary on how soon jokes about the dead can be made after their demise.
Clearly, a lot of the public weren’t in on the joke or simply became offended regardless. A friend of Terri Irwin, Steve Irwin’s widow issued a statement at the time, saying that;
“Terri is devastated Steve is being mocked in such a cruel way. Her worry is that Bindi and Bob will see it and break down. Steve had as big a sense of humour as anyone, but this goes too far too soon.”
Steve’s widow wasn’t the only one who thought the episode had aired too soon, prompting a spokesperson for Comedy Central to defend the show with the following statement;
“The South Park guys do inappropriate things all the time…their goal is to make people laugh, not to offend people.”
Another spokesperson for the Comedy Central network followed up by pointing out that;
“South Park has offended people in the past and probably will again. Regular watchers would not be shocked.”
Despite this, Australia delayed airing the episode by 12 months, surprising Parker and Stone who argued that the whole joke was all about the timing of jokes, exploring how long we should wait after someone has died before they’re available to be ridiculed again.
3. Cartoon Wars Pt 1 & 2 (S10, E3 & 4)
Plot summary: After Family Guy decides to air an episode that depicts the prophet Muhammad uncensored, Cartman decides to stop the network from broadcasting the scene for personal reasons, all while Muslim terrorists threaten to achieve the same end through violence.
Why it was controversial: While fans of Family Guy were probably offended by the portrayal of the show’s writers as manatees who literally fish for jokes, the episode hit headlines for it’s depiction of Muhammad himself, which was seen as blasphemous by many sects of Islam.
The episode aired soon after a Danish newspaper received terror threats in real life for publishing cartoons of Muhammad, leading Comedy Central to censor the scenes in which he appeared to avoid being attacked by extremists. Both the creators and fans alike couldn’t help but laugh at the contradictions that allowed the show to portray Jesus defecating on an American flag while preventing them from portraying Muhammad in a far more benign light.
Despite the controversy, creators Parker and Stone claim that their only regret over the entire incident was that their mockery of rival show Family Guy received more attention than the point they were trying to make about censorship, which is particularly amusing when you consider that Muhammad was actually shown on South Park before in the episode ‘Super Best Friends‘, which received almost zero media attention.
2. 200 & 201 (S14, E5 & 6)
Plot summary: After Stan offends Tom Cruise by calling him a fudge packer, even though he is literally packing fudge, the actor rallies all of the stars previously offended on the show to file a lawsuit against the town.
Why it was controversial: Creators Parker and Stone went all out for their 200th episode, tying together a number of controversial story lines with Cruise’s mission to use the prophet Muhammad in a misguided attempt to protect himself from mockery.
A number of Islamic sects had already been offended by the show’s previous treatment of Muhammad in the ‘Cartoon Wars‘ double bill, but the threats directed towards the South Park creators hit a new level after this episode aired.
A leader of Revolution Muslim who goes by the username Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee wrote on Twitter that he prayed for Allah to kill the show’s creators and a number of other death threats eventually led to Comedy Central banning the episode from digital distribution. The episode itself became censored too; Muhammad was blacked out during his appearances and Kyle’s closing speech about standing brave in the face of intimidation was unfortunately removed in a somewhat ironic turn of events.
Strange then that no one kicked up a fuss when Muhammad has been occasionally shown uncensored in the opening credits of the show.
1. Trapped In The Closet (S9, E12)
Plot summary: Stan joins the Church of Scientology and is pronounced as the ‘second coming’ of founder L. Ron Hubbard, leading famous followers such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise to lock themselves in Stan’s closet, complete with R Kelly’s accompanying performances.
Why it was controversial: Over the years, Scientology became a regular source of humour for the show, but once news of ‘Trapped In The Closet‘ was released, Cruise reportedly refused to promote Mission Impossible III if the episode was aired, which became problematic as both Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures are owned by Viacom.
Cruise denied his involvement in the episode being pulled, but that didn’t stop Parker and Stone from issuing the following statement, which mercilessly ripped Scientology apart:
“So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!”
Trouble erupted within the South Park camp too when voice actor Isaac Hayes left the show soon after, as he took personal offence to the show’s depiction of his religion. Hayes denies that this was the reason for his departure, but Parker and Stone were quick to lambast the actor for the decision, pointing out that;
“[We] never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we [lampooned] Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”
While South Park may appear to discriminate against a multitude of various beliefs and practices, the show’s willingness to make fun of everyone is arguably it’s greatest strength. The day that South Park decide to bow to public pressure and avoid satirising any one particular subject is the day that South Park will genuinely be discriminatory. Therein lies the beauty of the show.
While we wait for Season 20 to finally premiere on September 14, check out the full E3 trailer for the upcoming game South Park: The Fractured But Whole and don’t forget to .
What do you think was the most controversial moment in the history of South Park?
The day someone green-lights a Marvel Zombies Ghibli film directed by Xavier Dolan is the day I will be happy. Any day now…