South Park has always been a controversial show, but that controversy always had a meaningful point behind it. In this week's episode, the South Park crew takes on a certain homophobic slur that has been in the English lexicon for a while now. South Park does have a surprising amount of cultural influence these days, but only time will tell how this message will be received. In the meantime, I think we can all agree that inconsiderate bikers freakin' suck, and they do deserve their own special epithet.
The episode opens in an oddly tranquil scene, with the boys enjoying some fishing in a quiet pond. Then a bunch of Harley-riding bikers show up, with engines blaring. The bikers go throughout South Park, annoying pretty much everyone with their racket, until Cartman destroys them in a classic South Park-style tongue lashing where he compares them to sixteen-year-old attention whores and, of course, he calls them fags.
And so the real topic of the episode is revealed, and the boys' reckless use of the F-word ends up insulting South Park's gay population. Politicians get involved, protests are had, etc. But what it all boils down to is that the word, at least from the perspective of the South Park boys, has a different, less homophobic but still insulting meaning in the language of the kids these days.
Now, whether or not you buy that reasoning, this story does make a compelling case for it. After all, words do change (like when "bad" started to mean "good"). But you only need to spend a few minutes in any online game to know that the meaning hasn't really changed amongst teenage boys. This episode has some common ground with "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson," the episode where Randy Marsh dropped the n-word and got into a world of trouble. Back then, South Park questioned how words can take on different meanings in different contexts, and also how hurtful they can be. I don't think this story was as skillfully told as that one was, though.
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