The Reason Online has a wonderful transcription of a talk on free speech with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Much in the past has been made of the idea of South Park Republicans, but Matt & Trey assert in this talk that they’re not really comfortable with any label for their political positions. The only reason they seem to be even willing to partially take on the label of Libertarian is due to the prompting of the moderator. (None of this is to say that they don’t cozy up to one side or the other. Conservative Andrew Sullivan posted today an e-mail rave about his book “The Conservative Soul” from Matt Stone.)
For a show that’s often been described as provocative, it’s incredible how levelheaded and even fair South Park is. Much of the talk focuses on religion and, of course, the frustrations of attempted censorship by both the Catholic League and Scientologists in the past year. But an episode of Mormonism is very much a stand-out on how incredibly gracious South Park can be in religious satire. Though it essentially describes the origins of the Mormon faith dumb, it firmly admits “so what?” because Mormons are, on the whole, kind and generous people. Satire can have a single minded view of its targets, sometimes even to point of setting up straw men. The fact that Matt and Trey can savage a target and then admit to the grace within it is a marvel.
With politics, South Park finds their middle ground by piercing the excesses on both sides of an argument. I remember once Jon Stewart saying that nobody ever takes the streets yelling “Let’s all be reasonable.” But it occurs to me the South Park, and comedy is general, are the model of political expression for those of us who don’t think either side has a monopoly on truth. So much is made of humor being exclusively a tool for the left, but the left hasn’t been ascendant enough during comedy booms to be a target. Satire’s a weapon that can and should be used on both sides. It’s a balance beam that Matt & Trey continue to walk upon and one I hope that more of our current satirists decide they should tread.