After last week’s gross-out episode, South Park went dark with “Cash for Gold,” managing to take on capitalism, consumerism, and the exploitative evils of the semi-precious jewelry industry. Cartman starts his own business selling crappy jewelry to old people, Stan screams at a sweatshop worker in India for preying on his grandfather, and an HSN-style jewelry salesman kills himself in the middle of a broadcast, splattering blood all over the faux rubies on the spinning display case as the department store muzak continues.
It all starts when Stan’s grandfather gives him a gold, diamond, and turquoise bolo tie that he proudly tells his horrified family that he bought for $6K. After attempting to sell it at a number of Cash for Gold stores and finding that his two best offers are either $15 or a 7-layer burrito, Stan decides to get to the bottom of why his grandfather was tricked into buying such a piece of junk. Essentially, it all goes back to the show “Jewelry Bonanza with Dean” on the J&G Shopping Network, where Dean manipulates his senile audience into buying his cheesy jewelry.
Cartman thinks he understands what’s happening and sees a get rich quick opportunity — by opening up his own Cash for Gold store, he can get people to sell him their jewelry that he’ll then mark up and sell to senior citizens who don’t know any better. Meanwhile Stan continues his hunt for who to blame. Eventually, they both end up in a sweatshop in India where Cartman is trying to cut out the middleman by purchasing cheap jewelry at the source and Stan is hoping to assign final blame on the children working in the factory for producing the products that Dean sells.
Just when things are about to turn ugly, the episode cuts to a great montage of the production cycle of the jewelry. Sleazy shows like Jewelry Bonanza with Dean sell it to the senior citizens who give it to their children who sell it to Cash for Gold stores who melt down the raw materials and ship it back to India. Eventually, everything just ends up back in the factory, where more crap is made. Of course no one really wins here. Everyone is being exploited by someone.
It’s great that South Park is still twisted enough to have a scene where a non-Cartman character accuses a child laborer of exploiting American grandparents with the products he’s making. And amazingly, though we recognize the irony here, we still kind of sympathize with Stan. He’s just being protective of his grandfather with blinding sincerity.
Stan was the standout character in “Cash for Gold” providing what could be the thesis for South Park in a rant on Dean’s show: “You should kill yourself. What you do is sort of unjustifiable. And you know it’s unjustifiable. And you don’t care. You’re the definition of evil. So kill yourself.”
Though “Cash for Gold” is fairly bleak and ends with the aforementioned live broadcast suicide, it manages to be a strong episode, thanks to its spot-on satire of television shopping networks, and the sincerity of Stan’s quest to try to make things less awful for his grandfather.
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