Season 16 has not been especially even for South Park so far. It was hard not to hope that somehow last season’s standouts would translate into an entire lineup of great episodes, but five episodes in, it’s clear that that has not been the case. They haven’t even been especially timely, which can often make up for an episode that isn’t all that funny on its own. So it was refreshing that after four only passingly topical episodes, South Park decided to take on bullying, Kony2012, and the Weinsteins.
The kids notice that Butters is being bullied by someone, and instead of taking the time to figure out who the bully is, the kids and school administrators rally to end bullying. Things escalate rather quickly. A bullying expert is brought in to talk to the kids. Stan directs an awareness film with a “make bullying kill itself” message. Hollywood gets involved. Butters attacks Dr. Oz. And Stan ends up jerking off and naked in San Diego.
The point was clear from the start: we’re basically all bullies. The bullying expert bullies the school counselor into holding an anti-bullying campaign. Stan bullies Butters into participating in his movie. The Hollywood executive bullies the anti-bullying expert. And Jesus bullies the Hollywood executive.
Though the grandmother as bully felt like a non-starter that took up far too much screen time, it allowed for the awareness campaign to look truly ridiculous since Butters’ bully wasn’t actually a peer. Overall, the episode was a terrific satire of the oppressiveness of viral campaigns and the Weinsteins very public fight with the MPAA to ensure that the documentary Bully didn’t receive an R-rating. Message campaigns dealing with Important Issues like bullying and African warlords generally start with the best of intentions, but South Park was right to point out that sometimes even virality can feel a little bit like bullying.
Kyle got to be the voice of reason in “Butterballs” and asks Stan the obvious question: “If this video needs to be seen by everyone, why don’t you put it on the Internet for free?” Stan didn’t have an answer, and neither do the Weinsteins, because that’s not really the point. Bully is just a movie after all, and the Weinsteins are just trying to make money. Waging a fight on behalf of the cause of bullying awareness was brilliant. Who could argue against something so sincere? But somewhere between the ratings and the marketing and the wristbands and the press conferences, these campaigns too often seem to forget the individuals that they were trying to help in the first place.
Lindsey Bahr is a writer living in Chicago.