Heading into the 19th season premiere, South Park offered only the cryptic tease that the show would address Caitlyn Jenner and a clip hinting that Tom Brady and Deflategate would also be worked into the episode.
So now that “Stunning and Brave” has aired, is it a sign that South Park is stuck in its dirty, politically incorrect ways, or that the show, just like the town of South Park itself, is willing to be a little more progressive? The answer seems to be both.
“Stunning and Brave” is only about Jenner in that she serves as the catalyst for a schism in South Park. The boys’ school has some new leadership in the form of PC Principal, who is sick and tired of the town’s backward ways. Kids in school still use the R-word, and used to force their now-deceased black chef to sing soulful songs. The only non-white kid of note in the place is Token, and to PC Principal, the name says it all.
So he starts instituting strict detention policies to whip a school stuck in a “time warp” into shape. But the bro-iest principal to ever run a school has one particular target in mind: Kyle. You see, Kyle told a fourth-grade girl that, pardon my language, Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero.
This statement naturally sends the new principal into a fit of anger, which crystallizes the initial point South Park seems to be trying to make. He’s angry, and it may be for good reason, but PC Principal doesn’t know why Kyle said this. He only assumes it must have to do with Jenner having transitioned, and because of Jenner’s bravery, not a single bad word can be said about her life.
“Stunning and Brave” isn’t necessarily attacking the general idea of political correctness as a means of giving every human being the respect they deserve, and in fact takes a few moments to admit that South Park’s characters could stand to have more open minds. The episode is more critical of the toxic behavior that results when dialogue is cut off. And what better group to prove this idea than the most politically conscious frat bros ever.
Yes, the PC movement in South Park stems from the arrival of college bro after Oakley-wearing college bro, and it’s an absolute nightmare for the kids. Kyle hates what it’s doing to the town, Cartman is acting like a neutered pet because he can’t use 95 percent of the words in his normal vocabulary, and Stan has to deal with Randy being roped into the brotherhood of PC. (Seriously, while the story may focus on the schism in Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman’s friend group, Randy steals the show once he’s sucked into the bro version of political correctness.)
The boys try to fight back, rallying Cartman by reminding him of his true hero, Tom Brady. And so Deflategate enters the mix, as Cartman compares PC Principal to the NFL commissioner, and declares it’s time to deny and subvert, just like his hero would do. Cartman corners PC Principal in the faculty bathroom, attempting to blackmail him (by dipping Butters’ underwear in PC’s urine, the only obvious route to take). But while PC may act like he wants to make the world a better place, in his heart he’s still a jerk, so he pummels Cartman into submission, landing the kid in the hospital while managing to keep his job.
While there, Cartman has an epiphany: PC Principal can’t be beat. It’s time for the boys to grow up. “Stunning and Brave” does an admirable job of, while not overstating the fact, at least admitting that Kyle, Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and the rest of their classmates have done some pretty despicable and horrible things. Would it really be so bad for them to experience… character growth?
Cartman leaps to action, after an injury-induced fever dream in which he plays Brady, commissioner Roger Goodell, and coach Bill Belichick. Butters warns him that Kyle has been harassed and hurt by the PC bro-grade — which includes a hilariously, continually drunk, then hungover, then drunk again Randy — for his Jenner statement. Of course, Kyle reveals it has nothing to do with Jenner coming out as trans. It was that simply Kyle didn’t like her previous behavior, and becoming Caitlyn, in his eyes, doesn’t completely absolve her.
But Kyle has to give into the bullying when PC warfare breaks out between Cartman, who has unleashed crowds of pregnant Mexican women and Syrian refugees on the PC frat house. Kyle puts an end to the fighting by declaring he does in fact believe Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. The town settles down, but the army of PC bros is, for the moment, here to stay. Kyle had to say something he didn’t believe, because the dominating, vocal group in town wouldn’t even give him the opportunity to explain himself.
Of course South Park has had 19 seasons, a few video games, and an Oscar-nominated movie to explain itself. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never been wary of stating their point of view, and if “Stunning and Brave” is any indication, it looks like they’re going to address the very current issue of PC culture, both online and in the real world, over multiple episodes. Even if it was unintentional, last season followed a through-line and this year looks to continue that trend.
It’s a discussion worth having. The show has its own point of view, but it seems willing to admit it can’t get out of the argument without at least some of the blame. Has society, and even the show itself, outgrown some of the more crass and base stereotyping and language that has been a staple for almost two decades?
Perhaps, but even if South Park is willing to admit that, it still points the finger at the faults of everyone else on both sides of the PC argument. And, if “Stunning and Brave” is any indication, the show will continue to do so while remaining hilarious. From Cartman’s Tom Brady obsession to Randy’s drunken explanations of why the bros are good people, the South Park season premiere is a reminder of just how funny the show can be while making its salient points.
And most importantly of all, it’s going to deliver its message while leaving plenty of time for Randy to do the Whip/Nae Nae.
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