South Park Season 25 took a comedic yet profound picture of Maus’ shocking ban and also how people view these books on either side.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for South Park Season 25, Episode 2 “The Big Fix,” available now on Comedy Central.
South Park is one of the pioneers in the fight against censorship. The show regularly pushes the envelope, whether with profanity or having a piece of talking poop as a recurring character. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have continued to make unfiltered art, and generally respond to any kind of controversy just as flippantly — like their heavy-handed response to China’s ban on the series.
It came as no surprise when Season 25 touched on Art Spiegelman’s recent ban. Maus in some schools – the latest incident in the history of comic book censorship – as well as the burning of books that white supremacists consider bad. The idea that these books advance any kind of agenda, particularly with regard to critical race theory, was ridiculed by the character of Stan Marsh during South Parkthe last episode.
In “The Big Fix”, Stan was stunned to discover that Token Black’s real name was Tolkien – he was named after JRR Tolkien, the creator of the the Lord of the Rings franchise, which includes an upcoming Amazon series. After discovering that everyone knew the correct name all along, an embarrassed Stan decided to re-educate himself, believing that if he had read more the Lord of the Ringshe would not have reduced his buddy to a word with racist and stereotypical connotations.
Stan wore hipster glasses as he told the stories in a black voice in an effort to connect and understand the black experience. It was crazy and ridiculous because all Stan had to do was hang out with Tolkien. But showing his misguided efforts, South Park spoke to many institutions around the world where people often alienate “the other” and only later realize they were part of latent bias and unintended discrimination.
Stan eventually held anti-bias lectures to educate his peers on why more Tolkien was needed in their curriculum, as he believed that was the only way to learn about non-white history, even if it was fictional. He lobbied against the ban and the burning of the books – but he asked Tolkien to recuse himself from the sessions and spoke condescendingly to him, adding a negative spin to his earnest efforts.
Stan’s subplot in “The Big Fix” demonstrated that sometimes social activism and causes are appropriated by people who aren’t authentic about the movement; instead, they want to assuage their own guilt. Stan wanted to satisfy his own conscience by appropriating the the Lord of the Rings books and no one at school was receptive to him. His father Randy also appropriated black culture in the business world by using Tolkien’s father, Steve, on billboards to claim there was diversity at Tegridy Farms.
But most of Stan’s classmates took the time to get to know Tolkien – without relying on books, a curriculum, or the internet to convince them to shape a more connected, cosmopolitan world. They sought knowledge of other cultures on their own and didn’t let Stan or anyone else tell them what to do. After South Park took aim at pandemic-related bureaucracy earlier in season 25, the show also distorted the idea of bureaucratic censorship.
South Park Season 25 airs every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.
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