Dana Schwartz tweet criticizing South Park

It’s “Impossible To Overstate The Cultural Damage Done By South Park,” Tweets Writer

A Twitter thread by journalist and author Dana Schwartz has set off something of a firestorm after she accused the hit TV show South Park of causing significant “cultural damage” due to what she feels is its underlying message. This is far from the first time South Park has faced criticism for potentially spreading a damaging message to a huge fanbase, but for whatever reason, Schwartz’s thread took off and now everybody is talking about it.

“Smugness is not the same as intelligence; provocation isn’t the same as bravery,” she continued. “The lesser of two evils aren’t the same.”

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s difficult to deny that South Park has had a significant impact on U.S. culture. Its popularity has resulted in it being frequently referenced and quoted by everyday people as well as other media, and, as Schwartz found out, criticizing the show can result in serious backlash from fans.

If you can wade through the trolls, however, you can uncover a nuanced and perhaps important conversation. Schwartz herself acknowledges that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone apologized for their “ManBearPig” episode from 2006, which mocked Al Gore’s warnings about climate change.

She also recognizes that at least some of the blame for potential negative cultural shifts lay at the feet of the fans who may have taken some of its jokes too seriously.

“To be clear, I don’t blame the show itself as much as I do the generation of boys who internalized it into their personalities,” she explains. “Which maybe isn’t the show’s fault!”

It’s an age-old question—do the creators of popular fiction hold responsibility for how people interpret and react to their creation? If some fans missed the point of the Cartman character and used him as an excuse for their antisemitism, for example, is the show and by extension Parker and Stone to blame for that?

Schwartz argues that the show’s overall message may be the most damaging of all.

“My point was that South Park seemed to teach that it was always cooler to be reactionary and contrarian, and anyone who criticizes anything is ‘offended’ and that’s the *real* problem,” she says, including screenshots of angry emails she’s received in response to her initial tweet.

She ends by explaining that South Park shouldn’t be let off the hook for making fun of “everyone” and that the message of “both sides are equally terrible so the only correct thing to do is nothing, while mocking it all from your position of intellectual superiority” is ultimately harmful.

Schwartz’s words do seem to be supported by past interviews with Parker and Stone, who have expressed disdain for “both sides” of the U.S. political spectrum, describing themselves as “middle-ground guys.”

“We find just as many things to rip on on the left as we do on the right,” said Parker in one interview. “People on the far left and the far right are the exact same person to us.”

To be fair, South Park has arguably been harder on the far right in recent seasons than the left, which may have been missed by those who stopped watching years ago.

If you dig through all the standard “you’re triggered” and “you don’t understand satire” comments and South Park gifs, you can find something resembling a nuanced discussion of the issue.

If people could get past their defensiveness for a minute, we might be able to have a real conversation about how media impacts culture and the way people view the world and how much responsibility we have for what we create and consume. But that would be harder and might not get as many likes as posting a gif or making a predictable joke using that song about a certain individual being a b—tch.

Can we at least agree that sending a woman mass amounts of hate mail for not liking your favorite cartoon is something that Cartman would do?