Earlier today I was talking to some school administrators about the ‘Kick a Ginger” day last week that was supposedly inspired by a South Park episode. We talked about how the public was engaging in that timeless debate as to whether the violent act was driven by the entertainment industry or whether the entertainers were merely representing the violence already present in society. Is South Park the chicken or the egg when non-cartoon people begin kicking gingers?
When it comes to a question of life imitating art or art imitating life, it seems to me that the South Park folks are in no way the catalyst for some new behaviors among youth. I’d say to the contrary they rely upon begin rather precise if ridiculously exaggerated in their representations of the culture they are depicting. That’s what makes the show funny to those who find it funny.
Kick a ginger sounds absurd, but how about replacing that notion – the idea of harassing red heads – with kick a girl? Or kick a …(you pick the target group).
These types of loosely organized harassment hit the radar of school faculty on a pretty regular basis. Why just today after talking about this topic, I saw a news report on a middle school in Naples, Florida where a group of students were caught participating in ‘Kick a Jew’ day.
Looks to me like those cutting edge South Park writers are as usual much more like The Onion, Stephen Colbert, or any other culture satirist.
In fact in middle school culture young boys engaging low-level violence and dominance in such a pervasive manner that kick a ginger day must have simply sounded just as fun as any other kick a __(pick a group)__ day.
I think this ought to be saying more about our entire culture than about children’s vulnerability to the ideas of a single piece of media.
And as to whether you find this kind of cultural satire funny, illuminating, clever, and thereby culturally enlightening – or – cheap, reproductive, and readily and even smugly engaging in the social violence it claims to highlight with that knowing wink of absurdity… well I’d say like minds can differ on that point.
Sure, I will take the latter view until targeted people are proven safe. As a regular comedy consumer I’d suggest that what would be clever to me is pointing the satirical lense at the dominant group and making fun of them instead.
South Park could have satirically presented Kick the football captain day for example which could have highlighted the same practice in a more absurd manner while also pointing to the power inherent in such social violence. Stephen Colbert could be doing campy impersonations of straight people rather than reproducing a stereotypical queer man in his riffs on homophobia.
And I’ll acknowledge that others who find this violence pervasive can take the former view and point to how an otherwise taken for granted practice (in this case the Kick a kid days) has been brought to the attention of the public. That through humor there has been a small fracture made in the invisibility of this kind of activity.
We can agree and disagree. I love thoughtful comedy and I love to laugh too. And I am happy to have someone producing humor that shares my sensibility about society – so I will keep watching and wince when these comedians push the easy buttons of mockery and stereotyping even as they attempt to rise above it at the same time.
And I will wonder if a satire that underwriter an actual event in which a group of children is targeted and attacked can still be considered successful if much of society only gets it on the literal level.