Bozell: Who Can Compare South Park to Socrates?

Brent Bozell's culture column is early this week, since the MRC HQ is buzzing and bustling toward our big 20th anniversary gala on Thursday night.  If you want to see it live, we will have a webcast. Brent's column mocks a new compilation of essays titled "South Park and Philosophy," edited by Robert Arp, a professor at Southwest Minnesota State University. You know the drill: take a crude and simplistic pop-culture phenomenon and try to make it sound philosophically deep. It's like standing in a mud puddle and pretending it's the Pacific Ocean. Here's a sample:

How do professors like this stoop to the bizarre idea that children can be enlightened by a show that labors to fit 160 uses of the S-bomb into a half-hour? A show that delights in having Jesus Christ defecate on President Bush with his “yummy, yummy crap”? How can you elevate that into the idea that watching “South Park” should really be seen as a correspondence course, like Newt Gingrich’s “Renewing American Civilization” series?

[Professor William] Young insists we’re supposed to be wiser than what’s obvious, what’s staring at us and screaming at us from the TV set. We’re supposed to be swept along by the siren song of Sigmund Freud, who argued that the use of vulgarity is merely verbalizing the drives and desires that we often repress, and that laughter at crude jokes allows us to release our harmful inhibitions. “This is what makes the show’s crudeness so essential,” Young argues. It creates a “space” for discussion which keeps us from transforming our repression into violence or social exclusion. “South Park” is, in his estimation, as one of his headings declares, the “Talking Cure for Our Culture.” It’s much more like a communicable disease.

Young then attempts to argue that “Terrance and Philip,” an infantile cartoon within the infantile cartoon, is really one of the better offerings in television: “Is Terrance and Philip really more vapid, crude, and pointless than ‘Jerry Springer’ or ‘Wife Swap’? Is it more mindless than Fox News, ‘The 700 Club,’ or ‘Law and Order’? The answer is no.” He then claims what offends South Park critics is “not that the show is vulgar and pointless, but that it highlights the mindlessness that is television in general.”

This is where Young really makes a joke out of himself. Everything on television is mindless in general, and he can make no fine distinctions? To be charitable, comparing “Law and Order” to “South Park” is roughly equivalent to comparing Einstein to your garden-variety grade-school class clown. Or your favorite professor to this walking insult to academe.

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