Last week, South Park atoned for its past dismissal of global warming by urging viewers to take the matter seriously where the show once did not. And how better to demonstrate its commitment to taking this all super cereal you guys than with a two-part episode culminating in the death of spirituality on Earth?
After leaving off last week with the troubling image of South Park’s assembled oldsters reflecting on how they’ve effectively damned the Earth to burn, Trey Parker and Matt Stone return to lay another shellacking on the Greatest Generation, though they’re hardly the only targets. “Nobody Got Cereal?” advances the in-your-face allegory past resentment toward the world’s Hummer drivers and on to neutered public debate as well as the grim spectacle of Trumpian climate accords negotiation. The show spent most of last week berating itself for not listening when Al Gore first sounded the call to action, and now it proves that remorse with follow-through in the most purposeful, clear-eyed episode of this season.
ManBearPig remains at large, tearing a bloody swath through the town and mauling patrons of the local Jared Jeweler’s outlet. But who’s to say what’s causing the destruction, really? In a public symposium titled “When Should I Start to Worry?” and a public-access debate program with the slightly more urgent title “Should We Start to Worry?,” wafflers ponder the concept of considering the possibility of doing something at some indeterminate point in the future, maybe. One of this episode’s most salient points concerns the temptation of moderatism; both the panelists and the hoopleheads in the audience affect the appearance of intelligence by conceding that both camps have their pros and cons. (The pitiful smattering of claps after each soundbite drives home the self-congratulatory “objectivity” of both-sides-ism.) While it’s true that most of life falls somewhere between two extremes, the rising temperature of our planet does not. The immediacy and importance of saving ourselves on a global scale sound pretty mild when articulated by someone having mistaken neutrality for wisdom.
No matter how this show may revel in its own stupidity — just wait until the part where Stan discusses the pull-out method and prostate stimulation with his grandfather — it reserves its hottest ire for anti-intellectualism, the main force stagnating pushback against climate change. Everyone with a science degree and a functioning cerebellum shouted from the rooftops that we’ve been marching toward oblivion and need to change course, but America’s key decision-makers have more in common with the ginger-headed police chief who incredulously asks his lieutenant, “Why are you trying to figure out what’s going on with scientists?” The denizens of South Park likewise put a lid on the eggheads bugging them with prophecies of end times.
And so of course the continued environmental welfare of the planet must fall to Al Gore and his sidekick/mentor, the ghost of Al Gore. Parker and Stone create a welcome sense of momentousness, setting these landmark episodes apart from the rest of the series by staging the climate-change debate as a clash of the titans. Even green-minded superhero Al Gore cannot hope to stop ManBearPig’s rampage, so they turn to Satan, the only being with the power to stop the carnage. (And who, as this episode deftly notes, kind of owes us one. We’ve been doing things his way up here for years now.) Their “final half-hour of an MCU tentpole” showdown stands head and shoulders above the rest of the season; the sight of ManBearPig ripping off Satan’s horn and stabbing him with it won’t be outdone for sheer visceral impact, and the sight of Satan ascending to heaven as an angel won’t be outdone for beautiful, celestial irony.
If Satan himself can’t halt the progress of ManBearPig, then who can? The episode’s final minutes pull a 180-degree turn from the epic to the banal, as the street-incinerating fight gives way to polite closed-door arbitration. Parker and Stone’s suggestion that cooperation can still save the day could be hopeful, but their actual parting sentiment is that we’re screwed and have nobody to blame but ourselves, because we’d still rather our children perish under a searing sun than give up soy sauce or our beloved cowboy video games. If anything, pinning the future of the planet on humanity’s ability to work together was a guarantee that we’d blow it.
Real things will always be more frightening than abstract ones, and the catastrophic wildfires currently raging through California have changed a lot of tunes in those heretofore unfazed by climate reports. The horrors that we doubted (or figured would be handled by the future Jetsons society created by the next generation) no longer wait on the horizon. They’re here, and it’s too late to apologize.
Assorted Thoughts and Questions:
• I did not know that what this episode mentions as the “pepper’s ghost technique,” a bit of smoke-and-mirrors trickery by which a ghostly apparition can be bounced onto a window, actually had a cordial name. Research indicates that the bit with the flame-head from Home Alone was achieved this way to skimp on an otherwise prohibitively expensive CGI budget.
• The Red Dead Redemption 2 jokes have only grown more “inside” in their second week, with chatter about sped-up travel time and save points. Since running last episode’s coverage, I’ve tried to learn a bit more about the game from my friends currently trapped in its psychological vise-grip, and I remain perplexed. It appears that people play this game not for the same reason I’ve played video games in the past (because I need something fun to do with my hands while drinking beers) but rather for the same reason that I’ve clung to gainful employment (because my life needs a sense of direction and purpose). I urge you to look inward and reflect, Red Dead Redemption 2 addicts!