Thursday, September 15, 2016

Forecasted: Salt Showers, with Scattered Political Relevance

When Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem at... whatever event he was at, I had a very strong response of not caring one way or another. I was so driven not to care that I found myself leaving strident comments of "WHO CARES?" on posts both condemning his supposed disrespect and praising his alleged bravery.

As you'll notice, I don't even know the details of where he was or what was going on. Was it the Olympics? A basketball game? A Kanye West show? I'm not even interested enough to ask you to tell me below in the comments.

I think one reason it didn't bother me is that I never stood for the pledge of allegiance in high school. After all, I'd spent a great deal of my life outside the US, and didn't feel (and still don't) particularly nationalistic. I have very little memory of my time spent growing up in the States, and if pressed, I can't say I identify as American, even though I'm legally a citizen by birth. I'm glad Twitter didn't exist back then, as I'm sure there'd have been a two-sided flame war regarding my early morning laziness. Besides, I'm a strong believer in free expression, and that includes the freedom not to express, which was what Kaepernick was doing by not standing.

South Park is back, and after last year's triple threat of social justice, native advertising, and PC hypocrisy, I'm back on board. This episode, Member Berries, opens with a scene very relevant to my feelings on sportsball-man's refusal to stand: A girls' volleyball match is opening to a packed house in the South Park school gymnasium, with the crowd intensely interested not in the game but in whether the one black girl on the team will sit or stand during the anthem, and immediately losing interest and leaving a total of four people in the stands once the game starts. This is mirrored later on in the episode as a proper football game takes place with the unveiling of JJ Abrams' "rebooted' national anthem, with announcers saying you'd have to be an absolute asshole not to stand during it. The camera, not coincidentally, focuses on a rather familiar-looking football player while they're saying this. In the end, Abrams' "rebooted" anthem renders the sitting or standing debate completely irrelevant, to the frustration of everyone present and to a great deal of those watching.

A subplot, particularly entertaining to anyone that had been following Gamergate or any of the culture wars of the last few years, revolves around an internet troll named "skankhunt42" harassing female students of the school. Everyone seems convinced the troll is Cartman, who is playing hard to a stereotype of virtue-signalling, complete with "Token's Life Matters" shirt and giving a speech about how funny girls are, even managing to lambaste Amy Schumer and Paul Feig in the process. Cartman goes on to fake a discriminatory assault on himself, in the hopes of bringing attention to himself and stoking hostility between the boys and girls of South Park Elementary. In short, Cartman is playing the perfect Social Justice Warrior.

Gaze upon the face of a concerned activist
A couple of storylines that may or may not go anywhere have Congress begging JJ Abrams to reboot the National Anthem (while this is paid off slightly in the episode, it's unclear whether or not it will be continued on later on), and the Trump vs Clinton references showing up again, with Hillary herself as "Turd Sandwich" and Garrison (with his running mate Caitlyn Jenner) as Giant Douche. Garrison's face has become more orange for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Interestingly enough, the political storyline does a nice job of touching on what must be Trump's internal struggle as he considers the outlandish promises that he's made while being faced with the possibility of winning the election and having to follow through with them, albeit with South Park's trademark absurdist humour.

The episode ends with a suspenseful reveal regarding the internet troll, and the lesson (one that I don't necessarily agree with) that "Sometimes in life, you just have to suck a turd."

This wasn't as strong a start as last year's premiere, but I'm interested to see where it goes. There's been a lot of fodder from all directions for them to work with over the last year, perhaps even too much, and it's yet to be seen whether they can keep a focused story throughout the season like they did last year.

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