WARNING: The following contains spoilers for South Park Season 25, Episode 2 “The Big Fix,” now available on Comedy Central.
South Park is one of the pioneers in standing up against censorship. The show regularly pushes the boundaries, whether it’s with profanity or having a talking piece of poo as a recurring character. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have continued to make unfiltered art and usually respond to any kind of controversy in an equally glib way — like their blunt response to China banning the series.
That made it no surprise when Season 25 addressed the recent banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus in certain schools — the latest incident in a history of comics censorship — as well as the burning of books that white supremacists think are evil. The idea that these books further any kind of an agenda, particularly regarding critical race theory, was lampooned by the character of Stan Marsh during South Park‘s latest episode.
In “The Big Fix,” Stan was stunned to find out Token Black’s real name was Tolkien — he was named after J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of the Lord of the Rings franchise, which includes an upcoming Amazon series. After finding out that everyone else had known the correct name all along, an embarrassed Stan decided to re-educate himself, believing that had he read more Lord of the Rings, he wouldn’t have reduced his buddy to a word with racist connotations and stereotypes.
Stan wore hipster glasses while he rode the stories in a Black voice in an attempt to connect with and understand the Black experience. It was delusional and ridiculous because all Stan qreally had to do was spend time with Tolkien. But by showing his misguided efforts, South Park spoke to many institutions around the world where people often alienate “the other” and only realize later that they were part of latent bias and unwitting discrimination.
Stan eventually arranged lectures against prejudice to educate his peers on why more Tolkien was needed on their class syllabus because he thought it’s the only way they’d know about the history of non-white people, even if it’s fictional. He lobbied against the banning and burning of books — but he asked Tolkien to recuse himself from the sessions and spoke down to him condescendingly, adding a negative twist to his earnest efforts.
Stan’s subplot in “The Big Fix” demonstrated that sometimes social activism and causes are appropriated by people who aren’t genuine about the movement; instead, they want to assuage their own guilt. Stan wanted to sate his own conscience by appropriating the Lord of the Rings books and no one at school was receptive to him. His dad Randy also appropriated Black culture in the business world by using Tolkien’s dad Steve on billboards to claim that there was diversity at Tegridy Farms.
But most of Stan’s classmates took the time to get to know Tolkien — not depending on books, a curriculum or the Internet to convince them to shape a more connected, cosmopolitan world. They sought out knowledge of other cultures on their own and didn’t let Stan or anyone else tell them what to do. After South Park took aim at pandemic-related bureaucracy earlier in Season 25, the show equally skewered the idea of bureaucratic censorship.
South Park Season 25 airs every Wednesday at 8 PM ET/PT on Comedy Central.
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