advertisement
advertisement

The audacity of ‘South Park’ critiquing China—and Viacom backing up its hit show’s creators

Amid a trade war and heightened tensions about human rights violations, the provocateurs behind the long-running animated satire spare no one in taking on China.

The audacity of ‘South Park’ critiquing China—and Viacom backing up its hit show’s creators
[Photo: courtesy of Comedy Central]

It has been a minute since South Park has been in the news for making anyone this mad.

advertisement
advertisement

Its latest episode, “Band in China,” actually got South Park banned in China. In case you’re wondering, “Band in China” lampoons Hollywood for shaping its content in ways that avoid offending Chinese government censors. The episode features multiple storylines criticizing China. One involves Randy getting caught trying to sell weed there and being sent to a work camp similar to the ones the Chinese government has allegedly been using to hold Chinese Muslims for political indoctrination. While at the camp, Randy runs into an imprisoned Winnie the Pooh, another casualty of China’s oft-oppressive response to situations like this.

For context, there were comparisons made between Xi Jinping, China’s president, to Winnie the Pooh floating around the internet a couple of years ago—because, well, it’s the internet. The memes were reputedly not well received by President Xi, and Winnie the Pooh is no longer a welcome figure in China. But he has become a symbol of communist resistance.

The second plot in the South Park episode finds Stan, Jimmy, Kenny, and Butters in a metal band. The band gets so popular that it attracts the attention of a manager who wants to make a film about them. However, the script keeps changing so the film can be safely distributed in China. Stan even quips that he knows how Hollywood writers feel as a Chinese guard keeps close watch of him while he writes the script. Mickey Mouse also shows up, along with some other Disney characters to play ball with Chinese authorities.

advertisement

Said government censors responded by deleting everything related to South Park, including online message boards, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

It’s not surprising that the Chinese government would be this heavy-handed in censorship, given its track record, and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone most likely knew what they were getting into—look at that episode title!

The one party in this drama whose actions can be considered unexpected would be ViacomCBS, the parent company of Comedy Central, which airs South Park. For starters, the company also cares about the Chinese market. To name two examples: Mission Impossible, Viacom’s biggest franchise (via Paramount Pictures, Viacom’s film studio), depends on China for its massive international box-office success. Last January, Viacom was negotiating a deal to sell off its Chinese TV channels to a local entity. To think that just three years ago Viacom was this close to selling Paramount to a Chinese company.

In addition, Hollywood’s entertainment giants tend to deal with moral conundrums the way that a lot of large global conglomerates do: Public anguish, followed by a hope that the controversy fades quickly and they can get back to business. Witness the number of companies and producers saying that they’d consider moving film production out of Georgia in the wake of its anti-abortion legislation—without anyone actually leaving. Or the collective amnesia that befell most of the entertainment industry when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince reputedly orchestrated the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, given that they’d feted the crown prince just months earlier when he visited Los Angeles. Or Apple CEO Tim Cook’s laudable stands in the United States for privacy, gay rights, and environmental protection in the United States while the company continues to operate in countries such as China and Brazil with nary a mention of those issues.

South Park has been offensive since it debuted in 1997, but with China’s film market set to eclipse the United States’s box office, there’s obviously a lot of money at stake, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

advertisement

Thus far, Stone and Parker are doing the opposite of apologizing:

Whether this proves daring or foolish remains to be seen. When reached for comment, a Comedy Central spokesperson referred us to Parker and Stone’s comments on Twitter and Instagram.

advertisement
advertisement