‘South Park’ and the Validity of Satire (Stewart Clark)

In Emily Nussbaum’s ‘How Jokes Won the Election’, she discusses the satire of the politically charged cartoon series South Park (Parker and Stone, 1997-Present) and its representation of Donald Trump. She argues that South Park’s representation of the current president presents the case of “how quickly a liberating joke could corkscrew into a weapon.” [1] South Park uses satire as “a superior way to tell the truth,” and the show has divided opinion on its use of satire. [2]

For example, in the show’s movie adaption, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999), the series depicts the then president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein as Satan’s sex slave in Hell. This was an early example of the show targeting a controversial figure with satirical humour and proving that no one is safe from ridicule, even the likes of a mass dictatorial power. The satire of Saddam Hussein throughout South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is poignant as it pokes holes at the seriousness of an evil leader and and undermines Hussein’s regime.

Despite this, South Park has proved on numerous occasions that satire only goes so far and offending large minorities of oppressed people is certainly not funny and actually damaging. For example, the two part episodes of ‘200’ and ‘201’, feature a depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The episode was shortly censored visually and audibly by Comedy Central and provoked response from radicalised Islamic groups. The satire of the episode is not witty as it is trying to offend rather than make a statement about the Islamic religion.

South Park’s satire divides opinion and provides an angle on the effectiveness of satire. While it can be poignant in undermining a political regime, it can also be detrimental in offending minorities of people. South Park shows the divisive nature of satirical humour and that some issues or people are actually too offensive to use in comedy.


[1] Emily Nussbaum, “How Jokes Won the Election” The New Yorker (23/1/2017).

[2] Ibid.


  1. It’s interesting how although South Park’s portrayal of Saddam Hussein serves to simply make fun of him, but also humanizes him. The portrayal of this horrible dictator as Satan’s gay lover makes him seem more like simply a man, and not a larger than life figure.

  2. Your use of ‘South Park’ as an example of how satire can be a double edged sword is very effective. Nussbaum’s writing discusses ‘South Park’ but your reference to the film adaptation of the television series takes her ideas further and is a strong extension of her writing. It is thought-provoking that satire can be so devisive, especially through the form of a cartoon.

  3. I have to disagree with you on your last example regarding South Park’s attack on Islam. The mantra of Parker and Stone is, as you say, no one is safe from ridicule and more prominently that nothing is sacred. I believe the show is illustrating this mantra here, and demonstrating a meta-commentary that most likely predicting the censorship of the episode. It asks the viewer to question what it means for something to be sacred, unapproachable or, in this case, un-drawable. If an image CAN be created of the prophet Mohammed, then what power does the religious law forbidding it really hold.

  4. I think the distinction you make here is very important. In a way it reminds me of Mary Douglas’ discussion about the immunity of the joker. How far can political comedy go before it becomes offensive?

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