'South Park' Will Talk Caitlyn Jenner, Which Could Be An Opportunity For The Series To Educate Instead Of Shock
When it comes to pushing the envelope, Comedy Central's South Park has arguably been at the helm of over-the-top irreverence. The long-running animated series has been conspicuous in its mission to shock since its debut and it never shies from tackling news stories in the most controversial ways possible. The series will return for its 19th season this Wednesday, and a new teaser posted to YouTube for the highly anticipated premiere indicates that South Park will make Caitlyn Jenner a focal point of the episode. "The boys express their upmost respect for Caitlyn Jenner in this Wednesday's all new episode 'Stunning and Brave,'" the preview's description reads.
While the teaser itself offers little in the way of plot spoilers, the episode title seems indicative of comments made by many people and media outlets about Jenner in recent months, particularly those made by her ex-wife Kris. Following Caitlyn's acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Kris said, "I think it was amazing and very brave. I think she looked beautiful."
According to a release from Comedy Central, the episode will also revolve around Cartman, Eric, Kyle, Kenny, and Stan's past misgivings, and it's unclear how that connects to Jenner.
As many outlandishly offensive turns South Park has taken during its long run, the series has also made a point of utilizing its audacious platform to upend stereotypes and enlighten its audience on cultural issues. I sincerely hope that the episode won't be a tongue-in-cheek installment that could potentially cross the line by using a sensitive issue as its focal point, but rather simply a humorous look at a prominent subject in today's pop culture universe.
It'd be a shame if South Park simply made fun of Jenner being trans. By publicly announcing her identity as a transgender woman, Jenner has helped catalyze a national conversation on an issue that has rendered far too many into silence and suffering. According to the 2014 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, "A whopping 41 [percent] of transgenders and gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average, according to a sweeping survey released three years ago."
The seriousness of this issue may make you wonder how Jenner's place in a South Park storyline could be anything but nefarious. Yet while comedy's toggle between contributing to social progression and garnering laughs can be tricky business, when it works, it really works. Former Daily Show host, Jon Stewart demonstrated this by using his platform as a comedian to both applaud Jenner's bravery and shed a spotlight on how certain facets of the media — even when well-meaning — still have a lot of growing pains when it comes to discussing women.
Stewart deftly honed in on the media's zeal in discussing Jenner's looks in favor of a greater discussion on the cultural milestone that was marked for the transgender community. "Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your business acumen. But now you are a woman," he quipped. "And your looks are really the only thing we care about."
As was characteristic of Stewart during his tenure on The Daily Show, comedy was used as a way to induce laughs, while also enlightening audiences about issues that continue to permeate the cultural landscape. I sincerely hope that South Park chooses the same route in the Season 19 premiere.