‘South Park’ tackles mental illness, burgers in controversial opener

South Park tackles mental illness, burgers in controversial opener

Laura Drinan


Stan eats one of Cartman’s burgers.

After the mid-season finale of South Park season 15 in June, Trey Parker and Matt Stone renewed their contract to go until 2013, making space on the network for two more years of the beloved show. To celebrate their contract, Parker and Stone created a new controversial episode, “Ass Burgers”, a parody of Aspergers. When Comedy Central launched the episode on October 5, 2011, die hard fans applauded their irreverent comedy, while less frequent and outraged viewers ask the question, “Can they do this?”

Episode eight of season 15 focuses on the school’s new vaccination program, which gives HPV shots to the girls of South Park Elementary; the boys debate whether the school has the right to make the children get the shots, as they have recently discovered some vaccinations may cause diseases and disorders like Asperger’s Syndrome. Cartman finds the name strikingly hilarious. Meanwhile, a newly cynical Stan is diagnosed with Asperger’s, because, according to his guidance councilor, “nobody likes a Debbie Downer mmkay?”

Stan gets loads of attention due to his assumed condition, and, naturally, Cartman gets jealous. So Cartman feigns ill, stuffs burgers in his underwear (“ass burgers”) and, though he fails at sympathy, becomes a highly successful burger entrepeneur. Stan is taken to an Asperger’s research facility– actually the Matrix-style Secret Society of Cynics. Long story short, Cartman fails, Stan realizes that the Cynics are all drunken idiots and returns to his family and friends with new-found happiness. Ironically, Stan wakes up the next morning feeling the same as ever: moody, dreary, and tired. Seems like nothing has changed except the viewers’ turned off appetite.

Although “Ass Burgers” may offend many viewers and even non-viewers, the level of objectionable material is nothing more than any other episode of South Park. To say that the controversy over the episode is overblown would be acceptable. The episode does not make fun of the Asperger’s Syndrome itself, it just parodies the name. Of course it’s not the nicest way to get a laugh out of the audience, but every South Park viewer knows not to take the show seriously. “Ass Burgers” is no less distasteful than season 11’s “Le Petit Tourette”– when Cartman fakes Tourettes Syndrome– or every single episode in which Cartman makes fun of Kyle’s religion.

Shows like “Family Guy” and “Boondocks” imitate South Park’s comedy, but do not receive nearly as much criticism. Naturally, after fifteen seasons, Parker and Stone have offended a large group of people. It is understandable that people find South Park degrading, but they should realize that it’s raunchy comedy and follow the common suggestion, “Don’t like? Don’t watch”. It’s an MA rated cartoon on an adult comedy network. Stone and Parker can’t make everything acceptable to every single person. That’s the reason why people continue to watch it: for its discourteous, yet amusing comedy. As South Park’s very own Officer Barbrady said when Chef was aggravated by a racist conversation: “Well, Chef, it’s freedom of speech. We don’t like it, but we can’t arrest them for talking.”