When Aaron McGruder's comic strip, The Boondocks, became an animated series, it changed television forever.

The show debuted in November of 2005 and was instantly a hit as part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim line-up. Black and white audiences watched every Sunday to see retiree Robert "Granddad" Freeman (voiced by John Witherspoon) and his grandsons, Huey and Riley (voiced by Regina King), and hear their thoughts on Black topics.

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MUSIC

5 Unsettling Songs For These Unsettling Times

2020 makes us feel weird, so here's some weird music

On the latest episode of The Joe Budden Podcast, co-host Jamil "Mal" Clay attempted to dissect Drake's latest single, "Laugh Now, Cry Later."

"Sh*t is so different now that we not outside," he said of the song. "I just can't feel music a certain way. I know it's a good record, but you can't really feel the record though."

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Opinion

In Defense of "South Park": TV Doesn't Define Culture (People Do)

Can one show ever really be held responsible for a culturally pervasive pattern of thinking?

Comedy Central

She-Hulk writer Dana Schwartz started a massive online conversation (debate? angry dude screamfest?) when she tweeted her take on South Park's negative cultural impact.

"In retrospect, it seems impossible to overstate the cultural damage done by SOUTH PARK, the show that portrayed earnestness as the only sin and taught that mockery is the ultimate inoculation against all criticism," Schwartz tweeted. She went on to polish her argument, recognizing that series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have seemingly reckoned with themselves over issues they felt they misrepresented (notably global warming with Al Gore and ManBearPig), and she clarified: "To be clear, I don't blame the show itself as much as I do the generation of boys who internalized it into their personalities. Which maybe isn't the show's fault!"

Sure enough, Very Angry Men™ showed up to offer slurs and death threats in response to (*gasp*) a woman expressing an opinion they disagree with online. To be crystal clear, the people coming after Schwartz are the worst kind of human trash––the sort of people who delude themselves into believing that they're intelligent and reasonable while simultaneously epitomizing every negative male stereotype in existence.

Of course, Schwartz is hardly the first person to criticize South Park's libertarian-skewed, "both sides are terrible and nothing is sacred" brand of humor. In a semi-viral Reddit post from 2015, one user made a very good argument for their categorization of South Park as a "safe space" for people who don't want their views to ever be challenged: "It's a show that teaches their audience to become lazy and self-satisfied, that praises them for being uncritically accepting of their own biases, and that provides them with an endless buffet of thought-terminating cliches suitable for shutting down all manner of their challenges to their comfort zones."

But as a member of the generation of boys who grew up with the show, and, as Shwartz suggested, maybe even internalized it into my personality to some extent, I do think that there are reasonable arguments to be made in disagreement. After all, I turned out just about as leftist as a Brooklyn-based writer can get, and I still love South Park.

Nuance is a necessity here, and that tends to get lost amidst all the vitriol online. For starters, I agree with Schwartz on her point about the fault lying largely with many of the show's viewers––the men who showed up in her comments and DMs prove that point better than any argument anyone could possibly make.

So with that common ground on the table, my main disagreement with Schwartz is that I don't believe any one show can ever be held responsible for a culturally pervasive pattern of thinking.

It's important to keep in mind that South Park is a satirical comedy. That's not to suggest it's an invalid target for criticism. In fact, the argument that "it's comedy, don't take it so seriously" is one of the most brain-dead, non-thinking arguments that constantly shows up online and, again, paints the people who make it in a worse light than I ever could. But it is to suggest that the job of satire is to hold a critical mirror up to society and that, by its very nature, any position that South Park takes is reflective of the culture surrounding it.

Let's take the 2006 episode "ManBearPig" as an example, considering it's one whereby South Park clearly ended up on the wrong side of history. In that episode, Al Gore visits South Park to warn everyone about ManBearPig, a horrible mythic creature that served as an allegory for global warming. The thrust of the episode involved Al Gore making increasingly dangerous attempts to catch ManBearPig, which never actually shows up. It's still a funny episode, albeit one that aged very poorly.

But even though the episode aged poorly, and even though we now know for a fact that Matt Stone and Trey Parker were wrong about global warming, it's incredibly unlikely that "ManBearPig" actually convinced anyone that global warming wasn't real. Back in 2006, global warming was not as accepted as it is today. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth came out in the same year, and while it majorly shifted public awareness around global warming, doubt was still a lot more prominent. The movie's liberal sentiments and scientific accuracy were criticized in publications like The Boston Globe and even ScienceDaily, which would be inconceivable in the modern day.

People who believed the science surrounding global warming in 2006 were not going to be convinced otherwise by South Park. Similarly, anyone who took South Park's sentiments at face-value was almost certainly not someone who would be doing research for themselves in the first place.

Therein lies the main point here. South Park can't be held responsible for the beliefs of its viewers. Anyone who uses a show like South Park as a form of confirmation and protection for their beliefs is, at best, deeply ignorant, and someone like that is going to be ignorant regardless of whether or not they have a show like South Park to back them up.

ManBearPig Comedy Central

When I was a suburban edgelord sh*thead in the mid 2000s, I agreed with South Park's general outlook on the world much more than I do now. But I wasn't an edgelord sh*thead because of South Park. Plenty of angsty teens going through puberty act like assh*les, and that was a fact long before South Park ever existed. Moreover, my political views were shaped far more by the conservative household I grew up in than they ever could have been by a TV show.

But as people grow up, they mature and hopefully question the "f*ck anyone who cares about anything" ideology that tends to plague angsty high schoolers. Of course, the people who cling to that outlook tend to become adult assh*les, but the ability to make it through adulthood while staying closed off to outside world views is much more closely related to complex, systemic socioeconomic issues (class mobility, the ability to afford a higher education, freedom to travel/leave one's hometown) than it is to what a person watches on TV.

Even as someone who strongly disagrees with a lot of the political views that South Park currently suggests, I still find the show funny. I enjoy the PC Principal character, for instance, and I like being able to laugh at some of the more absurd elements of my own opinions and beliefs. It's important to note, though, that I don't face the same sort of discrimination as someone who is non-white, non-male, or LGBTQ+. I'm capable of admitting that South Park can be genuinely super-problematic on a lot of issues (first and foremost, its frequent transphobia) and that I fully understand the reasons that a lot of people dislike the show and refuse to watch it. Not liking a show is valid, as is calling out the ideologies it supports.

But the truth is that TV shows, even incredibly culturally prescient ones, don't dictate people's views. People are either interested in doing the work or they're not.

CULTURE

He-Man Sings "What's Up" as New Queer Cinema

The classic He-Man meme video stands the test of time as an iconic example of queer-coded art.

Slackcircus

In December of 2005, Brokeback Mountain shifted queer-coded cinema into the mainstream.

Prior to 2005, "New Queer Cinema"––a term coined by film scholar B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound to define the queer-themed independent film movement, which focused on rejecting heteronormativity and concentrated on LGBTQ protagonists––existed on the fringe of the film world. It's worth noting that while the movement primarily refers to the boom in independent LGBTQ films from 1992 onwards, queer cinema existed for many years prior, albeit without a proper name. But regardless of nomenclature, New Queer Cinema was typically designated for niche audiences, relegated to arthouse showings at best.

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CULTURE

"This Article Is Satire, You F*cking Idiots."

I traveled to upstate New York to interview a man who didn't understand my Internet article was satirical.

zillo

"I don't even read the articles," said Mark Chapin*, a 58-year-old electrician, as I sat down with him in his living room. "I just read the headline and say my 'pinion. Ain't nobody can argue with that."

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of subjects in this article.

I initially reached out to Mark in response to a comment he left on Facebook regarding a satirical article that I had written about how silly it is to get upset about some random opinion online. "WRITER IS BIG FIGGOT BABY," wrote Mark, failing to comprehend my brilliantly crafted satire and also hilariously bungling his attempt at a slur. His remark made it abundantly clear that he had not read the article––if he had, he probably wouldn't have immediately gone into the comments to prove my point.

I wanted to enter the headspace of the kind of person who would read a blatantly satirical headline, not bother reading the article, but still leave a nasty comment. Who could possibly be so stupid, I wondered. I decided to find out.

Mark agreed to meet, so I drove the roughly two and a half hours from Brooklyn to his home in upstate New York. His Facebook profile picture––an up-the-nostrils shot full of blurry, gray beard scraggles, fell into that "failure to understand basic camera angles" camp that seems to account for so many older people online. His banner photo featured a run-down truck in an overgrown yard, so I was surprised when I pulled up to a relatively well-kept, albeit quaint, house.

mark chapin house A house that doesn't belong to Mark Chapin

Mark's wife Linda brought us tea as we chatted. "I read the first paragraph," she chimed in. "The writer's a real special snowflake." Mark guffawed at the word "snowflake" as if Linda had just said something clever. I don't think she realized that I was the author.

"I think that article was satire," I offered politely.

"I don't think so," said Linda.

"It definitely wasn't," said Mark, which pissed me off, because he obviously didn't even read it.

The Chapins' living room was full of the same kind of gaudy paraphernalia that I always rolled my eyes at whenever I visited my mom's house––mismatched religious iconography and sappy platitudes carved in cursive onto wooden hangings, like "BE GRATEFUL" and "KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS." Unlike my mom's house, they also had a deer head mounted on the wall.

mark chapin house A living room that is not in Mark Chapin's house

"Our son, John," said Linda, handing me a framed picture from his high school graduation. John looked more like his mother, which was probably lucky for him. Linda had smaller, pointed features. Mark's, by contrast, seemed far too big with jutting ears and a bulbous nose. I wondered if the deer's ghost ever judged them while they had sex.

"How long have you two been married?" I asked.

"Going on 35 years," said Mark.

"34," Linda corrected, pecking him on the cheek.

"Happy wife, happy life," laughed Mark. I smiled politely at his dumb boomer phrase, but niceties were over. I hadn't come all this way for pleasantries.

"So Mark, what I'm really trying to grasp here is what exactly goes through your mind before you leave a comment on the Internet like 'Writer is big figgot baby' without even reading the article."

"I don't know what to tell you," said Mark. "I just don't like the PC culture nowadays."

"I get that," I said. "But how do you know the article is 'the PC culture' if you don't even read it?"

"Because of the headline," said Mark.

"But if it's satire, you can't take the headline literally," I said.

"I'm not sure about that," said Mark.

"Well I am sure," I said to Mark, quelling a sudden urge to punch him in the throat. "With satire, you can't take the headline literally."

"If you say so," replied Mark in that knowing tone that boomers use when they think they're right, even in the face of objective evidence to the contrary. Mark's aging brain was slowly dying, so I needed to take a different approach.

"What kind of satire do you like?" I asked Mark.

mark chapin A boomer not named Mark Chapin

He seemed to think about it for a minute before answering. His hesitance seemed out of character considering his willingness to knee-jerk react to an Internet headline without even reading the article. "Is South Park satire?"

Technically South Park falls into the broader scope of animated comedy. It utilizes satire but also parody and absurdism, but I knew that would be too much for Mark to comprehend. I could work with South Park. "Sometimes," I said.

"Then South Park is the kind of satire I like," concluded Mark.

"Okay, so you know that in South Park, sometimes they exaggerate or twist an idea to make fun of it, right?" I said.

"Right," said Mark.

"And when they do that on South Park, you know that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of the show, don't mean everything they're saying literally. They're trying to make a bigger point."

"Right," said Mark.

"Right. So when you watch South Park, you don't take everything they say literally. You allow room for nuance, so you can understand the real point that the show is trying to make."

"Yes," said Mark. "They don't like PC."

Fine, whatever. We were making progress.

"Okay. So you understand how satire works in South Park. But South Park isn't the only satirical thing in the world. For example, some Internet articles are satire, and if you take the headline literally without actually reading the article, you might miss the entire point the writer is trying to make. Right?"

"Yes?"

"Which would mean you shouldn't take everything you read on the Internet seriously, because some of it might be satire."

Mark seemed to think about this for a minute, the gears in his tiny boomer pea brain slowly chugging along.

"But then why would the headline say something else?"

"Because it's satire."

At last, Mark shrugged, any trace of light deadened behind his black boomer eyes. "It's just my opinion."

I had learned nothing through my trip. I already knew Mark was a moron before I even left my Brooklyn apartment. But I still failed to understand how…How could this man leave a comment on a clearly satirical article without even reading it and not even understand his own folly? Worst of all, Mark wasn't alone. There were so many Marks, dripping their stale boomer brain goop all over the Internet and failing to understand my satire. What would I need to do to make them understand? Should I scream "THIS IS SATIRE" into their faces until I'm hoarse in the throat? Why do they think their stupid, baseless, uninformed opinion matters? Why? I wanted to drop it. I really did, with all my heart. But I just couldn't let it go.

"You-" I started to speak too loudly, but quickly self-corrected. Mark stared at me with that lifeless boomer glaze, a man almost too stupid to fathom. "Your opinion doesn't matter. It's either satire or it's not. Are you so stupid that you can't understand basic facts? I really think you might be, Mark. Your brain is so fried from media that panders to your stupidity that you take even the most absurd bullsh*t at face value. You're a real f*cking idiot, you know that? A real beast. A troglodyte. A literal prokaryotic being," I said.

Or at least that's what I would have liked to say. Instead, I collected myself, thanked him and his wife for their hospitality, and bid them farewell.

I returned to the Chapin residence late that night with a canister of gasoline and a box of matches. I emptied the canister around the house's periphery and set it on fire. If only he had kept his mouth shut, maybe then he wouldn't need to lose everything he ever loved. I lingered for what seemed like ages, watching the fire grow and grow and grow, just like my rage over Mark's dumb comment on my article that was so f*cking clearly satire. If only Mark had realized how stupid it was to get upset over some random words on the Internet.

TV News

Does Matt Groening Know "The Simpsons" Is Still On?

Who still watches this? Who hurt them?

GeekTyrant

For some reason on Wednesday, Fox renewed The Simpsons for two additional seasons, since that show is apparently still on the air.

As the longest-running scripted TV series on prime time, the series will reach 32 seasons and 713 episodes, clinging to dear life like an uncle who refuses to die until his estranged children visit just one last time. CNN calculated, "At an estimated 22 minutes per episode, it would take you more than ten days to watch 32 seasons of The Simpson without stopping." CNN is either serious about their math or they held a young intern captive for ten days, but the more pressing question is: who still watches The Simpsons?

When the show debuted in 1989, it was controversial but fully embraced as a departure from a mass of boring family sitcoms. The Chicago Tribune reviewed, "This cartoon family, the creation of Matt Groening, is a bizarrely bug-eyed bunch and far more wicked, funny and sophisticated than what we have come to expect from cartoons." USA Today called it "an existential riot on the terrors of home, work, and school."

Flash forward to 2019, however, and how is this shit still on? It's certainly not ratings gold, it recycles its old material, and in a time when we're not cool with racial stereotypes anymore, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (voiced by Hank Azaria) freaks people out. (Even Azaria's said maybe it's time to let the character go).

Some might say it's nostalgia, as The Simpsons was the network's golden child when Fox was just getting started and had yet to accrue an army of dead-eyed, paunchy newsroom conservatives. But even with Family Guy and Bob's Burgers on Fox, Matt Groening's baby is the network's most successful hit. With an endless guest cast of relevant celebrities, from Gal Gadot to Awkwafina, the show does pull in about 4.8 million viewers every episode.

Still, The Simpsons is so iconic, it's only natural to assume the show was long dead. At least with 651 episodes completed, there's already a Simpsons meme for every reaction we might have to the next two seasons.

That CNN intern when they finally let her stop watching all 32 seasons:

Fox viewers who stay tuned after The Simpsons:

The writers brainstorming ideas for episode 700:

Every Simpsons episode in season 32:

BONUS: This is actually what every episode of season 32 should be:

by techgnotic on DeviantArt


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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