If you and your mother wanna have yourself a time…

South Park (1999)

It’s always a bit of a laugh when parents try to censor your viewing and playing habits. Alright, there’s some extreme stuff out there that kids shouldn’t be watching, but it’s always a great thrill for kids when they hear their parents swear, and doubly so when they get to the age when it becomes acceptable for them to swear around their parents. I can’t imagine trying to regulate a kid’s mobile phone in this day and age, not when the kids tend to be more tech savvy than the adults and are usually able to find a way around it.

Still, some kind of boundaries need to be set. When the South Park cartoon began to take the world of television by storm in the late 90s, of course I wanted to watch it. After all, it was becoming a hot topic of discussion in school, and on the off-chance that any young kids are reading this, if you ever need to manoeuvre your way past a ban on Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto 6 if that ever comes out, just hint to your parents that everyone else in school is talking about it. But make sure you keep cool and casual – if you whine about it and yelp “but Cayden has it! But Rocco has it!” then you’re on a hiding to nothing. You’ll get that tired old “if Kai jumped off a cliff, would you?” riposte, as if that ever held any weight.

There was a new episode of South Park scheduled for that Friday night, and I was mentioning it in that offhand way to my parents all week. I must have been relentless. My mother had heard about it of course, she might have read about it in some fascist newspaper or even worse, a glossy mag, about how this controversial new cartoon was going to poison children’s minds or something like that.

I worked her over for days, and finally she relented and said that I would be allowed to watch it, on one condition – she’d have to be there to watch it with me, and if she didn’t like it, it was going straight off. I think she was expecting borderline criminal language, and sexual content up the, erm, wazoo. That’s pre-watershed stuff in Japan though, you look at any anime dub, and it never did them any harm, did it? That’s a rhetorical question.

The episode in question was a bizarre one, simply called Gnomes – it introduces a caffeine-addled character in the boys’ class called Tweak, whose parents run a local coffee shop that’s getting rode by a parody of Starbuck’s. The whole thing is a comment on capitalism, megacorps versus local businesses, and it features an incredible part that’s still joked about to this day, the business plan of 1. Collect underpants 2. ???? 3. Profit.

Why would collect underpants be part of a business plan? Well, to be honest ,I barely understoof what was going on with all this commentary about capitalism, because I was more focused on two facts: one, I’d never watched a cartoon or indeed a live-action TV programme where kids, or even adults, talked the way they did in South Park. It was clever, and not needlessly vulgar. I’m sure Kyle was called a hippie Jew more than once, but there was more to it than that.

The second thing catching my attention was the fact that, on only a few occasions have I ever seen my mam laugh that much. I think she enjoyed it way more than I did, and I say that even despite the fact that I’ll never forget the hype of waiting for that episode to come on, knowing that I was finally going to be allowed to watch it. I was actually shuddering, my anticipation was almost electric.

Needless to say, there would be no issue with me getting to watch future episodes of South Park – after all, it had become unmissable for my mam, never mind me. They were alsl discussing it in her job the next day, which wasn’t an office, but this is what they meant when they talk about something becoming a ‘watercooler’ show in the US, like Seinfeld did.

And look, South Park is still going, and  don’t watch every episode religiously on a weekly basis anymore, of course, but it’s still clever, it still doesn’t pull punches, it still makes you laugh, and my mam still enjoys it and quotes it, and she’s in her 60s now. It doesn’t matter what age you are. She never calls it South Park, strangely, only Cartman.

But anyway, i just wanted to set the scene for South Park and how it exploded onto the scene in the late 90s. These days, a bit of a viral marketing campaign, a push from Netflix and probably a coupl eof million squids in marketing, and everyone’s talking about it – for a couple of weeks. Drumming up interest in the pre-internet era, especially with a product that doesn’t quite boast impressive animation, is quite a different thing altogether.

South Park was a phenomenon, and still commands respect today. I always preferred the old stuff, which might be nostalgia talking, but I know the series didn’t drop off a cliff like The Simpsons did. Even if a lot of the episodes are old news by now, because remember that they churn these episodes out on nearly a weekly basis, they’re still incredible and they still hold up.

Just the other day, I took a look at two of my favourite classics, the Chinpokomon episode and the Osama bin Laden episode, and not only is it a great bout of nostalgia, but it shows you that the ore things have changed, the more they stayed the same.

They might as well have called me out directly with the Chinpokomon episode, just like the Warcraft and (another game?) episode will have called out other young gamers. Nobody is safe, which is how satire should be. And it’s not everyday that an adult-oriented work speaks directly to young kids as well like that.

And speaking of games, video games were inevitable. After all, South Park was popular, a guaranteed seller, and also colourful which I feel is important. The first South Park game, imaginatively titled, ah, South Park, came out for PS1 and Nintendo 64, but the N64 is the only version worth a look. To save you time, I’ll say that this game was mocked at the time and gets a lot of hate, but I’ve always enjoyed it.

It really was like playing an episode, which was the aim of show creators Try Parker and Matt Stone, and something that comes through a lot clearer with later games like The Stick of Truth. The game features five “episodes”, centred around season 1 episodes, so it really is the old stuff – we’re talking the aliens and the cows, the evil turkeys, Ned and Jimbo, and Mr. Hankey. 

The game is an FPS in a similar vein to Turok 2, by the same creators. Of course, you don’t get a Cerebral Bore this time around, but something far less cerebral and far less boring – how about a weapon that fires cows onto peoples heads so that the least thing they see before they dies is the inside of a cow’s arse? How about Terrence and Philip dolls that serve as fragmentation grenades? Or yellow snowballs? And every weapon has an alternate fire mode like this, which is a great feature.

I’d say there’s little point in playing this one without cheats, though, because the levels are long, arduous, it very much subscribes to that theory of following the enemies to know you’re going the right way because otherwise you’ll be hopelessly lost, consumed in the massive, massive fog and low draw distance and you might just end up falling into an abyss or getting killed through attrition. After all, you’re only there for a bit of a laugh, not an immersive shooter, right? Otherwise you’d be stuck playing a cartoon version of Turok 2, and you wouldn’t try to get through that game’s gigantic levels without cheats either, would you? 

If you saw and played this one now, you’d probably get sick in a similar fashion to how Stan always used to get sick on Wendy. I understand that. Maybe you had to be there, or maybe dialogue based, exploration RPGs are what the South Park games should be. Either way, pick this one up for nothing, put the cheats on and have a bit of fun for yourself through the old days of South Park. Or you could even play the multiplayer, with a whole host of classic characters, and try to snipe your pal with a high-speed egg, launched directly from the backside of a chicken. I wonder why my mam had hesitations about me watching this?

9 April 2022

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