Is there even one South Park episode that didn’t give rise to any controversy? Probably not. After all, the Trey Parker and Matt Stone animated series, in all eighteen of its seasons so far, has consistently portrayed the most taboo subject matters in the most irreverent ways. And as can be expected, the show has often found itself the target of numerous angry statements, correspondences and protests.
Nevertheless, the cartoon that revolves around the lives of four male grade schoolers has also been rewarded with consistently high ratings and various accolades. In fact, South Park‘s TV ratings have made it the most successful show in Comedy Central’s, history — even once holding the record for being the highest-rated non-sports show in the history of basic cable. The series has also won five Emmys and has been included in several best-of-all-time lists, including Time magazine’s 100 Best TV Shows of All Time compilation in 2007 (#82). And yet, with the airing of each new South Park episode still follows a steady stream of passionate anger.
Here are ten memorable times when South Park roused incredible outrage in various personalities and sectors of society:
10. Gingers Do Have Souls!
The 2005 episode, Ginger Kids, attempted to humorously use bigotry against redheads to illustrate that prejudice is never justified. Not all redheads were pleased by it, though. One of them was Michael Kittrell of Grayson Georgia, who posted a fuming rant on YouTube to clarify that redheads actually had souls.
The post ended up gathering more than 30 million views and got the attention of South Park creators, who, in turn, came up with the following promotional video:
Kittrell didn’t seem to be flattered by the portrayal:
9. Germans Didn’t Find It Funny
Funnybot, the second episode of season 15, begins with Germans receiving “The Most Unfunny People” award from South Park Elementary. This causes angry Germans — including a pistol-toting Angela Merkel — to attack the school, take the students hostage, and unveil the XJ-212 Funnybot, a robot that tells jokes and turns out to be a big hit. However, it is later discovered that the robot actually intends to destroy the world as its ultimate joke.
When the episode aired in Germany, its citizens were not amused. A review in Die Welt, a German national newspaper, attributed the insults to Americans’ jealousy with the economic success and new leadership role of Germany. The article also criticized how the only German student in South Park was a notorious anti-Semite, while the Funnybot itself turned out to be a mass murderer — images that were said to paint Germans as violent and racist.
8. Scientology Backlash
If the Church of Scientology’s former senior executive and current top critic Mark Rathbun is to be believed, the organization once targeted South Park creators Parker and Stone for their show’s attacks on Scientology. More specifically, according to Rathbun’s 2011 blog entry, the church’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) conducted a covert operation not only on the show’s creators, but also on their family and friends. This involved looking into every public record available on the targets and had the main goal of silencing them.
The retaliation seems to have been spurred by a 2005 episode entitled Trapped in the Closet. In it, celebrity Scientologists Tom Cruise and John Travolta trapped themselves in a closet and were begged by other characters to “come out.” Another scene revealed the story of Xenu, a Scientology teaching that the church has always tried to keep confidential. Lastly, the show’s closing credits contained only several John and Jane Smiths, obviously a jab at Scientology’s reputation for litigiousness.
7. Cliffhanger Left Hanging
For a change, on April Fools Day of 1998, South Park angered its own fans rather than the people that were bashed on the show. The reason behind the outrage? Comedy Central had previously promised to reveal who Cartman’s father was on the April 1, 1998 show, South Park‘s second season premiere. Instead, viewers were pranked with the airing of Not Without My Anus, an entire episode featuring Terrance and Phillip. The crudely-drawn characters were featured attempting to save their country from Saddam Hussein, and nothing was revealed about the much-anticipated paternity of Cartman.
Fans reacted by sending nearly 3,000 complaint e-mails to Comedy Central. In response, the network moved up the schedule for showing the episode from May 20 to April 22. But not before some very harsh reactions from the show’s followers. One of them was Newsyday‘s Diane Werts, who wrote, “Fans rioted. Some jumped ship and never came back. The lesson: Pay off our expectations, or you’ll be sorry.”
6. The Other “F” Word
The F Word, aired on November 4, 2009, featured Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny using the term “fag” to insult Harley riders who frequently disturbed the town by making too much noise with their machines. When the children are accused of being homophobic, they explain that they didn’t intend to insult homosexuals and only used the word to refer to annoying bikers. Hilariously, the city council decided to adopt the new meaning, seeming to allow the show to make the point that taboo words are only offensive whenever society allows them to be. However, the gay advocacy group GLAAD was not amused and asked Comedy Central to apologize for the “slur-filled episode.” More specifically, GLAAD insisted that
while many “South Park” viewers will understand the sophisticated satire and critique in last night’s episode, others won’t – and if even a small number of those take from this a message that using the “F-word” is OK, it worsens the hostile climate that many in our community continue to face.
5. It Hits the Fan
When a show airs an episode where the word “shit” is used roughly once every eight seconds and even boasts about the feat by indicating, via an onscreen counter, how many times the expletive has been used, it’s bound to upset at least a few people. And “upset” is probably inadequate to describe how several conservative groups felt about South Park‘s season 5 premiere entitled It Hits the Fan. The advocacy group Parents Television Council, for example, condemned the show as a “curdled, malodorous black hole of Comedy Central vomit” that should have never been made. Meanwhile, around 5,000 emails all in all were sent to Comedy Central to protest the “excessive profanity” in the episode.
4. Bloody Mary, Bloodied Pope
The ninth season of South Park included one of the show’s most controversial installments. Entitled Bloody Mary and aired on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the episode featured a statue of the Virgin Mary that bled from its privates and even squirted blood unto Pope Benedict XVI. Predictably, Catholics were not pleased. Various Catholic groups demanded an apology and called for the episode not to be made available on DVD. In New Zealand, the episode was shown despite protests from a broad coalition of religious groups. In the end, the Broadcasting Standards Authority of New Zealand found that while the images on the show might have been disrespectful, the episode was “of such a farcical, absurd and unrealistic nature that it did not breach standards of good taste and decency in the context in which it was offered.”
3. Too Far, Too Soon
The plot of the South Park halloween special in 2006 revolved around Satan throwing a huge party, which various dead celebrities attended. One of the attendees was Steve Irwin, who showed up with a stingray protruding from his chest. The gag did not sit well with several Irwin sympathizers, including a friend of Steve’s widow, who issued the following statement:
Terri [Irwin’s widow] is devastated Steve is being mocked in such a cruel way. Her worry is that Bindi and Bob [Irwin’s children] will see it and break down. Steve had as big a sense of humour as anyone, but this goes too far too soon.
The episode also prompted naturalist Mark Amey to say the show was “distasteful shit.” He further commented, “Let’s hope none of Steve’s fans who keep poisonous animals happen to find the addresses of those behind the show and leave them a nice surprise.”
2. Michael Jackson Fans Offended
South Park once again portrayed a recently departed celebrity in season thirteen’s 8th episode entitled Dead Celebrities. In it, the spirit of Michael Jackson refuses to accept that he’s dead, insists that he’s a little white girl, and takes over Ike’s body. Doing some Internet research, South Park‘s main characters learn that Jackson will only accept his death if he experiences the acceptance he longed for in life, so they enter him into a beauty pageant for little girls. The portrayal angered several of Michael Jackson’s fans who found the insinuation that Michael Jackson wanted to be a little white girl extremely offensive. Examiner celebrity writer Sue Bergstein opined, “It’s not only tasteless, but this episode just adds to the sadness currently experienced by all the mourning relatives.”
1. Depictions of Muhammad
Truth is, not all Muslims agree that their prophet, Muhammad, should never be depicted physically. However, a belief that a great majority of Islam’s followers do adhere to is that Muhammad should never be depicted in a malicious manner. But given South Park‘s history for irreverence, it’s not surprising that the show not only depicted Muhammad physically, but also portrayed him and the Muslim religion in a very ridiculous light.
The first physical depiction of Muhammad in the actual show proper came in the season 5 episode Super Best Friends, which portrayed the prophet as a hero and did not raise controversy. But even before that, Muhammad had long been featured as one of the characters in the show’s opening credits.
However, the tolerance stopped in 2010 when the episodes 200 and 201 featured a plot that heavily revolved around a ridiculous portrayal of Muhammad and Islam. In response, the radical New York-based organization Revolution Muslim warned the shows creators that they could end up murdered as retribution for South Park‘s depictions of Muhammad. Fortunately, no actual physical violence took place.