South Park’s number one rule has always been “If you want to take on a serious issue, go to the extreme.” And that’s certainly what they did in last night’s episode, “Skank Hunt.” They tried to deal with issues of cyber bullying and the fine line between free speech and trolling, while still pointing out the sheer stupidity of allowing Twitter and Facebook to have this power over us. A lot of it worked, some didn’t. But South Park did exactly as we expected them to, for better or worse.
The episode opens with a PTA assembly to address the Internet troll known as “SkankHunt42.” And for what it’s worth, having sat through hundreds of terrible slideshows about a variety of issues (some important, some kind of stupid) throughout the years for school, Trey and Matt put in a shocking amount of effort to make their Presentation “Is My Child A Troll?” look as realistic as possible. Essentially, there is an Internet troll out there who is finding girls who stand up for themselves or stand up for their right to be treated as basic human beings and Photoshop’s d*cks into their own mouths or, if underage, the mouths of their mothers. The parents are horrified at this, except for Gerald Broflovski, who has been revealed to be SkankHunt. The parents are instructed to talk with their kids about the dangers of cyberbullying, after one particularly tough incident with young Heidi Turner. As they drive home, Sheila seems horrified at the concept, while Gerald speculates as to why someone would do such a thing, instead pitching the reasons why someone feels the urge to troll. “It could be someone who just wants to stir the pot a little, and the fact it’s not funny makes it funny!” he exclaims. It’s the type of thing that sounds straight out of the mouth of Milo Yiannopoulos.
Meanwhile, while Gerald is pontificating why he feels powerful bullying people online, little Heidi Turner has walked out to a local bridge, looking tearfully at the water. The camera pans up as we hear a horrifying splash. The next day, the kids at school are all traumatized as the police swarm the campus, and we learn that Heidi Turner…has quit Twitter. Yep, she is dead to the Internet, yet still walking the halls of the schools. Everyone is in shock, and Mr. Mackey has grief counseling, giving the equivalent of a suicide prevention talk to her classmates right in front of her. It’s a humorous image, even if the material is horrifying. You know, kind of like South Park itself. The girls are angered by this and begin discussing taking drastic action, as the boys realize that Cartman, the presumed troll (for good reason, I’ll point out), needs to be dealt with. They finally sit down to have “the talk”-after years of putting up with his bullsh*t, perhaps its time to “take Cartman out.”
Meanwhile, Gerald talks to Ike about his newfound fame. He tries to tell Ike that what he is doing is wrong, but instead sends him mixed messages, making it seem like he’s just providing a voice for the voiceless and that the girls just “don’t get this kind of humor.” Yep, Gerald is Milo for sure.” We even get the glorious montage of Gerald locking himself in his den, pouring a glass of wine, putting on a record of Boston’s “Smokin,’” and Photoshopping images while simultaneously cursing at women talking about their daughters and trying to have a peaceful night, all while images of explosions and animals having sex are subliminally cut in, demonstrating how powerful Gerald feels. The girls at school are pushed even further, and, realizing the effect this will have on them (Butters sums up the horrifying double standard of a majority’s reasons for acting with “You get blamed for the group you belong to, even if you didn’t do nothing!”), decide they have to act. They invite Cartman out to the woods, to “play Counterstrike at Stan’s Uncle’s cabin.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Mackey is eating the Member Berries to deal with the stress of the rise in student “Twitter Suicide” (“‘Member Jurassic Park?”), only to face a depressed Scott Malkinson threatening to quit Twitter. Mackey goes through the basic suicide prevention steps, and manages to talk Scott down. However, Scott returns moments later. And again, and again, and again, even after hours. Mackey is eager to help at first, but soon realizes that Scott may actually just be one of those “attention seekers”-the ones that give the depressed a bad name by threatening it constantly despite having no plans to ever do it. It’s a touchy topic to handle, and without proper care could come off offensive, insulting or dangerous. However, this show is smarter than that, and deserves the horrified chuckle you’ll give when a stressed out, exhausted Mackey responds to Scott’s claim of “Let’s see how everyone at school reacts when I just up and do it! They’ll be sorry,” with a “G*ddammit, just do it already.” Meanwhile, people all over the world are starting to suffer at the hands of SkankHunt42. Everyone is given the same advice: “Just ignore him and let him wallow in his misery.” It’s a general phrase that everyone gives when it comes to cyberbullying-hell, even South Park made an episode-long version of this statement with last year’s “Safe Space.” However, it seems they’ve changed their minds, or at least accepted that the world has people like Milo in it, because immediately after making this claim, we see a montage of how happy and perfect Gerald’s life is. It’s a sickening statement that some terrible people get to live happy lives, even if they get to make others miserable on the side.
Meanwhile, the boys get Cartman out to an abandoned shed, where they pull out a variety of weapons. Cartman realizes what is going on, and begs for his life. But it’s no use-the boys destroy all of his stuff, stabbing the computer he holds over his chest and ignoring his screams for mercy (“This is like 2 ½ Christmases worth of stuff! Please don’t do this!”) before he passes out. They bury his stuff as Stan asks, “What have we done?” “What we had to do,” Kyle tells him.
That night, Gerald continues his trolling, and is about to go to bed when a news alert informs him that he has officially made an impact on the Danish Olympic Team, who is raising money for breast cancer. I repeat: breast cancer. And he still trolled them. Gerald is amazed he made the news, and, filled with power, launches into an all-out assault as his silhouette grows creepier and larger in the background. The girls, however, are done with the drama, and plan to launch their ultimate counterattack the next day. The boys are horrified to learn that they “killed Cartman” for no reason, and things get even worse as the girls pass notes to all of their boyfriends, effectively ending their relationships. Naturally, all of this is set to the Black Hawk Down orchestral music. Meanwhile, Kyle stares at a picture of Cartman regretfully, while Stan gets his note from Wendy last, which includes the extra line “I can’t fix you.” This extra line seems to imply there is more to the breakup than meets the eye, and perhaps Stan’s cynicism has been more damaging than originally thought. Maybe I’m reading to much into that line, but it seems to specific to just be a throwaway.
So that was last night’s episode of South Park. Honestly, I have mixed emotions. I definitely think it was a well-constructed episode, and their handling of cyberbullying in the age of Leslie Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos was spot on. However, I felt like the show was pulling its punches. I get the feeling old South Park would have actually offed kids to prove a point (like they did when they tackled suicide rates in Gay Rehabilitation Centers). I know it sounds weird to desire children dying in a television show, I just feel that it means that the show is going to settle down too much, and eventually lose its edge. However, for what it was going for, it definitely found success, and the idea of Gerald playing the villain of the season is a profound one. Who knows what issue they’ll tackle next week, but I’m excited to see their take on it.