Cartman’s transformation to PC is a stroke of genius. Why is he doing this? It’s a trope that’s hidden in plain sight.
When two of the key themes this season are trolls and the American election, Trump who in the South Park narrative is portrayed by Mr Garrison, whilst Cartman has carried on the PC arc from last season into this one.
I unwittingly recognised the issue following the last live Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump makes absolutely captivating viewing and the truth is, he’s a media wet dream. He has at this point been accused of almost every conceivably negative accusation you can throw at a person and by and large they are brushed off due to the nature of the beast, which is that Trump ostensibly doesn’t care. For our purposes, Trump is Cartman in real life. I’m sure many, many people watched the American Presidential debate with genuine interest (or due concern,) I’m also sure many many didn’t. Including myself, I watched it purely out of an almost morbid curiosity. Trump had consumed column inches and TV time during his campaign precisely because of the grotesquely over-exaggerated nature of his character. We watch Cartman and South Park for the same reasons. As I’m sure the South Park writers are consciously aware, while Trump’s poll ratings will dip as controversy after controversy unfolds – and this is a crucial distinction, whilst Presidential elections and politics in general can appear to be metafiction, they aren’t and come election time we can generally expect broader self-interest will prevail at the ballot box and it will become broadly speaking, in theory, a question of competency and who will be most likely benefit the voters life. Although this is far, far from always being the case. Crucially though, these controversies have not damaged Trump the man, nor for that matter, his media value. In many respects, going back to the point about polling, you may expect Trump’s ratings to be diminished for say, not paying tax and the continual lurid accusations of racism and sexism. However, it has reached a point where this is brushed off and it becomes almost expected behaviour and viewers of say the Presidential debates revel in that narrative. If Hillary throws a grenade Trump’s way, we expect him to go nuclear. It largely echoes on why South Park is not more widely condemned for being generally offensive, as Trey Parker put it, people expect it, “it’s South Park.
However, in terms of how South Park covers the contemporary issues this season, it creates a huge problem in terms of narrative for the writers. Trump whose media image during this Presidential campaign atleast (I can’t comment on him personally) is a real life parody of Eric Cartman, whilst Trump in the metafiction of South Park is being portrayed by Mr. Garrison. This creates a really unusual and frankly absurd situation for the writer. In many respects, the person we would usually expect to play the Trump role in the metafiction is Cartman and as a character formed by convention at this point he is actually less interesting than the unpredictable, real-life Trump. This puts the writers two fold into a situation where probably the most popular character in the show is narratively defunct. To use him in his usual capacity of politically incorrect bigotry would almost certainly be in the context of the subject matter would not work. You cannot parody something that in many respects seems to be actually a more effective parody of yourself while already parodying that same thing by other means. In many ways, the conventional expectation of Cartman would at this point in time actually risk a narrative collapse of the character.
This is why the solution is brilliant. Cartman we can all safely assume has not turned politically correct. The root of his character is sociopathic, Machiavellian and his superiority complex is long, firmly established. Although the reasons and degree of this in the context of the show may differ. It would certainly be trite in the extreme to say something along the lines of: Cartman is simply an angry, unpopular, fat child, because he does not willingly recognise he is angry, fat or that his friends don’t like him. Quite the opposite. The reasons behind this and his motivations would require an entire book in itself. Cartman possesses every negative characteristic that it’s possible for a person to have and he still does. He’s just found a new more effective way to carry out his generally devious, offensive, self-serving behaviour. Cartman is no longer Hitler, in the current politically correct hierarchy of the South Park power system, he’s Chairman Mao. Cartman is continuing the same grossly bigoted agenda under the guise of a pseudo leftist. It’s absolutely cynical. The point here is that Cartman had to be distinguished from Trump in the narrative. Cartman does this by reaffirming he is smarter than Trump. Unlike Trump who has taken an almost unprecedented beating from ‘PC’ across television, newspapers, news channels and social media, when Cartman is savagely beaten by PC Principal he realises quickly that he can’t win by being Trump. Cartman as the consummate sociopath is far more cynical. He is impressed by PC Principal, because Cartman admires and adheres to any ideological conviction that can best serve Cartman. He sees PC Principal punch right through the head of Leslie at the end of the last season. Cartman realises this is a better way to get his own way. This is an interesting take on the Presidential race. Hillary Clinton is not in anyway shape or form a good woman, or even just a good human being for that matter, again this would take a full article to expand on why Hillary is perhaps the only person to run for president in history who is more loathed than Donald Trump. However, she has benefited largely in the presidential race from the fact that she has managed not to fall foul of ‘PC.’ To the point that whilst the media have been distracted with Trump’s ludicrous rhetoric about such things as keeping out Muslims, she’s been left a largely open goal. She can now virtually waltz into the White House and carry on murdering them in industrial quantities instead, providing continuity to America’s deadly foreign policy in the Middle-East, which she has long been at the forefront of. This is the absurdity. Whilst Trump’s comments are rightly condemned, Hillary hides an insidious history, where she has best served the interests of Hillary Clinton along with a couple of friends at Goldman Sachs, but mostly Hillary Clinton behind a guise of pseudo-progressive rhetoric about women’s rights which as Trump actually rightly points out, after decades of her being in a position to change things for the better these concerns seem to have conveniently manifested overnight. The fact Hillary has managed to otherwise not be grossly offensive in her choice of language has however firmly set her on the path to do whatever she pleases. Benghazi, the emails, the conflicts of interests. The key distinction between Trump and Hillary’s sociopathy is that Hillary is better at playing the game and has managed to avoid the pitfall of having a strategy where to win over your core vote you alienate large swathes of voters. Where Trump has rejected the PC narrative, Hillary embraces it. Where in a conventional political race, voters who would be ideologically horrified at the prospect of voting for her become her supporters. However, no matter how clearly there’s a dissonance between her words and actions, because Trump has rejected the narrative he can’t win. He can only take his fight so far before the narrative breakdown. Trump might make compulsive viewing, but explosive rhetoric alone cannot win against the might of PC. We see the same dissonance with Cartman, he has not embraced the narrative in the same way others such as Randy did in the previous season. Casual sexism and bigotry seeps through in language which is veiled by PC. He is of course the only one still in another particular kind of game. He is the only one with a girlfriend. The girls at South Park Elementary have all aside from Heidi broke up with their boyfriends. Intriguingly, Cartman’s traditional role is now being taken up by Butters who is now – in what is a wonderful piece of dissonance – leading the ‘hashtag weiners out’ campaign. All of those involved in Cartman’s ‘killing’ and removal from social media have joined in this PC campaign which essentially rejects the narrative of PC.
Of course, this is the joke right here. We expect Cartman to break the narrative of PC too. We are almost willing him on. We want him to be Trump and reek chaos upon the narrative and get his revenge. We don’t want PC. Except this is a red herring, what we expect and the reality are two different things. Cartman is not racist or bigoted in a conventional sense, which is to say he’s not racist or bigoted for the sake of it, or out of ignorance, which is to say it is, simply put, part of his teleology, it serves a purpose for him. For Cartman, bigotry is not an end in itself, whereas viewers have come to believe that it is. When it is not in Cartman’s interests to be bigoted or racist, “black laughs matter.” You could actually level the same of Trump much of the time. Much of his rhetoric aside from that which stems from a genuine superiority complex serves a purpose. Whilst some of it may well be the chaotic ramblings of a mad man, chaotic ramblings don’t generally put you within reasonable distance of becoming the most powerful person in the free world. Therefore the joke is on the hypocrisy of the viewer and those who castigate and despise Trump for his bigotry but now come to expect it and revel in the sensationalism. In a season that has trolling as a main arc, it is hidden in plain site, it is the viewer who is being trolled. Cartman is not Trump, he is Hillary Clinton.