Trolling 101: Why Cartman is PC and More Evil Than Ever Before

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. 

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Revelation 

Yesterday I rewatched the South Park two-parter Rehash/Happy Holograms. It’s an interesting concept. Kyle wants to play Call of Duty with his brother Ike, however Ike is more interested in watching someone else playing Call of Duty on YouTube and commentating on it. This subsequently leads Cartman to engage in the fad by commentating on people commentating on all manner of things. This ends when the person who is doing the watching and commentating on the watching and commentating becomes the watched and commentated upon.
It reminded me of a scene from my favourite Doctor Who episode. In all likelihood, I’m the only person who can say this, as the episode in question is usually granted the damning praise of being “probably Colin Baker’s best episode.” At best. However, I’ve always found it a fascinating outlier in terms of the series. Revelation of the Daleks. I decided to rewatch it.

The episode is largely based on the premise of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One.’ It’s the only Doctor Who episode to my knowledge to combine themes of mortuaries, cannibalism and bodysnatching. Although that makes it different, it isn’t however, why I like it.

The story is broken down into a number of subplots (usually) between two people and their interaction. There is the story of the Doctor and Peri arriving on Necros and the first episode largely concerns itself with their ‘misadventures’ of getting to ‘Tranquil Repose’ including encountering a mutant who Peri kills in about thirty seconds – bewilderingly, the then show-runner John Nathan Turner originally believed he could get Laurence Olivier to play. Some thinly veiled innuendo as the Doctor climbs over a wall and then finally, the Doctor being crushed by a statue of himself. Which I’m sure is also thinly veiled metaphor for that era of the show. There are two ‘bodysnatchers,’ one of whom is trying to retrieve her father – who is also the man the Doctor is seeking. There is Jobel the arrogant chief mortician and the woman (whose name I’ve forgotten) who is attracted to him and subsequently is lured and manipulated into murdering on Davros’ behalf. Along with Davros – now going by the ironic and portentous non de guerre: The Great Healer – whose head is now suspended in a jar, there is Kara who is the owner of a food distribution company (yes) and a pawn of Davros’. Kara hires two assassins to murder Davros, in the form of Orcini and Bostock. Further to this, there is a DJ played by Alexei Sayle who watches events unfold and provides a running commentary. Then we have Davros watching the DJ watching events unfold. This provides an interesting collage of events which is infinitely more interesting for the fact that the Doctor (or the irritating paper tigers, the Daleks for that matter) is not at the centre of them until well into part two. I actually really like how the episode pans in and out of the individual stories of each of the characters.

Of course, being a Dalek story, inevitably, all of these characters end up being murdered, but it was fun while it lasted. However, despite this, the story is still better for the fact that the Daleks or the Doctor are never truly able to take centre stage. Even the slightly lacklustre resolution through the introduction of the Dalek civil war doesn’t overshadow, the revelation of gratuitous cannibalism or Orcini – who I find to be one of the shows better mercenaries, in aiming to kill for ‘honour’ blowing the mortuary to bits.

The best Dalek stories are the ones where the Daleks do not take centre stage. Which is why there are so few good stories with them in. The acclaimed Genesis of the Daleks which is essentially a WW2 movie with a moral ending, or the excellent RTD era ‘Dalek’ which centres on the owner of an underground museum being cases in point on how to do these episodes well. As an aside, to be fair, RTD generally carried off his Dalek stories with a degree of aplomb, due to filling his stories with enormous amounts of emotional chaos. Even the woeful and virtually unforgivable Stolen Earth saga, much like his previous over-the-top season finales which had an abhorrent over reliance on deus ex machina endings, could find some redemption in that the over-the-top (even for any sci-fi) action was a secondary backdrop to almost tear-jerking human drama. That Davies’ stories were so grounded in the real lives of ordinary, relatable characters was probably both his greatest strength and weakness in terms of the bold stories he created. Imagine watching a good, really engaging version of Eastenders where you begin to strongly identify with the characters and their daily foibles. Invariably it would go something like this: one of the characters has just discovered he has cancer with only months only to live, his motherless teenage daughter who for months has been getting bullied about her weight, meanwhile has just discovered she’s pregnant and has nowhere to turn as the guy who impregnated and the only decent person she knows apart from her father has been ran over by a car, only for the Queen Vic to suddenly have the real Queen Victoria turn up and then be stolen and taken to Mars by giant alien elephants and then Daleks come and indiscriminately destroy the whole planet, except Albert Square, because someone activated the eye of harmony and the time vortex, preserved all life there but destroyed all the Daleks. That teenage girl and her father however are still up shit-creek without a paddle and the tenth doctor is “so so sorry.” However, they are all the better for the chance to live better lives – no matter how short, inconvenient and miserable – for the experience of meeting The Doctor, even if it now transpires it’s in a parallel universe. It’s a better place and atleast if her father is going to die, she now has her long dead (in the other dimension) mother to help her through this. Oh wait, it turns out that there’s another fully healthy version of her father in this world too, so atleast when he dies, there’s a like for like replacement. Just heartbreaking she had to leave behind her XBox which meant so much to her. Still, I suppose that’s better than Moffat equivalent where he’d have the girl, her father and her boyfriend all die out of sequence at the beginning of the episode, the whole planet be destroyed except for the Queen Vic, because one of the regulars is actually responsible for rewriting the entire continuity of Eastenders and the cosmos, and the Doctor is all puzzled and like “I can’t rewrite time” and then his companion who is also the barmaid realises you can go back in time and just change the barrel of beer which caused all of this disaster in the first place and opened the chasm in space time which by rights shouldn’t have even been there because that beer barrel was actually out of date sludge from the 17th century infected with the bubonic plague which was put there in a plot by the Cybermen with help from the master (who has now regenerated into a female version of Wel’ard) earlier in the season arc, so after timey wimey stuff, no-one actually dies at all. Apart from Wel’ard and the Daleks who were also there for no reason whatsoever. Well, until the first episode of the next season. But I digress. 

Doctor Who is always more interesting when it’s about other people. The Doctor – aside from a brief spell in the late eighties, and a short period in the mid nighties where it may or may not be the case he’s a genocidal maniac with the blood of billions of civilisations on his hands, particularly the time lords who are the most annoying, tedious bunch of bureaucrats in television history (RTD’s greatest contribution to Doctor Who until it was undone) – hasn’t actually been a particularly interesting character since the sixties when he was a cantankerous, manipulative old fossil with a penchant for kidnapping. Similar to the comeback of the series with Rose in 2005, was framed through the eyes of not the Doctor, but his granddaughter Susan and her two schoolteachers. After that initial, iconic first episode, the serial goes wayward with some Shakespearean caveman before picking up again in the next episode and first episode starring the Daleks, titled, well, The Daleks. An interesting if not drawn out lament on pacifism, the Daleks, although severely limited – they are reliant on radiation to live and can only move on surfaces that give off static electricity – are a bit more interesting than in later outings due to their cunning, manipulative tendencies which interacts well with the character of the still rather unlikeable Doctor. Villains are always more interesting when they mirror the hero of the piece. They would subsequently undergo a lot of retconning, to the point where they can broaden their horizons, go out into the universe and take control of other civilisations. Including Earth. This terrifies the bureaucratic time lords so much they force the fourth Doctor to go and attempt to change history in the aforementioned Genesis of the Daleks. By this point they had long ago ran their course, but in the context of placing them in a story about their creation – as a race that are so badly mutated from millennia of biological, chemical and nuclear war they placed into mini tanks to survive – with not remotely subtle Nazi and World War 2 undertones, it works. Davros and the Daleks’ next outing – ironically written by their own creator Terry Nation – would see all of this completely undone by actually forgetting they are living beings in tanks and useless they can beat some rubbish 70’s disco robots because they’re too logical (!) despite the fact that in previous outings they have ruled over countless planets including Earth and were considered so dangerous by the most powerful civilisation in the Doctor Who universe, that they were willing to completely rip up the rules of time – their apparently fundamental reason for being. Although it’s never really fully explained what the time lords do, other than act as some accidental metaphor for public sector bureaucracy – stop them from ever existing. So by my reckoning ‘Revelation’ to even have a remotely watchable Davros/Dalek story is an achievement in itself. You can accept that Davros who is someone who is completely useless in every conceivable use of the term, might be a little bit edgy and dangerous. This is why gruesome concept of the cannibalism and harvesting people into Daleks works in the context of the story. It gets back to the roots of what makes most of the better villains in the series effective and interesting, a desire for survival, rather than just some lacklustre plan to take over a world. Again, it works because as I’ve said, it’s not a story about Davros, the Daleks or the Doctor. It’s a story about an arrogant conceited man and a woman’s unrequited love for him which subsequently leads to a brutal murder, it’s a story about a girl with her alcoholic friend searching for her father, a story about a woman who wants to essentially kill her boss, who has been manipulated betraying and being betrayed, a story about two assassins and their motives, about a de facto security state where the watchers get watched. It works because it’s different and an outlier in the series. An episode that manages to use the characters at its disposal and portray an alien world through creating an interesting collage. That’s why I like it. It should also have been the last time Davros ever appeared on TV. His unnecessary appearances in later stories from Rememberance of the Daleks, where the creepy little girl was far more interesting, RTD and Moffatt era Doctor Who – I still can’t figure out the point of bringing him back and then retconning him again to actually make the Daleks even more pitiful through them now having a concept of clemency -along with Skaro and the Master/Missy –  mean he and his paper tigers have more than long outstayed their welcome. Perhaps it was just a big fuck you from Moffatt in restoring Skaro at the start of the series and Gallifrey at the end to completely undo the greatest service RTD did for Doctor Who. Largely killing off the two most boring races in the universe to a level that was palatable for Saturday night audiences.