One way to judge to quality of art is to examine what the artists wants to say and how well the artists says it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone created a film that intends to make people laugh and reflect on the ridiculousness of our culture. I have yet to meet someone who has watched this film and not gotten exactly what the creators intended out of this piece of art, a great film titled South Park, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut.
Some of you may be wondering why I’m talking about South Park, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut in a music blog. Well, for those of you haven’t see this film, it’s a great comedic musical. It includes some of the best traditions from musicals including the “I Want “ song, dance numbers and song reprises.
South Park began as a television show in 1997. It gained a strong audience who found the social commentary and edgy humor refreshing. At the same time, others criticized this show for its inappropriate content. Because of its short production time South Park is able to comment and satires current events and social issues which have included: NAMBLA, 9/11, U2, Michael Jackson, Global Warming, High School Musical, the elderly, Paris Hilton, homosexuality, Catholics and politics. This show is also highly referential borrowing jokes and scenes from art in our culture including the plot from a Shakespeare play (“Scott Tenorman Must Die”).
The creators of South Park released South Park, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut in 1999. The plot (wow, ok hang on) involves Satan falling in love with Saddam Hussein, blaming Canada for the death a child, a boy searching for a mystical female body part (which some people are still searching for), censorship, betrayal, love and Brian Boitano (and if you’ve seen enough musicals, this plot really isn’t that strange). Then there is Eric Cartman who becomes frustrated with the fact that his friend’s mother has started a group to censor art and attack Canada. Eric expresses his viewpoint in “Kyle's Mom's A B**ch.”
Sebastian went crazy in The Little Mermaid during “Under The Sea” trying to convince Ariel that sea life was better while she swam away. The genie in Aladdin showed off the title character’s wealth in “Prince Ali” not realizing that Princess Jasmine didn’t care about material possessions. Lumiere (the candlestick) created a massive dinner show singing “Be Our Guest” in Beauty And The Beast while Belle only got a small taste of the grey stuff. And Cartman goes crazy telling Kyle’s how much of a b**ch his mom is while Kyle’s mom herself sneaks up behind him and watches the entire spectacle.
In this song, the word “b**ch” is uttered fifty-one times and “f**k” is uttered twice to make it a total of fifty-three swear words in eighty seconds of music. Cartman is 9 years old and ff you ever hear a 9 year old swear, they have no idea the meaning of what they are saying. The only reason they use the swear word is because it is forbidden and is funny; the same way a fart sound is funny. Compare this to Cartman’s other insult to Kyle’s mom, which is about her hair (“She's a mean old b**ch and she has stupid hair”). This is a juvenile insult and in Cartman’s eyes, so is calling her a “b**ch.” The swearing in this song is so over the top that you can’t help but laugh at its ridiculousness. At first, you may get offended by the swearing but it goes on and on making it lose its negative meaning and we become a 9 year old laughing at a fart joke.
The song begins with a false start, which is funny to South Park fans because this isn’t the first time that this song has been used, however this time is gets full orchestrated background with other levels of musical depths. The orchestra instruments provide wide array of colors including the “um-pa” background, woodwind flourishes, “ethnic” colors in the middle section and a brassy, jazz inspired break down in the very end. The high level of orchestration sets the juvenile lyrics in a mature artistic context making the humor more palatable and ridiculous.
In the middle of the song, Cartman explores how kids around the world feel about Cartman’s mom. First, he stops in China, then France, then in a Danish country and finally in an African nation. The stereotypes are extreme and clearly intended to be jokes, that it really isn’t offensive (though Cartman in back face during the African bit is pushing it). When people play with stereotypes in humor, it is more often then not pointing out how ridiculous they are. It’s when people unintentionally comment and judge on stereotypes that I believe we truly take offense to them. There is a level of irony in Cartman, an America stereotype, making fun of other races.
The song ends with a burlesque style breakdown, with a brassy over the top slow down as Cartman performs the final lyrics of the song, complete with jazz hands. It’s not enough for Cartman has to make fun of Kyle’s mom but he has to sell it with all of his soul and sing it with all of his heart.
Trey Parker one of the creators of South Park sings this song. He is singing in a patter style, which was used by Mozart in the beginning of his opera The Marriage of Figaro and was often utilized in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas like in the song “I Am The Very Model Of a Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance. Composers use this style of singing for comedic effect while also allowing the performer to show off his or her singing technique. Sometime when you there are kids around and you’re not at work, just try singing along with this song. It’s not impossible but it’s not easy. Now try to sing along in your most nasal and irritating tone of voice. There is the talent in Trey Parker.
There is nothing appropriate about South Park, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut for anyone under the age of seventeen. People often get stuck at that point and do not allow themselves to enjoy this show. Many things aren’t appropriate for children including lobster dinners and professional massages but we don’t let that get in the way of our enjoyment. South Park has always been on late at night and has a mature television rating and if a child does what the show, it is more a reflection on his or her home life and upbringing then the art itself.
South Park, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut creates powerful emotional connections. People often don’t take the feeling of humor and art that expresses humor as being important, however, it could be more crucial to our humanity. We live a world full of darkness, and sometimes we need art to remind us how much fun it is to be alive. Laughter is all the same, sometimes it’s from a precocious 3 year old, sometimes its from a stand up comic and other times it comes from a child who lives in a in a “quiet, little, pi**-ant, redneck, po-dunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mud-hole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hob-mail, truck-drivin', old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, out-of-touch, white-trash mountain town” called South Park.