South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (review)
Sweet, Super Sweet
You can’t get around it sometimes: a swear word is all that will do. This is one of those cases.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is a big Fuck You to the Motion Picture Association America. And that just tickles me pink.
If there was ever an organization that deserved a middle finger hoisted spectacularly in its direction, it is the MPAA. This is the group that has determined that sex and profanity are nastier than violence, and so rates movies accordingly. Just look at the rating that South Park received: “Rated R for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, and for some violent images.” This movie contains some of the most violent concepts and depictions you’ll find in recent films (even if they are in crudely animated form), but it’s the language and the sex that’s really offensive to the MPAA.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are not just juvenile morons — I use the term affectionately — but also subversive geniuses. Sure, they take scatological humor to heights previously unseen (I venture to guess that never again will fart jokes be so vital to a movie’s plot as they are here), but they are also wise enough to make their creations — the impressionable little kiddies of the town of South Park — twisted versions of the Peanuts characters, their very baseness as important to their realism as the sophisticated philosophizing of Schultz’s characters was to theirs. Charlie Brown and his cohorts seemed to run loose, without parental supervision, and yet were surprisingly well-adjusted, if angst-ridden. The young denizens of South Park — Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny — equally unsupervised, are not that lucky.
When Asses of Fire, a movie by their TV heroes Terrance and Phillip, comes to town, the youngsters have an easy time getting themselves in to see this R-rated flick. (This is only the first of many jabs at both the effectiveness of the MPAA’s rating system and the all-too-typical abdication of parental authority to the community or the government). Awed by what can only be called the poetic profanity of Terrance and Phillip, the kids are soon spouting imitations of it at every opportunity, including at school. Outraged parents are soon in the picture, desperate for someone to condemn for their children’s behavior. “Should we blame the government / Or blame society / Or should we blame the images on TV?” they wonder in song. Heck, no. Kyle’s mother — notorious, as far as Cartman is concerned, for ensuring that kids have no fun — decides that Canada, home of Terrance and Phillip, is to blame, and launches an all-out attack, first cultural and later military, against those backbacon-eating freaks to the north.
What’s the violence that bothers the MPAA? The “some violent images” suggests that it’s just the battle at the end of the film, when construction-paper blood is spilled in a manner that can only be called “graphic” if you’re talking about “graphic design.” There’s no mention from the MPAA of the much more abhorrent, pro-violence ideas that the movie’s villains espouse (and which Parker and Stone are satirizing): Kyle’s mom calls it “a great day for democracy” as Terrance and Phillip are about to be executed as “war criminals”; the parents of South Park would rather go to war than let their kids hear foul language, and they’d rather implant electronic devices in their children’s brains than talk to their kids about their behavior; Kyle’s infant brother is left home alone, locked in the attic, while his mother is out fighting Canada. Shockingly sexist comments spout from an elementary-school teacher? That’s no problem, as long as he’s not using one of the seven dirty words. Banning Terrance and Phillip t-shirts from school? Violence to the U.S. Constitution is okay, too, apparently.
Oh, the vulgarity is pervasive, as the MPAA warns, but as Cartman notes, “it doesn’t hurt anybody… what’s the big fuckin’ deal?” And almost as if Parker and Stone are deliberately trying to spread the dirty word and help us to see how innocuous bad language really is, the movie is chock full of songs that are not only brilliant parodies of the tunes of Disney movies and Broadway shows — everything from The Little Mermaid to Les Misérables — but are also unbelievably profane. The horribly catchy “Uncle Fucka” really should have been the song nominated for an Oscar this year (instead of “Blame Canada”), but would the Academy even let a title like that appear on a ballot?
The MPAA’s “crude sexual humor,” we can be sure, is probably aimed at the cut-out penises that make a few appearances — God forbid that male anatomy should be as realistically depicted as female anatomy typically is on film, and without always garnering even an R-rating — and the giant pink clitoris (!) that appears, like the Good Witch Glenda, to Stan in an hour of need. But hey! Not only is it funny that Chef tells Stan to “find the clitoris” when the confused little guy asks for help in making happy the girl he likes, but it’s good advice for guys of all ages.
Now, I’m not saying this is an appropriate film for children — it certainly isn’t. But I do think the MPAA — like the parents of South Park — have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to what’s offensive and even damaging to children. Language hurts no one, and sex, if it’s really hurting, you’re probably not doing it right — but to the collective mind of the board that decides what’s appropriate onscreen, hacking and maiming and gallons of blood are infinitely preferable. There’s something desperately wrong with this picture.
Crude and rude, insolent and profane, infinitely clever and funny as hell, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is probably the least politically correct big-budget movie ever made, and that’s a good thing. Calling for a return to personal accountability and responsibility — which is exactly what South Park does — isn’t a popular or PC thing to do right now.
And this is certainly one of the most important films made recently. If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider this: The purpose of art — unless you favor starving-artists’ paintings that match your sofa — is to shock. Art should upset us in our complacency and make us look at the world in a new way. Not many filmmakers these days seem to remember that.