Oh my God, they’re educational

As “South Park” moves out of its ninth season it makes its first move into academia.

A professor at Central Michigan University, Jeffrey Weinstock, has decided to put together a collection of scholarly essays from around the world about the cultural significance of the adult themes in “South Park.”

“Because of the show’s continuing popularity and incredible timeliness with contemporary issues, I was surprised there were no collections of essays on ‘South Park,'” Weinstock said.

Dr. Angela Motz, chair of BGSU’s pop culture department, also thinks the show is worth studying.

All pop culture touches individual people’s lives in different ways on a daily basis, and “South Park” is a part of pop culture, she said.

Even though the show is offensive, there are still many people who are able to connect with the issues brought up and connect with the way characters say what they say, Motz said.

“‘South Park’ is resonating with a segment of the people . . . and is worth studying,” she said.

Matt Egan, sophomore, is a longtime fan of the show, and can’t get enough of the social commentary that’s weaved into weekly episodes.

“I love the fact that they’re not afraid to push the standard for normal TV,” he said. “They’re always right on top of everything, almost like a good source of news for people who don’t watch news.”

Julie Haught, a lecturer in English and women’s studies at BGSU, teaches a class in American humor that deals with the “funny” found in social commentary.

“I think viewers appreciate [“South Park’s”] riskiness and willingness to be the negative example,” she said.

According to Weinstock, the show continually brings up aspects of race, gender, sex, child abuse and contemporary issues that many people find uncomfortable to talk about. It does so intentionally, and he says this is why it’s important to understanding current culture.

In the end, Motz has found humor has a knack for deflating tense topics.

“When an issue is wrapped around humor it doesn’t sting, it doesn’t mean the issue isn’t real, just that humor allows [people] to talk about it,” said Motz, adding that laughing at these issues helps put them in the spotlight and encourage discussion.

This is because laughing at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with the meanspiritedness, Haught said.

There is an idea that laughter itself can be an expression of acknowledgment that a social taboo has been violated, she said.

“The show is exceptionally offensive, and so they try their best to deal with sensitive issues,” Weinstock said.

Humor comes from culture, and according to Motz there’s a lot of offensiveness in society.

“To have an offensive show, you must first have a society that’s accepting of the offensive ideas in the first place,” she said. “They take topics ripped from the headlines and poke fun at them,” Weinstock said, “people need that.”

People need that because, according to Haught, the shock value of shows like “South Park” has the potential to shake [people] out of accepting the status quo. She says teaching this in the classroom is a friendly way to start thinking about critical analysis.

“South Park” and this collection of academic essays on it can provide a perspective and an ability to connect with new generations of students, she said.

But Weinstock’s upcoming book won’t feature all glowing reviews of “South Park.”

“It will be critical of ‘South Park’ and its representation of certain topics in an attempt at objective analysis rather that fan gushing,” he said, “but sometimes people just need to laugh.”