The billboards started popping up around Los Angeles over the past few weeks. In big white letters on an empty black background were the words “#cancelsouthpark.” It’s as if Trey Parker and Matt Stone were trying to get ahead of the inevitable backlash to their latest offense.
And yet South Park, which returned this Wednesday night for its 22nd season premiere, has always managed to remain immune to the types of social media campaigns that have been waged against comedians like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee. Will anything be different in this era of amplified outrage?
The new episode, titled “Dead Kids,” went straight at America’s school shooting epidemic months after the Parkland, Florida shooting and #NeverAgain movement. In the opening scene, the kids are so used to active shooter drills that they don’t even register the presence of an actual gunman in South Park Elementary’s halls.
“The school shooting today has left students in shock and disbelief,” a news anchor reports as they banter about an unrelated math quiz. When it happens again the next day, Cartman is still too preoccupied with the math test and why Token claims he never saw Black Panther to realize it’s happening.
“Why are you all acting like this is normal? What is wrong with you people?” Stan’s mom Sharon asks later that night, as her husband Randy suggests she might just be overreacting because it’s that time of the month. The other parents would rather talk about the conditions of the local playground than tackle the “child murder” happening in their kids’ school.
Randy spends the rest of the episode trying to convince Sharon and everyone else around her that she’s only worked up about school shootings because she’s going through menopause. Ultimately, he uses her fear of kids getting shot to present a grand romantic gesture to rekindle the magic.
“Don’t you guys see what’s happened here?” Sharon asks. “I want you to be angry! Every day we hear about another school shooting! It used to be a big deal!”
By the end of the episode, Randy convinces his wife to be less “emotional” about everything. So when she gets a phone call that there has been yet another shooting and their son Stan has been shot, she shrugs and tells him, “It’s not the end of the world.”