I read the recent story about "Kick A Jew Day" with outrage, but as came to the part of the news story that suggested the creators of "South Park" might somehow be responsible, I took pause. In "South Park", according to the story, the behavior of the Naples kids was somehow influenced by other kids who have engaged in something called "Kick A Ginger Day", a Ginger being someone with red hair.
The school official in the news story below is correct when he states that perhaps blaming "South Park" lets the students off the hook for the responsibility of choosing an inappropriate behavior, but as a writer and teacher, I have no problem calling out Stone and Parker, "South Park"'s creators.
To be honest, I stopped watching "South Park" some time ago. I felt the show had become mean-spirited and that it at times took on racist and sexist overtones. I came to the opinion that Stone and Parker expressed a bigotry, unconsciously or otherwise and excused it by saying: "It's satire, we're expressing racism to show how absurd racism is."
Unfortunately, that doesn't always work out that way. I remember sitting with my students and discussing their perceptions of Jews as well as their perceptions of Jews on "Family Guy" and "South Park". Some got it. Many didn't. They allowed the lampooning of bigotry to reinforce their prejudice. I wanted to write a letter to Seth McFarlane, "Family Guy"'s creator, and ask him where he stands in this discussion. Perhaps I still will. Or perhaps he answered it when it was revealed that Lois Griffin, the main character's wife, was in fact Jewish and that her mother hid her background due to Lois' father's bigotry.
"I put the work out there," an artist might exclaim. "I'm not responsible for how it's interpreted or who watches it. Parents should exert some influence." This falls in line with "South Park"'s creators' previously expressed libertarian philosophy.
The controversy of artist responsibility isn't new. One can look back at "Birth of Nation", a blot on the history of the film industry and see the role of the artist in influencing social perceptions. In literature, one can look back further, although literature before the turn of the last century wasn't on the coffee tables and in the living rooms of the working class as well as the elite. One wonders what Hitler would have been able to do had he had access to the medium of television or the internet.
Where do we draw the line though? In the seventies was Alice Cooper responsible if teens imitated his stage show and as a result accidentally hanged themselves? Is Ozzy Osborne responsible for other teens from that same era taking his song "Suicide Solution" to heart? What about the responsibility of rapper, former drug dealer, 50 cent? Would we say that his work is responsible? Is his song "Gun Runner", the story of a gun deal gone wrong, told from the evil and successful gun dealer's perspective, social commentary which criticizes violence? Or does it glorify it?
This is a complicated issue. As writers, I think at some point, we all have to ask where responsibility falls. Stone and Parker jumped the shark some time ago and took credibility with them. Their show is merely self-indulged hate mongering masquerading as social commentary these days. "Family Guy"? It gets close, sometimes flirting dangerously close to the flame.
Or maybe it depends on what side of the fence you're on.