Did South Park Miss The Point?

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South Park, perhaps more than any other show on television, is current, topical, and presents social issues in a humorous light just about every week.  Some have complained that the show has been running out of ideas, but with South Park in its 13th season, that’s to be expected.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known for pushing the envelope – sometimes maybe too far – and for making their opinions on a topic known.  The show is unapologetic when it comes to opinion, and most of the time, it’s dead on.  I don’t think anyone is going to argue, for example, that Kanye West isn’t a douchebag.  With last night’s episode “The F-Word,” however, I think South Park may have missed the point.

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If you watched South Park last night, you know that “The F-Word” didn’t refer to “f*ck.”  No, it referred to “fag,” and the entire premise of the show was pretty much that the definition of “fag” has changed and that the term isn’t necessarily a gay slur.  A bunch of annoying Harley Davidson riders make their way into South Park, pissing everyone off with their loud motorcycles and need to draw attention to themselves.  The boys, and Cartman in particular, tell the Harley riders that they’re being annoying and, quite frankly, are a bunch of fags.  People across America are furious, not understanding that the boys didn’t mean to insult gays.

The timing of last night’s episode was perfect.  It seems as though the F-word is the new N-word, a taboo, unspeakable word that can destroy the reputation and standing of anyone who dare mutters it, regardless of their intention.  There’s been an uproar in the real world over the use of “fag” lately, as Chiefs running back Larry Johnson has recently been suspended for using the term on his Twitter account.  NBA player Drew Gooden looks like he may be in some trouble, too, for using the F-word…when referring to a group of straight guys.  So what’s the deal?  When did the word “fag” become such a horrible, unspeakable term?  And more importantly, when did its meaning change?

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Larry Johnson will be missing time due to using the F-word

Matt and Trey put forth a pretty convincing argument – one that I myself have used in the past – but it may miss the overall larger point.  South Park points out that “fag” has been around for centuries, and only recently has it been used as a gay slur.  The term used to apply to fat people, the elderly, bundles of sticks, and cigarettes.  The term, South Park argues, is simply changing again under a new generation: instead of being used as a slur for homosexuals, the F-word is used to refer to anyone who is annoying or acting like an idiot – like loud, obnoxious Harley riders.  There’s not hateful intent toward gays whatsoever, and so everyone should just accept the fact that the word’s meaning has changed and move on.  They bring up a good point: I’m pretty sure most of us have used the term to describe someone we didn’t like, with no attention paid to our targets’ sexual orientation.

Like I said, Matt and Trey make sense, but I also think they’re missing the larger point.  This isn’t as black-and-white and simply changing the definition of a word.  The reason the N-word is so off limits is because of the horrible history of racism associated with it.  Even though the N-word has changed a bit, too (just listen to a hip hop album, any hip hop album to see how), its ugly history prevents it from becoming part of acceptable lexicon.  The F-word, on the other hand, is today used to describe someone who is annoying and pissing you off.  The problem, though, is that it’s still being used with a negative connotation.  Even if it’s not intentional, the speaker of the term “fag” is essentially taking a gay slur and using it to encompass anything and everything negative about a person.  It’s still used to describe negative, undesirable traits, and the fact that the term is still somewhat associated with homosexuals implies that being gay is negative and undesirable.  And I think that’s where South Park missed the point.

Should everyone get over it and move on?  That’s not really for me to say.  It’d be nice, because I think that Matt and Trey were correct about one thing: our generation and the ones that follow don’t use the term to insult gays. They use the term in a new meaning and it’s become such a regular part of our vocabularies that it’d be a lot easier to acknowledge its changed definition than it would be to fire, suspend, or ridicule every person who uses the term.  I think it’s safe to say that even with all the public outrage, the term isn’t going away anytime soon and the definition itself will change.  Ridding the word from everyday speech entirely is simply unrealistic.