Anti-Semitism in the playground
I have suddenly found myself surrounded by `acceptable racism', thanks to a cartoon
Monday 01 February 1999
It is on Channel 4 and Sky. It has a cute and innocent facade and can, at first, seem quite charming. The images are basic and the characters walk sideways. Cute huh? Well, what about this line: "Kyle's mum's a fucking Jew."
This was delivered by the obnoxious character called Cartman in front of millions of admiring young children who have now decided it is cool to take the piss out of Jews. Of course, this isn't the only thing about the show that is racist. My nine-year-old sister goes to school with a South Park bag. She tells me how all her little friends watch South Park and love it. She has listened to children in the playground singing the "I'm a lonely Jew at Christmas" song from the South Park Christmas special. South Park has an ongoing anti-Semitic theme, which is justified by one of its creators, Matt Stone, on the grounds that he is Jewish himself.
Let me set the record straight. I've little time for political correctness. I don't call short people vertically challenged; I call them short arses. I love South Park. It's great that a programme like that takes risks. However, I'm a 17-year-old non-orthodox Jewish student living in West London - and I have suddenly found myself surrounded by "acceptable racism" that I believe is due to South Park.
I noticed this first a few months ago when I was at my best friend Stephen's house. I was sitting in his living room before we went out to a party. Stephen went into the kitchen to make himself a quick sandwich. His 13- year-old brother, James, was in there, also about to go out. James needed to borrow some money from Stephen so asked him for pounds 10. Stephen only offered to lend him five. Then came the shock. James said, as if it were no big deal: "Stephen, don't be a Jew." He did not seem to care that a Jew was sitting in the room next to him. I started feeling sick with despair that an innocent child, thinking it to be acceptable, even with a Jew in his presence was now using the stingy Jew archetype, an image Nazis and racist Jew haters use. What the hell was going on? I didn't know about South Park at the time.
At the party, people were routinely using the term "Jew" as an insult. One guy I knew was a proud Scot, who was extremely defensive of people who attacked his heritage. And there he was, calling people tight Jews at the top of his voice - and no one seemed particularly bothered. I, however, felt hurt and genuinely insulted.
This is a similar situation to the controversy over Goodness Gracious Me, the comedy series based on Asians made by Asians. I remember sitting in a lesson with my Indian friend, Daniel, who was upset by the show as people were using it as an excuse to be racist. I remember telling him to lighten up and that it was only a bit of affectionate fun. Now however, seeing the same thing happen to my own kind, I can sympathise with how he was feeling.
I understand and enjoy ironic use of racism, but it requires a sophisticated audience which knows racism is wrong. The problem is that the South Park audience mainly consists of young children. This is a comedy version of alcopops.
So, is South Park's humour acceptable considering one of its creators is Jewish? Yes. What is not acceptable is its target audience. There has been no effort to protect children from this show.
Angela Farrugia, joint managing director of the company which licences the South Park merchandise says that "we have been very careful to target all our products and ads at the 18-plus market". This, as anybody with an IQ above Cartman's would understand, is a little disingenuous. The merchandise is available in every shop, in every high street, to every age group.
Believe it or not, I don't believe in censorship. What I believe in is parental responsibility. Children aren't shown by their parents that it is OK to laugh at South Park jokes because they are actually making fun of the scum in society who genuinely are racist. Instead, children think it is OK to be racist and that nobody will be offended.
There is an episode of the show in which the children watch a television show that contains rude words and celebrates farting. All the South Park parents become angry and catapult themselves at the show's head office building in protest, becoming bloody splats on the wall. It makes the point that parents tend to see television as the "sole babysitter" of their children and take no responsibility. I would agree. Let's hang on to South Park but if we're going to sell it to the kids, the least we can do is teach the kids how to handle the humour.
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