Cartman, a true hero of our age

These characters are the ultimate weapons in the war between grown- ups and children

THERE IT is, tucked away in the In Brief section of a newspaper: one of the most uplifting little paragraphs you are likely to read this month. "South Park's cartoon star Eric Cartman is the top personality for children --ahead of soccer stars David Beckham and Michael Owen - according to a poll of 100 eight- and nine-year-olds by NatWest Bank. Bart Simpson came second."

Never mind the risibly small number of children surveyed (psephologically useless, but just dandy for the purposes of newspaper comment); just reflect on the implications.

For those who do not know him, Cartman is a fat, dysfunctional, foul- mouthed slob. Sneaky, treacherous, contemptuous of all noble thoughts and causes, grossly insulting to his over- indulgent mother, he is at the same time strangely tolerated by his peers, who defer to his massive self-belief and his powerful, inventive and indeed distinctive vocabulary, the precise details of which I shall spare you, as you may be reading this in the morning.

As a role model, he leaves much to be desired, as does Bart Simpson (with whom I assume you are familiar). Unlike those nice, clean-cut soccer stars Michael Owen and David Beckham.

Which is to confuse the terms "top personality" and "role model". Actually, "top personality" is not a particularly meaningful term, in fact it stinks, but we'll let that go. The point is that da yoot' finally have characters whom they can not so much identify with but for whom they can root until they are hoarse, and scare the slacks off us while they do so. For Cartman, E and Simpson, B are creations (aged roughly the same as the questioned audience) who represent the ultimate weapons in the war between grown- ups and children.

In these consensual days, where we are meant to be in touch with the child within, and, by implication, the child without, it is very easy to forget that there is a war between adults and the young; a continual, attritional war, which if it's waged properly can leave its scars throughout an entire life. The very fact of the eight- and nine-year-olds' endorsement of Cartman's Weltanschauung is a sneaky and audacious act of table-turning; Cartman may be a lightning-rod for adult fears about problem children, but he's not meant to be enthused over by children, who shouldn't be watching South Park at that age anyway, should they?

We have, of course, been here before. Cartman is only the latest in a long line of infant rebels. Mutatis mutandis, his position is a version of nigel molesworth's anomie, his world-weary cynicism ("Roll on thou grate and restless wave roll over THE LOT"), the knowledge, always bringing him to the brink of despair but never quite over it, that the world is not only an adult conspiracy, but an ineptly-governed one at that.

molesworth's language may have been more decorous than Cartman's but then some things can still be expressed decorously and still be highly subversive and shocking. Queneau's Zazie, nine years old if I recall, was herself famously foul-mouthed and urbane; the children of Vigo's Zero de Conduite inverted the adult order in an act of spontaneous and violent revolution (later remade in this country as If...); and, as we all remember, Christopher Robin was particularly prone to launching into a string of astonishingly fruity expletives whenever things went wrong for him and his cuddly toys.

All right, that last bit is wishful thinking. But I hope it illustrates the point that how we would like to see our fictional children behave is neither how they do nor should behave. Milne's version of childhood, idyllic, ideal and innocent, actually had a very pernicious effect on the real-life Christopher Robin, who found himself tormented by the fact that the memory of his innocence had been frozen in time; something private and special for him - his relationship with his toys, his father - had been violated and exploited for the world's entertainment.

Not that we can blame Milne or ourselves for this exploitation; but it is something we should bear in mind when faced with far less cosy examples of childhood being cheered on by the children themselves. (What would we think of a group of 100 eight- to nine-year-olds who claimed Christopher Robin was their "top personality"?)

But there are two unambiguously beneficial aspects to the popularity of Cartman. The first is that it is a significant blow to the bully's ethos and the Victorian tyranny of the sporting ethic - which would have demanded a lifetime of suffering for fatsoes like Cartman.

And the second, and perhaps more significant one, in an age where so many adults act like kids - is that finally, we have a group of people who are acting their own age.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing