Oh My God They Filmed Kenny!

A gay dog, a woman with a foetus on her head, a boy called Kenny who dies horribly every week. South Park, a cartoon about four dumb-ass kids, is as puerile as it is crude. It may also prove to be the future of American cinema

The American movie season is as ponderous, and as subject to surprise, as a supertanker on the high seas - if you want to stop tomorrow, you start the process today. This year, summer fun for American movie-goers has been a matter of boarding one of several monster vessels and then doing one's best to conceal the disappointment: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace is the epitome of anti-climax; the new Austin Powers picture, The Spy Who Shagged Me, is as monotonous as the two facial reactions of Mike Myers, its alleged genius. Tarzan is pretty and decent, and boring. Eyes Wide Shut just may be the real thing - or the greatest let-down. But that's a movie for adults, while summer is for kids - isn't it?

But then, out of nowhere, on the last day of June, came a whizz-bang speedboat, zigging and zagging through the stupid fleet, with a bomb in its prow. Insolent, raunchy, breathtakingly offensive, it's not just the movie of the season but the most truly radical American movie in years, the talking point at cocktail parties, and an event at which kids are jumping up and down like freed slaves while elders groan and clutch their heads against the pain that will not go away. Above all, this mongrel, whiplash movie has made a mockery of the whole question, "What is a kid?" And it's called South Park: Bigger, Larger & Uncut.

"Oh, South Park," you still hear some adults say patronisingly. "That's the cartoon for grown-ups, isn't it?" Attend to those lofty folk, for if they have children they are riding for a fall. South Park already airs in Britain, on Channel 4 and Sky One, so some of you may have made this journey already with a cartoon that few adults are strong enough to take.

What do you expect if the cartoon in question is drawn about as well as the average eight-year-old can draw, and if it has for heroes four vacant-eyed blobs in the American third grade? The blobs live in South Park, Colorado - have done for several years now, since long before the bewildered, inane guilt and helplessness of American parents was triggered into alarm by the Columbine High School massacre in the Colorado town of Littleton. South Park is referred to in the movie as a "quiet little red-neck Podunk white-trash mountain town". And who could be amazed if this fictional locale was one of the favourite escapes of alienated kids in a place like Littleton, who thought that parents, school, the President, the nation, its hypocrisy, its wealth, its greed, its miserable education and its TV diet every day sucked - like the sound of the bath water running out?

I don't know if there's a proven Littleton connection, but if you realise that American kids have been watching five, six, seven, eight or more hours of TV every day, without guidance or discussion, it's a fair supposition. And since that tragic day in April, the American parental class has all of a sudden become very anxious about this state of affairs. In countless articles and around countless dinner tables, it has blamed TV and the movies as a vague generality, and it has cast around for some silly and apparently practical thing to do.

The American "R" rating is the begging target. It is the self-regulating practice of the country's movie business to rate its films as a guide to parents. The scale goes as follows: G (anyone can see this - if they've got nothing else to do); PG (parents should think about this): PG-13 (they should really think about this if their kids are under 13); R (no one admitted under the age of 17 unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian); and NC-17 (no one under the age of 17 admitted).

This system and its practice have been a disgrace, a face-saving way of allowing the industry to make as much money as possible while shrugging off responsibility. What it means, in daily business, is that kids under 13 can get into PG-13 pictures if they say their parents thought about it - if asked. Further, kids under 17 (which means kids of six, five, four, three - just so long as their whimpering doesn't disturb the adult experience), if they are "with" adults, can see Eyes Wide Shut, Saving Private Ryan, Psycho, Taxi Driver - just about any movie ever made.

This crazy state of affairs has arisen because NC-17 is a virtually unoccupied rating in America. In many parts of the country, there are local laws that forbid the showing or publicising of NC-17 films, and so the industry regards that rating as commercial death - instead of a legitimate form for material and issues that require mature participation from the audience. The contract that film directors now sign orders that a completed film must obtain an R rating - and they are compelled to make the cuts deemed necessary to get it.

In practice, this hypocritical and damaging policy has been held in such contempt by theatre staff that they hardly bothered to screen out kids who didn't have an adult with them. But rather than respond with horror and grief to the built-in iniquity of the R rating, the American parental class (post-Littleton) has jumped on the need for "proper" enforcement. And so, when I took my nine-year-old son to see South Park at a cinema in San Francisco, I was asked at the box office whether I was indeed taking my son with me - and at the entrance to the theatre itself, there were staff poised to question anyone of borderline age. One 13-year-old was barred from admission: he said his mother had bought him his ticket, and that she was "downstairs somewhere". We will see how long this novel vigilance lasts.

More to the point, with the genius of a Picasso or Stravinsky sensing new forms, Trey Parker, the man behind South Park, has made the R rating a plot point in the new film - and clearly that decision was taken months ago, before the events at Columbine, when the R was simply an outrage to any sane American.

For in Bigger, Larger & Uncut, the South Park cinema plays a "depraved" Canadian film (this deadpan oxymoron is typical of Parker's humour) starring "Terrance and Phillip", a foul-mouthed duo. The four blobs get into the film by paying a homeless person to be their moral guardian. They rejoice at the language of the film - "Shut your fucking face, uncle fucker" is one song. Later on, they pick up that eternal riddle in life: "What's the clitoris?" In the movie, the US responds to the Canadian immorality by declaring war on its neighbour and bombing it into the condition of Kosovo.

There is also a flagrant gay affair going on between the Devil and Saddam Hussein. And before the film is over, the clitoral quest is, if not quite answered, augmented by the sight of a vast pink bombe surprise rendering of the little rosebud itself.

These things are not easy to write about. Readers of The Independent may feel they have a right to be spared. But I believe that's what Trey Parker wants to have us start thinking about. You may be shocked to hear that I took my nine-year-old to the film. My reasons were as follows: though nine, he is a devotee of the TV series (where the language is bleeped in America), who educated his parents in seeing its satire and its politics; though nine, he will only get older - we have found no way to arrest his development; though nine, he has heard adults - his parents even - use the word "fuck", and there is no way of asking the jury in him to forget the word; and, though nine, when he asked what the clitoris was, or what it was for, he listened carefully to our answers, was tolerant of our shyness and ineptness, but learned. We talked about the film for a solid hour - and we all learned a good deal about what adults and children think, know, pretend to know, and try to ignore. We were a family.

You have every right to keep your nine-year-old from seeing South Park when it opens on 27 August in Britain. Indeed, the BBFC's 15 certificate keeps young children out of films - and South Park will surely be awarded a 15. In America, I might add, it nearly got an NC-17. But the most vital point raised by this mischievous, but very sane, film - when it comes to the impact of actually watching it on the screen - is that no one really sees anything "with" anyone else. We are alone in the dark. Which makes it essential that we talk about what we have seen as if it were a matter of life and death. In Colorado, it has been.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower