South Park: Adam Curtis explains why the Comedy Central cartoon is 'the best documentary of them all'

'Every week they report on the world in a really original way'

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The Independent Culture

Over the last few weeks, South Park has poignantly been tackling the US election, calling out the mistakes of both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton while offering commentary on internet trolls, nostalgia, and a certain New York Times review of Ghostbusters

In an interesting open letter in The Guardian, documentary maker Adam Curtis - who recently released the astounding HyperNormalisation on BBC iPlayer - wrote how the Matt Stone and Trey Parker helmed cartoon is ‘true genius’. 

Curtis begins his letter by addressing how the ‘best documentary reporting’ happens in the likes of The Big Short, American Honey, and This Is England because they look at the real world in interesting ways. 

He reasons how traditional documentaries have moved from TV to arthouse cinema and, instead of challenging what the audience already knows, they reinforce the viewers’ beliefs.

“Documentaries shouldn’t just reflect the world,” Curtis write. “They should try and explain why reality is like it is. That’s what The Big Short does: it explains why bankers became bad by taking you into the strange, exhilarating world of finance that rose up in the past 20 years, and you understand emotionally why they did what they did.”

He concurs, however, that the best social commentary comes from South Park.

Adam Curtis on the genius of South Park

Every week they report on the world in a really original way. Their recent shows have been all about social media and internet trolling – and it is just wonderful. They make you realise how strange and absurd that world is. But the show I would nominate is the three-parter they did called Imaginationland. It is about how terrorists take over all of our imaginations – and then our imaginations run out of control with dark horror. So the US government decide to nuke our imaginations. But Kyle from South Park confronts the government and makes an epic speech about how what we imagine inside our heads is more real, and has had more effect on the world throughout history than us as just physical beings.

The whole story is a wonderful attack on the narrow rational utilitarianism of our age that both left and right have bought into. It’s saying: you can make the world anything you want it to be. At its heart, South Park has a touching faith in human beings. That despite their absurdities and flaws, people have the capacity to create a better world. In our conservative times that is the most radical message of all.

One of the reasons South Park is that, unlike the likes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Rugrats, The Flintstones, or basically any other cartoon, Parker and Stone don’t start writing or drawing episodes until just a week before they’re broadcast. 

This led to one huge problem last week: the presidential election. Stone and Parker accidentally believed Hilary Clinton would be crowned the next President of the United States, so when Donald Trump was announced as President-elect, the pair had to re-write the entire episode. 

Meanwhile, when promoting the Comedy Central show, the marketing team managed to anger the White House, Church of Scientology, and more with some well-placed billboards. Read The Independent’s review of the season 20’s first episode, here