By Kelsea Stahler, Hollywood.com Staff
Just one day after the 2012 election, South Park not only delivered a hilarious riff on the quadrennial event, but one that somehow taps into the nature of it, even though the episode had to have been mostly finished before the results were ever announced. Of course, we knew early this week that the episode would be titled "Obama Wins!" What we didn't know was just how on-point the episode would be, or how expansive its reach would be.
The new episode entwines the fever of election day with a certain set's refusal to accept Barack Obama as president, a hyperbolic fear of China, an irrational love of Star Wars, and the menace of creative tyrant Disney. It accomplishes two feats: First, it attempts to silence Obama naysayers who suggest that battleground states like Ohio were prematurely called (ahem, Karl Rove), and even further, those that seek to find ""unfair"" reasons Obama bested Mitt Romney (higher voter turnout? Liberal zombies!). Obama won. End of story. Second, it echoes many a stalwart Star Wars fan's feeling that handing the epic series' legacy over to another world power is preferable to having it desecrated any further. South Park's is a complicated web, but it's actually kind of perfect.
The episode opens with Cartman assuming a high-stakes spy mission to intercept votes for Obama's opponent, who in this reality is a handsome duck, spewing whatever it is that ducks spew. In case you were wondering who Trey Parker and Matt Stone support, the duck-Romney interchangeability should certainly give you a clue. (Either that, or they let Vice President Joe Biden co-write that particular scene. He's "one quackin' duck!" that Mitt.) Through Cartman's uncharacteristically arduous efforts, the duck loses his bid for the presidency and Obama is named the winner (and Parker and Stone are so industrious, they even managed to sneak in "hair flag lady" who was conspicuously standing behind Obama during his victory speech).
But, not so fast. Of course Obama couldn't have won on his own. This victory was actually bought through a deal with China's General Tso - who, for the record, is chicken. Think about it. I'll wait. Got it? Moving on. General Tso bought Obama's victory by having Cartman steal ballots and hide them where no one would find them - a Hummer dealership (zing!) - in exchange for the rights to Star Wars, a property that now belongs to Disney in the real world and Disney's evil mouse mogul Mickey (ha-HA!) in the South Park world. Cartman is doing it all for a role in the new Star Wars film, or simply translated: personal gain. However, the super power that appears evil at the outset of the episode, China, turns out to be performing this grand scheme in order to save the "impeccable" (ha) Star Wars legacy from the Mouse House. Twist!
In the end, Kyle figures it all out and brings the authorities to the scene of the hidden ballots - the Hummer dealership with a dealer who may as well be Tom Hanks in Castaway, he's so desperate and lonely - but then, it all makes sense. The nation already "chose" its president. In the South Park realm, while Obama secured his victory through underhanded means, the result of those dealings was actually better for the nation.
Now, obviously, in the real world, Obama won by votes, and not an underhanded deal with China. However, South Park's over the top episode sticks it to Obama's most extreme (and uninformed, fear-mongering) detractors, some of whom believe that Obama's path is leading us to a future in which America will be some sort of indentured servant to China. South Park's approach is a hyperbolic take on the notion that Obama is too "soft" on China.
But beyond that, it's the definition of "better for the nation" that is the truly hilarious gut-punch. When it comes down decision time for the South Park boys, the police department, and Morgan Freeman (who's on hand to explain all the complicated plot pieces, because who else but the freckled, wise wonder could handle that?), they weigh the question: is it more important that the right man (or duck) is elected president, or that our interests (which amount to the fate of the Star Wars saga) remains unscathed? Wordlessly, they all know the answer: it's more important to protect our interests.
And while it's hysterical that those interests happen to be Star Wars, the joke subject is just a stand-in for relevant interests. At the same time, it's a dig at our society, because as a whole, we tend to get more riled up about the concept of our favorite movie being "ruined" than we would be by a great American injustice.
Earlier this Fall, I railed against South Park for what I deemed a lazy dig at the television phenomenon Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and it's because of episodes like this pristine one that the Honey Boo Boo episode was so disappointing. South Park, despite having famous characters that include a disgusting, self-obsessed obese child and during some holiday episodes, a singing piece of poop, is a brilliant show. This episode could have taken a broad swipe at the election, the material was endless and ripe for the picking. Instead, they gave us a pointed, complicated episode that was not only side-splittingly funny, but intricate and thoughtful, and left us with a few actual questions when it was all said and done. This is why South Park is still going strong: it's got brains, not an endless trough of simple gripes played out endlessly in memes, GIFs, and YouTube clips. And "Obama Wins!" is a shining example of that fact.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Comedy Central]
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