Thursday, April 26, 2007

Post #6 Audience Interpretations

The semester is coming to an end, and thus is the Gender and Pop Culture Blog Experiment. In light of these final words, I have chosen to examine audience interpretations of South Park. This might seem difficult considering the time limitations on gathering interpretations; however, I have chosen to analyze the consistencies and inconsistencies between my own interpretations and my male friends’ interpretations; since they are already known. Being that this is a wrap-up to my blogging efforts, I would like to note that my interest in this topic has only grown throughout the experiment, and my knowledge of social and hegemonic norms evident in the topic has expanded.

Audience interpretations, of pretty much anything, will vary greatly among different people. One’s race, class and gender, as well as past experiences and morals, will play an intricate role in his/her interpretation of something. South Park is no doubt a bold show, but whether someone interprets this boldness as humorous or vulgar depends on the individual.

When I watch South Park, I am watching it because my male friends turn it on. My interpretation is influenced by numerous factors, including the fact that I am a woman. Also, I have always had a strong opinion that the majority of the material on cable television is inappropriate and should be aired on stations that have to be ordered separately, such as HBO. By inappropriate, I mean the sexually explicit, violent, adult content that airs on stations such as Comedy Central; I include South Park in this category. Some would argue that the rise of parental controls available with cable packages eliminates this problem; however, children in situations where their care taker does not monitor what they watch are the ones being affected. My interpretation of South Park is double-sided; while it is an extremely creative, up-to-date show with intelligent writers, some of the material goes way too far. I do find certain scenes humorous, but the vulgar scenes are offensive and they are far too explicit for young viewers.

On the other hand, my male friends cannot get enough South Park. There are many inconsistencies between my interpretations and my male friends’ interpretations of the show. Their interpretation of the show lies in its entertainment factor. They are not concerned about who is seeing the content that possibly shouldn’t. They actually enjoy more, the extremely offensive material than the “toned down” scenes. My male friends, and probably most male South Park fans, have a very basic view of the show; it’s funny, witty and current. The only consistency present between these two interpretations is that it is, at least, entertaining.

To offer an example of these interpretations, watch episode #508, the “Towelie” episode (available at the bottom of this blog). The very beginning of the episode is the focus this example. To briefly describe the scene, Cartman finds a used tampon in the trash. When I saw this, I was immediately offended; however, my male friends immediately cracked up laughing. Some might attribute the differences in the interpretations of this scene to the difference in the gender of the interpreters. This possible rationale assumes that men can tolerate and even enjoy explicit material more so than women. This assumption is somewhat stereotypical of masculine and feminine characteristics. For example, in the extreme case of the media’s focus on the women torturers inside Abu Ghraib, as opposed to the male torturers, there is an underlying societal view that women are normally the victims of torture, not the inflictors. According to Cynthia Enloe, “Women were not – according to the conventional presumption – supposed to be the wielders of violence, certainly not the perpetrators of torture.” The intensity of the situation and analysis of Abu Ghraib can be greatly reduced in order to apply this concept to the reason why my, female, interpretation is different from my friends’ male interpretations. Basically, women shouldn’t be the wielders of violence or torture, and nor should they enjoy watching it on television.

The two interpretations that I have analyzed are not the only interpretations of the show; however, they do show that there is a discrepancy between male and female interpretations of South Park. It seems as though the show is intended for a male audience in light of the content. The stereotypes of masculinity and femininity show through the differences in the interpretations, and that is something to consider when analyzing audience interpretations and understandings of South Park.
Enloe, Cynthia. "Wielding Masculinity Inside Abu Ghraib." Asian Journal of Women\'s Studies 10 (2004): 514-523.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blog Buddy, Leo's Comments


I really liked the way you analyzed South Park using news articles dealing with the show in addition to the show itself. The posts on Hayes and Poor Parenting were not only insightful and relevant, but they showed that you have a very high degree of familiarity with your topic.

No matter how you decide to write your final post and organize your interview, I would recommend that you find a way to incorporate your use news articles.

It is clear to me, and most likely to your other readers as well, that you are indeed comfortable and highly interested in your topic. This becomes remarkable evident through the ways you have analyzed your topic. Where most people have stopped at the surface, you have definitely shown pursuit of deeper ideas that are not so obvious. Your posts also find ways to convey your ideas or propose questions in ways that make it very simple to understand, even when the ideas are somewhat complex.

I very much enjoyed reading your blog. Even though my knowledge of South Park does not exceed what one can gain from viewing half an episode, I found it easy to follow what you were saying because of your clarity. Your points were well supported and it was not hard to see that going above and beyond to state an idea was not a problem for you.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Interesting South Park News Article

This article, from BBC News, is about Isaac Hayes, the man who does the voice of Chef on South Park. Hayes quite South Park when writers ridiculed Scientology, Hayes's religion, in a fairly recent episode. The question at hand when reading this article is, why was Hayes fine with the scrutiny of other religions on South Park, but not his own? Hmmm....

Post # 5 The Blame of Poor Parenting’s news article, “Goin’ Down to South Park: How Kids Can Learn from “Vial Trash,”” written by Barry S. Fagin, is a view from the other side when analyzing whether parents should censor their children from popular culture. The author, note he is a man, admits to letting his ten and twelve year old children watch certain “prescreened” episodes of South Park. He continues to attest to the extreme adult content as assistance in teaching his children about American popular culture, as well as his own morals and values.

Popular media tends to spotlight mothers when discussing poor parenting. Mostly concentrating on celebrity mothers, the media sends the message that young children can potentially become corrupted when parents permit exposure to adult popular culture. In an extreme example, Norma Coates discusses Courtney Love’s practice of bringing her young daughter on stage, “To haul a child on stage in front of thousands of screaming, possibly drunken and drug-addled fans… is a potentially traumatizing experience for a young child, one from which she should be protected – by her mother,” (Coates, 324). When on stage at her mother’s rock concert, Love’s daughter is directly exposed to adult popular culture, and Love is constantly depicted as a “bad mother” because of this.

The fact that South Park exhibits extreme adult content relates it to Love’s “transgressive” parenting style. There are two important differences in these two discussions of parents who allow their children to witness adult popular culture at young ages. Primarily, one article is a father’s confession and seemingly convincing reasoning, while the other is an outside analysis of an intense celebrity-mother’s situation. Second, the father is openly admitting that society might view his actions as poor parenting before he is attacked by the media, while the mother’s unconventional public parenting has landed her the topic of many media pieces.

Fagin realizes that he may be viewed as a bad parent because he has allowed his children to view certain South Park episodes; however, he believes it can aid in teaching his children about American popular culture. After stating that exposure to adult material before the right age/maturity level may be harmful, he continues with,

“But complete isolation from pop culture is just as bad. Forbidden fruit is always more tempting, and isolation can keep you from discussing important issues with your children. That, in turn, impairs their ability to make judgments later in life. How can they make important choices as adults if they haven't had any practice?” (Fagin, 2).

This reasoning may hold true for Fagin’s ten and twelve year-olds, but not necessarily for Love’s two year-old. Love’s actions are, presumably, significantly more impacting on a child than the viewing of a few South Park episodes; however, the fact still stands that the media tends to focus on mothers rather than fathers when the topic is poor parenting.

In this light, it is possible that the media zeros in on mothers because society subconsciously believes that most fathers hold the same views as Fagin and are therefore more responsible parents than mothers. It might be a far-fetched possibility; however, Fagin’s article only contributes to the sexist situation. His confession and reasoning prove he does have morals he wishes to instill in his children, as well as that he intends to teach his children about popular culture instead of them being exposed in a non-educational manner. If Love opted to explain her reasoning for dragging her daughter on stage, maybe mothers who allow this exposure would get less of a bad rap. Fagin’s article is newsworthy in that he takes a stance and declares his responsibility, despite the fact it further contributes to the omission of poor fathers in the topic of bad parenting.

Works Cited

Coates, Norma. "Moms Don'T Rock: the Popular Demonization of Courtney Love." "Bad" Mothers: the Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America (1998): 319-333.

Fagin, Barry S. "South Park." Reason Magazine. 1 May 2000. 4 Apr. 2007 .

Friday, March 30, 2007

Post #4 Women's Source of Power

“Raisins”, an episode of South Park in which Wendy breaks up with Stan and the boys take him to Raisins, a restaurant similar to Hooters, to try and forget about her, portrays the type of hegemony women have over men. The Raisin girls have power over their male customers because they are attractive, wearing next to nothing, and they pretend to be interested in the males to get bigger tips. According to James Lull, “Hegemony implies willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules and laws they believe to operate in their best interests…,” (63). The male customers are agreeing to be overpowered by the attractive women’s bodies. The majority of hegemony issues in social settings dealing with masculinity and femininity award men the power; however, most men’s sexual desire for women give women a source of power. The downfall: when this source of power is used it portrays women in a negative light. Why must some women feel the need to exert power over men though their looks?
Work Cited:

Post #3 Stupid Spoiled Whore

South Park is a popular show that incorporates current events into the storylines of episodes. Often times, people who do not find this vulgar humor amusing, are offended by it. South Park’s writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are starting to tie their personal views in with current events talked about in episodes of the last few seasons. As discussed in my post entitled, The “Right” Side of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, these personal views have started to lean right. Whether or not one agrees with the view embedded in the storyline, is of little relevance. This show is a good source of analysis for gender and pop culture because it is extremely popular and it only further promotes the issues it addresses by ridiculing them in such a grotesque way.

For this post, I have chosen to analyze the episode entitled, “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset.” This episode articulates how female celebrities influence young girls to be flirtatious, trendy and sexually provocative. Paris Hilton guest stars as the spokes model for her new store that sells all the things girls need to become “stupid spoiled whores”. In the end, Wendy, a member of the “out crowd”, learns from Mr. Slave, the children’s gay teacher’s boyfriend, that being a whore is a bad thing. The parents, who are usually portrayed as brainless, are also enlightened by Mr. Slave that they should teach their daughters that these ideals are wrong. In this particular episode, the writers have a valid point: young girls shouldn’t idolize celebrities like Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears because they have poor values. However, the way the show mocks the how parents actually do overlook the fact that their young daughters are mimicking the actions of these sexually provocative celebrities only feeds the fire.

When young girls watch this episode they are further confused as to their role in social settings. In one scene of this episode, the popular girls throw a “sex party” that Wendy is not invited to. This makes the female viewer think about the pressures they experience in their own social settings and enhances the thought that they must conform to these pressures to be considered popular. The supposed “moral” of the story attempts to contradict this social pressure by imposing that being a whore is wrong. However, young girls don’t see these celebrities as whores, and they discard the “moral” to concentrate on what might make them more popular.

Jean Kilbourne discusses how the media and advertising reinforces social pressures on young girls in her article, “The More You Subtract, The More You Add.” This episode of South Park brings to the table the exact type of advertising that Kilbourne is referring to: the kind that promotes girls to be someone else. By ridiculing this type of advertising in their storylines, the writers are adding another piece of media that confuses young girls to the picture.

Even though the writers try to justify the episode by expressing that girls should not want to be whores, the humor factor desensitizes the justification and the popular crowd still comes out looking correct. Young girls find these messages contradicting and their roles as females in society become unclear. As Kilbourne notes, “The culture, both reflected and reinforced by advertising, urges girls to adopt a false self, to bury alive their real selves…” (259). Although this episode articulates a type of advertising that is a bit of a twist of Killbourne’s vision of what society pushes girls to be, the fact that the girls are pushed to be someone they aren’t is still evident.

Would it not be beneficial to young girls not to be further exposed to these pressures though shows like South Park? Yes, the show is popular and the writers are intelligent, but it is not intended for young audiences even though it is so easily accessible and entertaining to them. This episode, though it may seem justifiable to the mature audience, is further bolstering the idea to young girls that they should idolize celebrities because they are sexy and in style, which in turn adds to the social pressures they experience from peers and other media. The vulgar humor that this episode contains was not mentioned because of its severity, however; it is the reason that girls miss the “moral” of the story and are left to contemplate conforming to social norms.


Work Cited:
Kilbourne, Jean. Gender, Race, and Class in Media: "The More You Subtract, The More You Add". Second. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. California: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Going Back Down to South Park...

In light of assignment #2 of the "The Gender & Pop Culture Blog Experiment" (earliest post), I am returning to my original topic of South Park. The following post analyzes a post written by Lonnie Harris, entitled "Is South Park Right?" Enjoy...