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 .