Stan Marsh, Cartman, and Privilege

Recap: South Park Season 21 Episode 03 “Holiday Special”

Should Statues Supplant People? (Comedy Central)

Hello to my fellow South Park fans who love the jokes but take South park seriously as both satire and criticism.

So what were the fine people of South Park Colorado up to this week?

This week’s episode “Holiday Special” was kind of like what might happen if the show “Dear White People” had been written by white people for white people as a critique of whiteness.

The Details

Columbus was cool in 2013? (Comedy Central)

Stan Marsh (aka Lorde) leads a successful campaign to block the official celebration of Columbus Day and to tear down the South Park statue of Columbus in ‘support’ of Native Americans.

Later, after internet searches turn up large numbers of photos of Stan dressed as Columbus for Halloween (and for other celebrations), Stan becomes afraid that his authenticity as a <progressive> voice opposing Columbus Day will be called into question or worse that he might be shunned for his own participation in the oppression of Native Americans.

In order to protect himself, Stan sets up a DNA test and hires a random Native American man to make out with him just before the saliva test is administered (was he random?). As a result of his scheme, the Native American man falls in love with Stan and starts to follow him around (at one point he even brings his parents to meet Stan). Stan spends the rest of the episode trying to shun the Native man and at one point attacks him physically.

Meanwhile the South Park kids, who are furious that their Fall school holiday is being cancelled start an underground campaign to attack Stan’s credibility and get the Columbus Day Holiday restored.

After many other events pass, Stan’s DNA test comes back showing that he has literally no Native American blood (but does have a small amount of Neanderthal blood which allows him to claim that he is part of an oppressed minority).

By the end of “Holiday Special” Stan, the kids, and the South Park calendar committee agree to reinstate the official holiday but under the name of ‘Indigenous People’s Day.’ Stan, of course, misunderstands what the term indigenous means and believes that it is a synonym for the word ‘insult.’

So, he announces to South Park, in declaring the new holiday, that the purpose of ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ is for people to take a day to insult each other.

The Greatest Moment in the History of Television

I mean, I don’t know everyone in Columbus but I can’t prove this isn’t true (Comedy Central)

The meme above came from the scene where Stan Marsh started randomly calling people in Columbus Ohio to insult them for living in a town named after a genocidal mass murderer.

So…all I have to say here is…


In 1492 Columbus…

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Watch the all-new #SouthPark episode "Holiday Special" for FREE https://t.co/Ak9mSdgbjQ https://t.co/QCrqyYWO7a

 — @SouthPark

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So what does it all mean?

One of the major social critiques this season has been that the outrage generated around race (on both sides of the political divide) has really been to create political cover for ambivalence, selfishness, or outright complicity with racism.

Stan Marsh, usually depicted as a well-meaning progressive, has been shown so far this season:

  • Helping racists literally renovate the house of racism (Alt Right) to decrease the ‘noise’ around racism and in order to help him and his family maintain the spoils that they receive from their portion of structural racism.
  • Protesting in solidarity with Native People that he has been willfully exploiting and appropriating all of his life. Stan is also shown to be 100% willing to use First People to improve the perception of his own advocacy but when forced to actually interact with Native Americans on a human level, he wants nothing to do with them (and ultimately becomes violent towards them).

Stan literally WAS celebrating Columbus (by living whiteness) until it became cool to protest for Native Americans (to keep living whiteness uninterrupted by guilt or shame).

It seems obvious that Trey and Matt are suggesting that progressives are often extremely committed to spoken moral outrage and to protest but totally blind to their own continuing complicity in systems of oppression.

But South Park is not putting all of the blame on Progressives at all, they seem to see Progressives, Democrats, & traditional GOP members (Stan) as willfully blind to systemic oppression they see the rest of the GOP and Alt-Right as gleefully complicit in those same systems.

The white political spectrum, in other words, places members based on their relative degree of self-deception or wiling complicity with oppression instead of basing placement on real opposition to oppression.

Matt and Trey are also clearly arguing that protests by white folks (no matter the political affiliation) are really more about dividing up the right to spoils then showing commitment to addressing fundamental inequities or the spoils system itself.

What spoils system, you ask?

Well at the very beginning, the history of whiteness broke down a little something like this:


Remember that while emancipation was obviously super awesome, after emancipation white people still owned all the property, all the means of production, and all the stuff.

Somehow against all odds, first people and people of color managed to start making meaningful inroads into the ‘property problem’ so white folks reacted with white flight and by instituting real estate discrimination.

It is really hard to overcome poverty when the ‘powers that be’ keep changing the rules whenever it suits them and calling for strict adherence to colorblind meritocracy whenever it doesn’t.

Or as Ta-Nehisi Coates said more eloquently in the context of our present Alt-Right leaning leader(ship):

“With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness, that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump, a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.”

But nobody wants to hear that because:

It is easier and more profitable for white folks (like me) to keep believing the system is fair (everything I have came from my own hard work).

It is easier and more profitable for white folks like me to never act or say anything overtly racist,

It is easier and more profitable to take no responsibility for benefiting from an unfair system (Progressives, Traditional GOP, & Democrats) OR to just enthusiastically embrace the system as is (Alt-Right).

Cartman is, in effect, an unapologetic celebrator of white privilege, exploitation, and participation in the spoils system:

On Columbus, he ignores the history of exploitation entirely, saying:

“In 1492 Columbus got us off a day of school. With just three ships, he sailed over so we could have some ‘me time’ in October. And, yes, millions were slaughtered and throats were cut. But if we don’t get that day off school, then for what?”

To sum up, I think what Matt and Trey are suggesting is that everyone white involved in the race discussion is pretty much totally full of shit.

In particular, they are using Stan’s quest to ‘prove’ that he has Native American blood to call out white people for often working harder to claim to be part of an oppressed group (to insulate them from claims of privilege) than they work to redress real structural and lived inequality.

Beneficiary and Victim? (Comedy Central)

For those who think South Park is all fun and games (fart jokes and stereotyping), that is some really deep social criticism.

Anyway, of course most of our holidays are celebrations of whiteness, of course most of our statues are celebrations of white people, and of course when we grudgingly recognize ‘alternative’ holidays like Kwanza. Martin Luther King Jr., or Indigenous People’s day white folks resist.

Heritage IS privilege.

History is written by the winners (often brutal and cruel).

Real change threatens the spoils system.

And, when we protest, what are we really fighting for?

Do we believe white people tearing down a statue of Columbus help any Native People?

Do we believe white people tearing down a statue of Lee pay back any reparations?

And yes, in case you were wondering, I do think this was an internal critique of whiteness by white people.

I don’t think South Park has had ONE thing to say this season about protests by Black People (or the very few people of color who reside in South Park).

By the way, I have a bunch of Hungarian, a bunch of Welsh, and a bunch of French blood (maybe also some Neanderthal).

Josh is a 100% reader-funded blogger and freelance writer. Please consider following him on Twitter, throwing a tip into his hat on Patreon, or adding his blog OnPirateSatellite to your feeds. Support writing on platforms like Medium that don’t have pop-ups or bloatware!

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