South Park: “Whale Whores” and racism
Last week’s episode of South Park was a pretty biting commentary on reactions to whaling as well as to the show Whale Wars. At first I thought it was being unnecessarily racist to the Japanese, a culture Trey Parker appreciates enough to have become fluent in the language. By the end of the episode, you see where it all goes. It’s pretty brilliant.
What at first looks like a racist commentary of Japanese whaling turns into a commentary on cultural norms. We kill cows and chickens all the time. Hell, we breed them specifically for the purpose of consuming them. It’s the American way. The Japanese eat whale meat. So long as they target whales of sufficient population size, it shouldn’t be a problem. Cow and chicken populations aren’t threatened, and that’s why the world embraces our desire to ravage those particular species.
But it’s probably presumptuous to say that everyone will understand what Parker and Stone were saying with that South Park episode. The ending was just a high brow tag to an otherwise very low brow episode. Many viewers were probably snickering too much at the racism to realize that the projection of our values on other cultures is even more racist.
I want to give credit to the South Park team for how they handled the episode, but I don’t think they intended on the result they have here. The episode, as I saw it, was presented through the perspective of an unintentional racist who just happens to see the practices of other cultures as silly and primitively brutal. This is an embellishment of the perspective we have whenever we are approached by something foreign and say, “What the—? That’s not right!” And don’t say that people don’t do that. Try going out to dinner at the average American diner and strike up a conversation about the consumption of dogs and cats in other cultures. Get back to me with notes on the reactions.
The roundabout point of the episode was that whaling isn’t such a big deal considering what we do over here. I just think the meaning can easily be extrapolated for other discussion on norms, especially given the fact that they went out of their way to make the Japanese mere caricatures of their own culture. Now I just wish more episodes could be more like “Whale Whores” and less like “Butters’ Bottom Bitch”.