The premiere of the 19th season of South Park earlier this week revolved around a single joke: the school’s long-time principal is fired for failing to curb speech some students found hurtful, and is replaced by PC Principal, a frat boy dudebro in Oakleys and chinos whose great passion in life is policing any utterance anyone might find even remotely offensive.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show’s creators and head writers, aren’t the first to point out the oppressive nature of victimhood’s zealous new guardians; the subject has been keeping political pundits busy for months. But anyone who still needed proof that—in an age decimated by too much rage and not enough education—a two-decade-old cartoon about foul-mouthed fourth-graders remains, by far, our smartest cultural production, would’ve been satisfied with Wednesday’s episode: political correctness, Stone and Parker know, isn’t an intellectual argument but an emotional reaction.
It may have been born on college campuses, but it has much less in common with the sober pursuit of knowledge than it does with the myopia that life in small, tightly-knit communities often produces. Hence the genius of the PC Principal as frat boy: for all of their gilded language and infatuation with various theories, the Social Justice Warriors, as PC’s vanguard has taken to calling itself online, are really only thuggish bruisers dedicated primarily to exerting their will and doing their best to make the rest of the world look as much as possible like their small and airless fraternity house. The saddest punch line of all in yesterday’s episode, therefore, occurred when one of the boys said, with a child’s touching earnestness, that he hoped the new sensitivity brought on by political correctness will help foster dialogue.
Of course, no dialogue is possible. Stone and Parker have been putting up a fight for some years now, and, if this week’s episode is any indication, will continue to do so. But even they recognize we’re in for a long and bitter struggle. Midway through the episode, two older gentlemen, looking on at the partying princes of PC, commented woefully that this new wave of assault against speech, thought, feeling, and every other human emotion worth preserving was here to stay. With Cartman on our side, however, we may just win this battle.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.