With the Emmy Awards on September 22, I decided to check out the list of nominations for 2013, and I’m disappointed.
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were watching an episode of South Park from season nine in which Cartman eats all the breading off a bucket of KFC, leaving no good parts for Stan, Kyle, and Kenny. As revenge, the three completely ignore Cartman, and get most of their friends in on the ruse, too. Cartman, as a result, thinks he’s dead and that’s why nobody can hear him.
It was one of the funniest episodes of South Park I’ve ever seen. Episodes like that remind me of why I enjoy the show in the first place.
When I saw that a South Park episode received a nomination for an Emmy this year, I was happy for the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I love most of their content. I enjoyed Book of Mormon. I remember when I was finally allowed to watch South Park (my mom wouldn’t let me watch it until high school), and I would watch episode after episode because it was just that good.
However, when I watched the episode that was nominated, I was disgusted. The episode, “Raising the Bar,” is blatantly fat-shaming and misogynistic.
“Raising the Bar” centers on Honey Boo Boo, eight-year-old Alana Thompson, who competes in beauty pageants and has her own program on TLC. While not everyone is on board with the show because of Alana’s silly, Southern family, South Park’s shaming of her and her mother, June Shannon, was just rude.
The episode in question shows the South Park gang watching Honey Boo Boo on TV and being disappointed that she is allowed to be on television. Their reactions mostly stem from the fact that Alana and June are happy with themselves, even though their appearances are not up to par with most people’s narrow standards.
To put it simply, this episode attacks fat people, and more specifically, fat women who are happy with themselves, because that’s such an abomination, right?
Women (white women, in the case of this episode) aren’t expected to be happy with themselves. Fat people aren’t expected to be happy with themselves either. We can see these expectations in advertisements for the beauty and diet industries, respectively. South Park is only perpetuating these expectations in “Raising the Bar.”
That’s shitty. Nobody should be shamed for being who they are, especially if they are members of marginalized groups.
It’s okay not to like a television show. I’ve disapproved of tons of TLC programming; I don’t agree with the Duggar family‘s decision to have umpteen children, but I’m not going to shame their decision to do so.
Also, I know that South Park rips on almost every famous person or popular product, because that’s just what they do. I don’t necessarily approve of all of that, but it is what it is.
My biggest problem with this is that enough people agreed with the message of this episode that it got an Emmy nomination. It’s a huge slap in the face to everyone who’s been working to stamp out body policing. Not only do people agree with the fat-shaming of women in this episode, but they’re acclaiming it, and that’s not cool.
Another thing that angers me about this episode is that it perpetuates the white male savior complex.
The assumption in this episode is that the metaphorical “bar” has been dropped so low that fat women like Honey Boo Boo and her mother can become famous, and we just can’t have that.
To “raise the bar,” as the episode’s title would suggest, James Cameron plunges into the depths of the ocean to find the “bar” and bring it higher. Once it’s raised (spoiler!), everyone stops paying attention to Honey Boo Boo.
Really? James Cameron, old white dude, director and writer of the worst movie ever, is going to save us all from the terrible, empowered women? I can only hope that this is the ironic part of the episode, and that it’s calling attention to the fact that Hollywood casts a white man as the hero far too often.
As for the Emmys, I’m rooting for Bob’s Burgers to win with “O.T.: The Outside Toilet.” That might restore some of my faith and show me that body policing is dying, slowly but surely.