Top 20 South Park Controversies



Top 20 South Park Controversies

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
With a show as steeped in controversy as "South Park," you know there have been many instances where it's rubbed viewers the wrong way. For this list, we'll be looking at times the satirical animated sitcom has courted controversy, touched nerves, and faced backlash. Our countdown includes Mr. Garrison's views on refugees, a satirical Sex Ed episode, its portrayal of Mormonism, its vulgar response to "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008), and more!
With a show as steeped in controversy as "South Park," you know there have been many instances where it's rubbed viewers the wrong way. For this list, we’ll be looking at times the satirical animated sitcom has courted controversy, touched nerves, and faced backlash. Our countdown includes Mr. Garrison's views on refugees, a satirical Sex Ed episode, its portrayal of Mormonism, its vulgar response to "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008), and more! What’s your opinion on these? Let us know in the comments!

#20: “Ginger Kids”

In 2005, “South Park” aired an episode called “Ginger Kids” about discrimination against people with red hair. When Cartman is tricked into thinking he’s become a redhead himself, he leads an uprising. The episode has been blamed for the creation of “Kick a Ginger Day” in 2008, which led to schoolyard violence in several countries. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police even investigated one incident as a hate crime. Ed Sheeran criticized the episode, saying it “ruined his life” by popularizing discriminatory attitudes against redheads in the United States.

#19: Indiana Jones

In the spring of 2008, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was released to poor fan reception. Trey Parker and Matt Stone took to “South Park” to express that disappointment … in the most vulgar manner possible. Visualizing the idea that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg violated the character, the episode contains graphic, detailed scenes of the filmmakers assaulting everyone’s favorite archeologist. The scenes parody the likes of “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Deliverance”, but some viewers felt pretty sickened. Naturally, the episode generated considerable controversy, with both detractors and defenders.

#18: Moscow vs. “South Park”

Back in 2008, Moscow prosecutors attempted to ban “South Park” in response to complaints that it insults religious believers. The Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith singled out the episode “Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics” as particularly offensive. In Russia, “South Park” is distributed on the cartoon network 2x2, alongside “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”. Prosecutors attempted to revoke the network’s license, claiming that these shows “propagandise violence, cruelty, pornography and anti-social behaviour'”. Ironically, they hoped to replace the cartoons with actual propaganda that would teach children about patriotism instead.

#17: Jennifer Lopez

“South Park” is certainly no stranger to making fun of celebrities. It’s part of the show’s bread and butter, and Hollywood has just gotten used to it over the years. However, some celebrities take it in stride more than others. Back in 2003, “South Park” aired an episode called “Fat Butt and Pancake Head” which poked fun at Jennifer Lopez. According to Trey Parker, some people on Lopez’s movie sets began referencing the “South Park” episode, and it irritated the actress so much that she fired them. Parker later saw Lopez at a party, and she reportedly pushed past him without saying a word.

#16: Felipe Calderón

The episode “Pinewood Derby” spoofs numerous world leaders, including Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s 63rd President. Just a few hours before it was set to air on MTV Latin America, the network decided not to broadcast it. According to them, the producers did not get permission to broadcast the Mexican flag on television, which supposedly went against regulation. However, this explanation was met with widespread skepticism. In reality, the episode was likely pulled because it negatively depicted the country’s President and would have ruffled feathers at the Ministry of the Interior. It was later broadcast a few months later, with permission from the Ministry.

#15: South Park at the Oscars

When “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” was nominated for the Best Original Song at the 72nd Academy Awards, ABC had a problem on their hands. The song “Blame Canada” includes profanity, so ABC requested that the lyrics be altered to comply with the network’s standards and practices. Songwriters Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman declined, but fortunately the performers found a clever compromise. When the lyrics called for profanity, Robin Williams turned his back and the other performers gasped. The missing word was obvious, and no one had dropped an f-bomb at the Oscars.

#14: “South Park: The Stick of Truth”

Even in video game form, “South Park” can’t help but stir up controversy. The RPG “South Park: The Stick of Truth” was published by Ubisoft, who voluntarily censored the game in the European market without direction from the ratings board. Ubisoft removed scenes depicting an anal probe and an abortion, as well as Nazi imagery, which is illegal in Germany. In place of the missing scenes, there was a mocking title card that explained them in graphic detail. Parker and Stone were reportedly unhappy that content had been cut and made the title cards to get their own back against censorship.

#13: Mr. Garrison on Refugees

In November of 2015, Paris suffered horrific attacks, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. The revelation that some of the attackers had entered Europe from Syria contributed to a surge in anti-refugee rhetoric. Just a few days after the attacks, the “South Park” episode “Sponsored Content” had Mr. Garrison label Syrian refugees terrorists and call for violence against them. As a result, this scene was removed when the episode aired on Comedy Central in the Netherlands. However, the full and uncensored episode was made available on the official “South Park” website.

#12: Climate Change Denialism

In 2006, “South Park” aired a particularly controversial episode called “ManBearPig.” It features Al Gore warning about a monster called ManBearPig, who serves as a metaphor for climate change. The episode was released around the time of Gore’s famous documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” Parker and Stone were skeptical about. The episode is dismissive of climate change and the science behind it. 12 years later, Parker and Stone acknowledged their mistake in the episode “Time to Get Cereal” by making ManBearPig very much real.

#11: “Proper Condom Use”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an episode with this title caused a lot of headaches for broadcasters. In this one, the boys of “South Park” take poorly-taught sex ed classes. The episode contains a lot of graphic imagery, both of the sexual and violent variety. Said imagery is shocking now, never mind back in 2001. The British channel Sky One cut the episode from its rotation, and Comedy Central asked Parker and Stone to censor a particularly graphic scene involving Mr. Garrison. The episode aired without cuts, but later broadcasts were censored, and it’s this censored version that appears on the season five DVD.

#10: Ridiculing Chinese Censorship

On October 2, 2019, “South Park” aired Band in China, an episode that viciously satirized Chinese censorship and the ways in which the entertainment industry bends to their demands. American audiences loved it, as it wonderfully critiqued both the Chinese censorship laws and the compromised state of American entertainment. Chinese audiences, not so much. China essentially scrubbed “South Park” from existence, removing every episode from its streaming services, every clip from the internet, and every fan site or social media page dedicated to discussing the series. In true “South Park” fashion, Parker and Stone issued a faux-apology, writing, “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”

#9: Excessive Use of Profanity

If you think “South Park” is controversial now, you should have seen it in the early 2000s. You couldn’t go ten minutes without someone calling it the bane of Western civilization. Back then, people were incensed that the show contained profanity. But it wasn’t just “South Park” - the show “Chicago Hope” also generated significant media attention around a character uttering the phrase “shit happens.” To combat this, South Park co-creator Trey Parker wrote It Hits the Fan, an episode where the same swear word from that phrase is said and written a total 200 times. This equates to the word being said or written every eight seconds. Surprisingly, the episode itself didn’t stir up much controversy...aside from the 5,000 odd emails that were sent to Comedy Central.

#8: Portrayal of Mormonism

The season seven episode All About Mormons concerns a Mormon family moving into South Park and swaying the Marshes with their religion. The episode obviously touches on a lot of important facets relating to Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon, Family Home Evening, the story of founder Joseph Smith, and the golden plates. Parker concedes that he found the episode difficult to write, as most of the Mormons he knew were friendly and good-natured people. The LDS Church stated that although the episode did not hamper their growth, they did admit that “individual Church members...felt uncomfortable” over the “gross portrayal of Church history.”

#7: The Steve Irwin Cameo

On September 4, 2006, Steve Irwin tragically died after a stingray attack. On October 25, just seven weeks after the tragedy, Irwin appeared in the episode Hell on Earth 2006. In the episode, Irwin can be seen at Satan’s party with a stingray protruding from a bloody chest wound. This spurred a lot of vocal controversy, particularly from the Irwin family. A friend of Irwin’s widow released a statement saying, “Terri is devastated Steve is being mocked in such a cruel way. Her worry is that [their children] Bindi and Bob will see it and break down.” Many voiced their criticism, believing the episode to be distasteful. On the other hand, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were surprised that the cameo caused so much controversy, believing that they’ve done things on the show that were far more offensive.

#6: Sex Education

This season five episode serves as a satire on sex education in schools. The episode contains many problematic and graphic scenes, including Stan and…pleasuring dogs and Garrison both fellating a model penis and teaching graphic sexual positions to kindergarteners. Needless to say, the episode generated some significant criticism from censorship boards. Australia channels gave the episode an MA rating and aired it in a later time slot, while the British channel Sky One refused to air the episode altogether. Subsequent rebroadcasts and the DVD version are both edited, and the episode has never been aired in syndication.

#5: The Curious Departure of Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes voiced Chef for nearly ten years before randomly quitting in March of 2006. According to the press release made in his name, he left the show due to their supposed “intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs.” Parker and Stone found his departure suspicious and argued that Hayes was a hypocrite, as he only showed contention with the show when it made fun of his own “religion” - Scientology. However, reports began to emerge indicating that the statement was likely made and concocted by someone else. This was later confirmed by Hayes’s son, Isaac Hayes III. According to him, his father’s fellow Scientologists had released the statement under his name after he had suffered a debilitating stroke.

#4: Racial Slurs

On November 17, 2006, Michael Richards effectively tarnished his legacy through a vile and racist rant at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. This inspired Parker and Stone to write With Apologies to Jesse Jackson, an episode exploring the societal implications of the n-word. The episode contained 43 uncensored uses of the word, but despite that, it received very little media attention. In fact, it was even praised for both its humor and relevance in society. Ironically, this lack of controversy stirred some controversy, particularly from the Parents Television Council, a conservative advocacy group. According to its founder, the lack of media attention was hypocritical, as other people, specifically radio host Don Imus, had been criticized for using similar racist language in the past. However, his controversy is nowhere near as awkward or embarrassing as Randy’s ...

#3: The Virgin Mary Statue

This episode sees the citizens of South Park flocking to a statue of the Virgin Mary that shoots a substantial amount of blood from its rectum, which they believe contains healing powers. When Pope Benedict XVI investigates the statue, he discovers that the blood actually emits from the vagina, which negates its healing potential. As you can imagine, numerous groups took issue with the Virgin Mary spraying vaginal blood on people. The Catholic League attempted to have the episode erased and religious groups in New Zealand tried to prevent it from airing in their country. Notable religious figures voiced their concern, including Archbishop Denis Hart and Bishop William Skylstad, who claimed that Comedy Central showed extreme insensitivity by airing the episode.

#2: Closetgate

The season nine episode Trapped in the Closet takes substantial shots at the religion of Scientology and its famous members. This resulted in an enormous amount of backlash, including the aforementioned departure of Isaac Hayes and what was then termed Closetgate. Comedy Central suspiciously canceled a rebroadcast of the episode in March 2006, and many people suspected the involvement of Tom Cruise. Cruise was promoting “Mission: Impossible III” at the time, and Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom also owns Paramount Pictures. According to the theory, Cruise refused to promote the movie unless the episode was pulled, and Viacom relented. While Cruise denied the allegations, the incident caused some major animosity between Parker and Stone and Comedy Central.

#1: Muhammad

200 and 201 aren’t just the most controversial episodes of “South Park,” but each has a case for being the most controversial episodes in television history. After the airing of 200, Parker and Stone received open death threats from a radical Muslim organization due to the episode’s depiction of Muhammad. As a result, Comedy Central heavily censored the ending of 201, wherein Kyle gives a satirical speech about the effectiveness of violent threats. The network then became the subject of controversy - not only did they ironically nullify and directly contradict the speech’s theme by censoring the episode, but they proved that violent threats actually work. Critics suggested that the act of cowardly caving to demands would only encourage similar violent behavior from radical organizations.