Scatology, South Park, and Gulliver's Travels
Admit it: how many times have you laughed at your own untimely release of gas, or that of a friend? The longer, smellier and more grotesque the action, the more you laugh. Regardless of your taste in humor, when someone makes a crude joke or an unexpected bodily function, you can’t help but express amusement at the hilarity of the moment. Despite the ill feelings that surround the lack of sophistication displayed within such acts of toilet humor, crude gestures and obscene bodily output are a staple of popular culture. Movies, television, music, and literature have all cashed in upon the wide popularity of such vulgar acts. Regardless of your opinion towards such tasteless displays, how many television shows do you turn on or how many movies do you rent, that include a “fart joke” or some other type of bodily-produced comic relief? Whether we like it or not, toilet humor is everywhere.
Despite the awkwardness that may ensue from a focus on, and an appreciation of, such vulgar topics, elements of scatology have been raised and utilized within literature and the media for centuries. Whether reading a book such as Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift (scatological guru of the eighteenth century), or watching an infamously vulgar show, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park, the audience finds themselves drawn to the work and unable to stifle their laughter. The commonality of subject matter in both works presents the reader or viewer with similar questions. In both situations, does the use of bodily humor prompt the audience to look further within the work, or is it merely for entertainment value? While excrement and other elements of scatology can undoubtedly be entertaining, do they possess a deeper meaning within both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park? Also, when intermixed with satire, elements of scatology have the potential to serve as a method of expression. While the use of satire and scatology serves to accent the opinions of Swift, Parker, and Stone, do they, as creators of a work, purposefully employ their characters as representatives of their opinions? It is these questions which prompt those with a critical view to swallow their pride, take their mind out of the gutter, and look much deeper within both works.
Upon examining both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park, it is clear that Swift, Parker, and Stone each created their works with the same basic ideas in mind. While their creative efforts provide much entertainment value, Gulliver’s Travels and South Park also serve as a method of expression. In providing entertainment through their work, Swift, Parker, and Stone have each managed to voice their opinion of mankind and his absurd thoughts, ideals, and beliefs within their writing.
Though Swift and Parker and Stone produced their works within two different time periods, the basic principles and ideas behind their writing remain the same. While Parker and Stone have devoted their craft to the visual arts, Jonathan Swift paved the way with his unique writing, particularly within Gulliver’s Travels. In order to better understand his mix of satire and scatology, it is important to examine the work and focus upon specific instances portraying their mixture. By focusing upon these ideas and, in turn, making comparisons between the novel and a show such as South Park, a reader of Gulliver’s Travels and a viewer of South Park should gain a much deeper understanding of what Jonathan Swift, Trey Parker, and Matt Stone are attempting to say about mankind through their work. By mixing scatology and satire, they are able to voice their misanthropic opinions in a manner which is deemed acceptable within the world of entertainment.
In order to better understand Gulliver’s Travels in comparison with South Park, it is important to focus on specific scenes in which satire and scatology have been intermixed. While there are elements within both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park which stray from satire and scatology, there are specific instances of the intermixing of satire and scatology which aid in drawing concrete comparisons between the two works. While an understanding of both works is critical, a basic knowledge of scatology is also important.
Included within his work, Scatology and Civility in the English-Canadian Novel, Richard Kramer turned to Gamaliel Harding, who once wrote: “the body must educate itself” (Harding, Kramer 1). In order educate ourselves and our bodies, an understanding of who we are and what we, as humans, produce from our bodies is of utmost importance. In the field of scatology, a focus on the body, and most importantly, the anal function, leads readers to better understand the origins of such humor. Kramer introduces scatology with a quote from Giovanni Della Casa, who offered some advice in regards to the topic within his 1555 work, Galateo. Within his writing he states:
It is not a proper habit when, as sometimes happens, one sees something disgusting on the road to turn to one’s companions and point it out to them. Even less so should one offer something unpleasant to smell, as some insist on doing, placing it under a companion’s nose saying, “Now Sir, please smell how this stinks,” when instead he should be saying: “Don’t smell this because it stinks.” (Della Casa, Kramer 1)
Despite the hilarity of this notion, how often do we unconsciously partake in such activities? Pointing out the crudeness of human life is instinctual. Being human, we focus upon the familiar. Elements of scatology, as noted by Della Casa, despite being crude, are everywhere and present a common bond amongst mankind. While Della Casa makes a valid point in regards to common courtesy, Kramer’s choice to include such a quote illustrates true human nature. Humans inherently focus upon those things they deem to be entertaining. Since we, as humans, produce such humorous sounds, smells, and output with our bodies, it is only right that we are fascinated by them. As a result, scatology is virtually everywhere.
Beginning in the eighteenth century with Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift baffled the minds of his contemporaries with his vulgar yet piercing work. As discussed in his book, Purity and Defilement in Gulliver’s Travels, Charles H. Hinnant, states that:
“Gulliver’s Travels reveals a feature that is characteristic to some extent of much of Swift’s writing. This is its preoccupation with images of filth, disease, deformity, decay, and defilement” (Hinnant 1). While Swift was obviously very intrigued by such images within his own life, his employment of them within his work speaks of a much higher purpose. As mentioned further by Hinnant, “Although Swift’s interest in these images has seemed compulsive to many readers of Gulliver’s Travels, they can be shown to serve rational end. …their aim is to arouse an aversion to what Swift finds most abhorrent in contemporary life” (1). Apparent to the reader, in seeking disapproval from mankind, Swift reiterates his disapproval for mankind and the elements of life which he found repulsive.
Early within the novel, it is obvious that Swift goes out of his way to evoke a reaction from the reader. The scenes within the novel which exhibit Swift’s interesting mix of satire and scatology cause the reader to take their mind out of the gutter and think much deeper in regards to the work. Upon examining the subject matter, it is possible to find the reader who is offended by such vulgar ideas. These feelings of insult and objection became all too familiar for Swift within the days of his work.
While readers remained optimistic at first, several of his literary friends, including Alexander Pope and John Gay, warned him of people’s apprehension at his subject matter and the way in which he presented it. According to Pope, who wrote to Swift concerning the matter, “I find no considerable man very angry at the book: some indeed think it is rather too bold, and too general in Satire: but none that I hear of accuse it of particular reflections” (Pope 267). In addition to this belief, John Gay also wrote to Swift to share in his opinion that while the work is “free from particular reflections…the satire on general societies of men is too severe” (Gay 268). While Pope, Gay, and other eighteenth century Swiftian critics appreciated what he was accomplishing with his interesting mix of satire and scatology, they were well aware that it could potentially lead to feelings of displeasure within the general public at which Swift’s insults were aimed. As expected, the general public quickly took offense at his absurd accusations. Documented within his book, Jonathan Swift, Robert Hunting makes a special point of noting analysis beyond the approval of Swift’s friends. According to Samuel Johnson, in regards to criticism against Gulliver’s Travels, “Criticism was for awhile lost in wonder: … But when distinctions came to be made the part which gave least pleasure was that which describes the Flying Islands, and that which gave most disgust must be the history of the Houyhnhnms” (Hunting 94-5). Choosing to intertwine scatological elements within his satire, Swift left the audience with feelings of unease regarding his work. As time progressed and Gulliver’s Travels continued to circulate throughout the literary world, Swift’s critics grew in number. “During the nineteenth century, criticism was generally condemnatory. It is perhaps not too much to say that nineteenth-century critics felt Swift’s “sting” and resented it” (Hunting 95). Expressing feelings of resentment and scorn for Gulliver’s Travels, critic William Thackeray “looked upon the moral of Gulliver’s Travels and thought it horrible, shameful, unmanly, and blasphemous” (Hunting 95). While Gulliver’s Travels is undoubtedly intriguing, it has the potential to evoke feelings of both love and hate.
In choosing a place to begin, it is important to consider the literary work of Jonathan Swift. Gulliver’s Travels is one of the most widely read and well noted works of Swift. Starting with the first section of Gulliver’s Travels, entitled “A Voyage to Lilliput,” Swift wastes no time accenting his toilet humor with his own personal commentary.
After becoming restless at home, Gulliver sets out for adventure. While he does not intend to end up in Lilliput, this strange and mysterious land is exactly where he finds himself. Surprised by its pint-sized inhabitants, Gulliver is even more taken aback when he realizes that they have captured and detained him. Not taking into account that he is human and therefore carries out the daily functions of life, the Lilliputians are, in turn, shocked by Gulliver’s actions, which are by all accounts extremely natural. Upon loosening the restraints they had placed upon him, Gulliver takes the opportunity to relieve himself. As recorded by Gulliver within his daily travel log, “I was able to turn upon my Right, and to ease my self with making Water; which I very plentifully did, to the great Astonishment of the People…who immediately opened to the right and the left Sides, to avoid the Torrent which fell with such Noise and Violence from me” (Swift 11).
Within this scene, Swift uses great detail to emphasize the fact that Gulliver, who often portrays Swift’s own voice, is much larger than his Lilliputian captors. Upon breaking free of his restraints, the “torrent” of urine that Gulliver produces with such “noise” and “violence” is essentially aimed at the Lilliputians who captured and detained him within their homeland. As a means of revenge, Gulliver unleashes his monstrous bodily functions in the general direction of the Lilliputians. As a result, the feeling that no one is capable of tying Gulliver down shines though the work. In much the same manner, Swift makes it apparent that within his life, no one is capable of tying him or his opinions down as well.
As obvious to any reader of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift has no qualms about insulting those he dislikes with elaborate talk of bodily functions. His sophisticated account of these functions sheds light upon his scatological tendencies. So much light, in fact, that it leads critics, including Nigel Dennis, author of Jonathan Swift, to suggest that “Swift was obsessed by this ‘excremental vision’” (Dennis 57). While excrement is a natural part of everyday life, in this initial scene, Swift uses it to prove that Gulliver is much larger and much more powerful than the Lilliputians who are so far below him.
Also within this scene, a reader of Gulliver’s Travels may notice another trend which takes place at Swift’s hand. Gulliver, throughout the course of the novel, takes on the role of representing and expressing the opinions of Swift. Within this opening scene, a very large Gulliver is tied down by his tiny Lilliputian captors. When paralleled with the life of Swift, the harsh words of those who oppose him and the content of his work play very much the same role. In tying down Gulliver, it is almost as though Swift is speaking of how his adversaries also attempt to tie him down, or quiet his voice. While Gulliver is a fictional character that undergoes extraordinary adventures, his life seems to correlate with Swift. In placing Gulliver in situations where Swift can use him as a mouthpiece, Swift conveys his distaste for mankind through a non-threatening character. It is this phenomenon which leads critics to question just how far, exactly, Swift and Gulliver represent the same voice, merely in different contexts.
While the first scene of Gulliver’s “Voyage to Lilliput,” which primarily dealt with the flooding or urine upon the heads of Swift’s insignificant adversaries, along with himself and mankind in general, was shocking, the next scene takes the use of bodily functions to a new level. Realizing that it has been days since he has “disburthened” himself, Gulliver seeks relief. Taken from his daily travel log, Gulliver writes: “I had been for some Hours extremely pressed by the Necessities of Nature…the best expedient I could think on, was to creep into my House…and discharge[d] my Body of that uneasy Load” (Swift 15). While Swift manages to paint a comical scene, it leads the reader to wonder who, exactly, Gulliver’s “disburthening” is directed towards? The use of such a sophisticated term suggests that Swift wishes to downplay the fact that he is contemplating the launch of verbal excrement upon his opponents. Swift’s use of reason allows him to mask his thoughts and opinions deep within the actions of Gulliver, who representing Swift’s voice, justifies Swift’s meaning through the context of the story. Intentionally exaggerated by Swift, Gulliver makes a clear point in attempting to excuse potentially offensive actions: “I would not have dwelt so long upon the Circumstance, that perhaps at first Sight may appear not very momentous; If I had not thought it necessary to justify my Character in Point of Cleanliness to the World; which I am told, some of my Maligners have been pleased…to call into Question” (Swift 15).
Upon Gulliver’s mention of “maligners,” it becomes apparent that Swift has received criticism for his terminology and his apparent “excremental obsession” prior to this work. Obviously, Gulliver is not actually documenting “his” thoughts, as they are essentially Swift’s own musings. As proposed by numerous critics, including Nigel Dennis, “obscenity is always one of Swift’s retorts to degeneracy…” (57). With Gulliver’s sheer size and, more importantly, the size of his bodily functions, Swift emphasizes the fact that Gulliver could potentially wipe out the tiny Lilliputians with his bodily output. In the case of Gulliver, physical size is of a natural advantage, particularly within the size of his bodily functions.
With an awareness of Swift’s excremental obsession, the reader is not surprised to find that Gulliver, who further utilizes his immense bodily functions, crosses the line yet again within the novel. Upon learning that the royal palace has caught on fire, Gulliver takes it upon himself to find relief in urinating on the palace. While he succeeds in putting out the flames, he is left with an uneasy feeling. Documented by Gulliver in his travel log: “I had done a very eminent Piece of Service, yet I could not tell how his Majesty might resent the Manner by which I had performed it.…For it is Capital in any person, of what Quality soever, to make water within the Precincts of the Palace” (Swift 43). Not surprisingly, the queen takes much offense to the manner in which Gulliver extinguishes the fire. From this point on within the novel, she refuses to even go near the “contaminated” side of the palace and, in turn, forbids its reconstruction.
In light of this unfortunate error in the judgment of Gulliver, Swift’s misanthropic beliefs illuminate the fact that, once again, Gulliver has offended someone with his immense bodily functions. In her contempt, the queen represents those who have spoken out against the questionable content of Swift’s opinions and writings. As a result of this, numerous critics, including A.E. Dyson were forced to question exactly, “how far is Gulliver a satiric device, and how far (if at all), does he come to be a spokesman for Swift himself” (Dyson 356)? By suggesting this, the notion that the lives of both Gulliver and Swift may mirror each other leads one to believe that this was no accident on the part of Swift. Gulliver’s physical size and the immensity of his bodily functions and output serve as a method of expression.
While “A Voyage to Lilliput” places Gulliver in situations where his physical size plays a vital role within his daily adventures, the third chapter, entitled, “A Voyage to Laputa,” moves away from Gulliver’s physical size in favor of his mental ability. Thrust into an entirely new culture, Gulliver finds himself in the company of some very odd looking characters. Physically he finds himself of similar height and build to the Laputans. Though their visual appearance consists of tilted heads and lazy eyes, they prove to be an extremely intelligent group of people. Valuing mathematics and music above all other academic disciplines, the Laputans consider themselves highly advanced and continually thirsty for knowledge. They rely heavily on theory, so much so that they completely disregard the practical disciplines, such as geometry. As a result, not one building in Laputa is constructed with right angles. Despite their awkward appearance, the Laputans seem extremely intelligent, yet greatly lacking any common sense.
Mistaken for a king, Gulliver is welcomed within the community and educated in the ways of their language and academic endeavors. Once familiar with the community, Gulliver discovers that while physical size is not of importance to the Laputans, mental growth and the ability to make advancements within technology are a way of life. Thinking this to be a noble, yet overwhelming quality, Gulliver is brought to the academy to view some of the Laputan’s experiments. What he finds, however, is quite to his surprise. While the Laputans are brilliant, their experiments, which Swift makes a great point in satirizing, do not fit the norms of academic merit.
In one such experiment, Gulliver is confronted with a scientist who is striving to turn human feces back into the food that comprises it. As recorded by Gulliver, “His Employment from his first coming into the Academy, was an Operation to reduce human Excrement to its original Food, by separating the several Parts, removing the Tincture which it receives from the Gall, making the Odour exhale, and scumming off the Saliva” (Swift 172). In perfecting this method, the people of Laputa should forever be protected from starvation.
While this is an interesting and exceedingly scatological concept to ponder, Swift makes no qualms about utilizing the absurdity of the idea to poke fun at the notion of academia and higher education. Inventing a scene such as returning excrement to food clearly mocks those people that feel as though they are highly intelligent. While someone may be intelligent, there is also a lot to be said for common sense. Someone who displays common sense will see the absurdity in this notion and quickly put a halt to the experiment. In this manner, it is clear that Swift does not think highly of people who do not display common sense with their “superior” knowledge.
Along the same scatological lines as returning excrement to food, yet another scholar within the academy insisted upon perfecting his abstract ideas. Upon mention of colicky feelings, Gulliver is introduced to a scholar who has invented the cure for such a disease, minus the aid of medicine. Almost as absurd and utterly pointless as returning excrement to food, this scientist insists that by using air, which he essentially flushes out the body with, the disease would naturally be blown away. This scientist, as described by Gulliver, “…had a large Pair of Bellows, with a long slender Muzzle of Ivory. This he conveyed eight inches up the Anus, and drawing in the Wind, he affirmed he could make the Guts and lank as a dried Bladder” (Swift 173).
While this notion of “blowing” illness out of the body is completely absurd, it also proves to be quite dangerous. Within the experimental process, a dog is accidentally killed by the furious gust of air. In an effort to perfect the idea, the scientist refuses to give up, no matter how much harm is done in the process. Obviously, the common sense or lack thereof, displayed by the scientist proves the disgust which Swift held for such naive and ridiculous people. Discussed by Charles Hinnant, “For Swift, these experiments carry the odium of multiple population” (Hinnant 60). Representing the egotistical, yet idiotic side of mankind, these experiments illuminate the contempt that Swift holds for people who feel as though they have the answer for everything. For Swift, these experiments “violate the laws by which the natural world is governed” (61). In doing so, they also reveal one of Swift’s biggest annoyances with society, the need for control.
In satirizing the need that mankind has for control through such visions as turning excrement to food, Swift suggests yet again that there is a close connection between our brain and out posterior. While they are two different entities found within or upon our bodies, in the eyes of Swift, the posterior may actually partake in more of the “thought process” than the brain. Portrayed as human characters, the Laputans, though odd in appearance, illustrate the feeling that mankind is inherently flawed. Unlike the Lilliputians, physical size plays absolutely no role within their everyday lives, yet it still represents various downfalls of mankind. As the novel continues and Gulliver finds himself in the last of his adventurous lands, one final stab is made at mankind by Swift. While the Laputans were an obvious satire of man, the characters found within the next chapter intermix satire and scatology to represent a scathing portrait of mankind. Once on his “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,” Gulliver is introduced to whole new version of man.
Upon finding himself within the land of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver discovers his situation has been turned upside-down. The Houyhnhnms, who are very articulate and sophisticated horse-like creatures, share their land with the Yahoos, who represent humans. While the Yahoos look like humans, they act in a manner much like that of an animal. When Gulliver first arrives in their land, he is surprised to find that the Yahoos, though they look like him, are so atrocious in their behaviors. As he observes, “Several of the cursed Brood getting hold of the Branches behind, leaped up into the Tree, from whence they began to discharge their Excrements on my Head” (Swift 216). As a result, Swift’s excremental obsession and the fact that man, who is represented by the Yahoos within “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,” often slings his excrement at any and everyone.
Despite its shock value, the use of excrement, particularly within this final section of Gulliver’s Travels, serves a most important role regarding Swift’s view on the outside world. While the Yahoos represent man in a very animalistic manner, critic Normam O. Brown discusses within his essay, “The Excremental Vision,” how they “are distinguished from other animals by their attitude toward their own excrement. Excrement to the Yahoos is no mere waste product but a magic instrument for self-expression and aggression” (Brown 620). While Swift goes as far as to distinguish the Yahoos from man, it is merely for face value. The manner in which the Yahoos fling their excrement as a form of self expression leads one to believe that when man is expressing himself, Swift feels as though he is simply releasing verbal excrement. In this same manner, when man shows aggression, to Swift, he is merely spewing forth excrement from his mouth.
In further reading Brown’s essay, he notes that, “Any reader of Jonathan Swift knows that in his analysis of human nature there is an emphasis on, and attitude towards, the anal function” (Brown 611). In utilizing the “anal function,” Swift pokes fun and sarcasm at the reader. In addition to this, however, he also manages to express his derisive feelings regarding his critics and of mankind. His use of scatology acts as an outpouring of his opinions and the belief that the world is, in his eyes, merely reduced to shit. Though seeming illogical, there is very little within Swift’s work that is unintentional. According to Warren Montag, author of The Unthinkable Swift, “Swift was all but incapable of explaining his views in positive form and could only allude to them negatively in satires, or put them in the mouths of characters whose authority and pertinence to Swift’s audience is determined in very complex ways” (Montag 16). As seen within Gulliver’s Travels, Swift’s utilization of Gulliver to illustrate his opinions clearly demonstrates Montag’s feeling that while Gulliver acts as a valid mouthpiece, we as an audience, do not know precisely where Gulliver stands in regards to his authority in the novel. Obviously, Gulliver is the main character and the focus of the travel dialogue, but much of Swift’s life and opinions have been interwoven throughout the novel within its façade of satire and scatology, thus blurring the overall role of Gulliver as a character.
While he proved to have an avid distaste for mankind, Swift also appeared to be at odds with the world, in its entirety. As discussed further by Montag, “The opposing accounts of Swift’s…beliefs are thus not errors of interpretation at all: the critical conflict itself is objectively determined by Swift’s writing, by its confusion and prevarication, by its seemingly unwitting presentation of mutually exclusive positions” (Montag 16). Swift maintained such a sense of closure from the world that even his own work was open to his dislike. As a result, this feeling leads many critics to question Swift’s objectionable work as a whole. Felt by many critics, including Norman O. Brown, “if we cry insane to the objectionable parts of Swift, in all honesty we must hand the case over to the psychoanalysts. But after psychoanalytical scrutiny, there is nothing left of Swift that is not objectionable” (Brown 615).
In objecting to and pointing his finger at his own work, Swift left the critics with an even deeper sense of displeasure and uneasiness in regards to Gulliver’s Travels. Did Swift truly view the novel as mere excrement, or did he intend for the work to have a lasting impact? Swift’s own perception of his work proves extremely important in determining why, exactly, Swift strove to evoke the reactions that he did to his work. While evoking a reaction, regardless of opinion, is the intention of any author, it would appear as though Swift intended for his novel to be brought into critical question. According to J. Paul Hunter, author of “Gulliver’s Travels and the Later Writings,” “The extraordinary popularity, then, from the beginning existed within a context of lively controversy and disagreement, and, ever since, a series of issue[s] – literary, political, philosophical, social, and moral – have generated continuous debate” (Hunter 218). It is this debate which leads the reader to closely examine the work to determine just how much Swift’s use of scatology and satire should offend the public and if, in turn, it is worth taking into account.
In much the same manner that Jonathan Swift left his audience with feelings of both unease and intrigue regarding his work, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have evoked the same general feelings through their notoriously crude television show, South Park. In focusing upon the shortcomings of mankind in a manner that pokes direct fun at human flaws, Parker and Stone have acquired equal numbers of both critics and fans. Through their satire, Parker and Stone have utilized scatology in a manner that projects their opinion of mankind, yet masks it behind a façade of comedy. By utilizing cartoon children to verbalize the downfalls of society, they have managed to voice their opinion in the least threatening manner possible. While people find themselves appalled by the foul mouthed and dirty minded characters of South Park, the fact that the show has lasted for more than ten consecutive seasons speaks to the ongoing success of the show. Despite knowing that the children on the show are representing, perhaps, one characteristic of youth that adults today make desperate attempts to look past, the show portrays the perversion of our children in a manner that can’t help but make one laugh out loud.
Notorious for its satire, excessive foul language, and subject manner, South Park’s risqué episodes have sparked much criticism. “The show's provocative, frequently offensive, and adult-oriented material quickly drew protest from various spokespersons, and South Park merchandise (especially T-shirts) were banned from a number of public schools, day care centers, and other public places” (Wikipedia).
While concerned parents have played a large role in various criticisms and protests of South Park, countless social and political groups have also voiced their concerns.
Upon reading Gulliver’s Travels and watching South Park, both Swift’s and Parker and Stone’s scatological scenes practically jump out of their work. The manner in which they write such scenes leaves the reader or viewer extremely fascinated. However, this state of fascination may soon give way to a feeling of disgust and shock for the work in question. Regarding reactions during the time in which Gulliver’s Travels was written, author Maximillian Novak states within his essay “Gulliver’s Travels and the Picaresque Voyage: Some Reflections on the Hazards of Genre Criticism,” that “although scatological references are certainly the province of satire, in the fiction of this period scatological scenes and references were almost exclusively associated with the picaresque” (Novak 28). It is this connection with the picaresque, or sharp witted and radical type characters and literature, which relates the manners in which Swift, Parker, and Stone created their works. With a focus upon the sharp witted in correlation with the socially and morally corrupt outcast, the satire and scatology utilized by these authors lays a foundation for their similar subject matter.
While Swift’s use of Gulliver and his immense bodily functions within Gulliver’s Travels is very apparent, the same can be said for Parker and Stone’s utilization of characters and their bodily output within South Park. Intermixed within their satire, are Parker and Stone’s opinions regarding mankind and his fascination with his own scatological tendencies. Like Swift, Parker and Stone acknowledge the issue of physical size in correlation with the size of bodily functions and output.
Cartman, the notoriously plump and foul-mouthed fourth grader within South Park captures much of the spotlight during each episode. Representing a larger-than-life character, Cartman is employed as an obnoxious, yet effective spokesman for the overall theme of the show. Infamous for speaking his mind (despite whomever he is offending at the moment) Cartman voices opinions on issues that a typical fourth grader would know nothing about. In one such episode entitled, “It Hits the Fan,” Cartman learns that his favorite television show will air an episode in which they say the word, “shit.” Once the show has aired and the “s” word is broadcast for the first time on South Park television, the town goes crazy. As a result, shit becomes an acceptable and commonly used word within the town. As one would expect, however, everyone takes its usage too far and eventually, shit is the only word heard throughout the entire episode. Becoming a problem within the town, Cartman, who uses the word more than anyone, goes on television with his friend Stan to speak out against excessive practice of the word. They state that its overuse has taken away from the impact of the word and that they are called curse words “because they are a curse” (Westwood). While the word shit is something a fourth grader may utter in an attempt to impress friends, (despite the impending doom of a mouthful of soap should an adult overhear), how many fourth graders use the word excessively and then lie about it on television?
Throughout this episode of South Park, it is obvious that Parker and Stone have a much greater intention than merely repeating the word “shit” countless times. While the word drives straight to the heart of scatology, the utilization of such a vulgarity by a child provides an excellent example of satire intermixed with scatology. South Park has received much harsh criticism for its excessive use of foul language, subject matter, and immoral themes. According to Virginia Heffernan, author of “What? Morals in South Park,” “South Park consolidates the rage and humor of preadolescents, kissing up to them with gags about gas, fat and vomit. Then, armed with little more than judiciously applied censor's bleeps, permissible words like sphincter and anus and a willingness to look into digestion, the show musters an air of anarchy” (Heffernan). While South Park does deal extensively with questionable gestures and topics, it is not as though the show seeks to break any barriers. Parker and Stone utilize satire and scatology in a way that causes you to sit back, examine the situation, and make the realization that you have seen and heard it all before. In regards to “It Hits the Fan,” Parker and Stone insinuate throughout the episode that we all hear these types of words everyday. If the general population would not make such a big deal about their use and simply teach our children that while they are wrong to use, they cannot escape hearing them, then there would be no need to raise such a commotion.
Cartman, whose mouth is worse than anyone’s, switches from foul-mouthed to perfectly angelic by the end of “It Hits the Fan” in order to make a point. While he continues to swear throughout every episode, Parker and Stone utilize him to make the point simply because he is the one that makes his voice well heard. Much like Gulliver, Cartman, and the excessively large amount of excrement which spews from his mouth, represent the thoughts of Parker and Stone. While Gulliver is far less vulgar than Cartman in regards to language, the commonality of the exploitation of their physical size is much the same.
While Gulliver’s actions represent Swift, characters within South Park become representatives for several different groups or types of people. Since Cartman often verbalizes the opinions of Parker and Stone in a very satirical yet scatological manner, other characters within the show stereotypically depict different social, political, and religious groups. Within each episode of South Park, Kenny, who is famous for his muffled speech and bright orange hoodie, is killed in a new and inventive manner. Characterized by the stereotypical alcoholic family, falling down house, and all together unfortunate circumstances, Kenny serves as a reminder of just how rough life can be for underprivileged children. By all accounts, Kenny’s life is “crap.” The extent to which Kenny gets “crapped on” is illuminated by his elaborate death within each show. In addition, the small amount of time devoted to his ritual death scenes lasts no longer than a mere second or two. “Oh my God, they killed Kenny,” has become the twisted catch phrase for what little one can call his life. After this sentence is uttered, however, everyone moves on and the shenanigans of the show continue.
The extent to which Kenny represents the poverty stricken lives of children everywhere is accompanied by elements of both satire and scatology. In one such episode entitled, “A South Park Christmas – The Introduction of Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo,” Parker and Stone visually represent the amount of hardship exemplified within Kenny’s life. While attempting to catch the first of the winter snowflakes on his tongue, an eagle flies over the leaned back head and open mouth of Kenny. In a very satirical yet scatological manner, the bird relieves itself right above Kenny’s head. While all of his friends are also attempting to catch the flakes, Kenny is the only one who is hit by the eagle’s droppings. As if it is not enough to die in every episode with virtually no remorse from any one character involved, Kenny is physically “crapped on” within “A South Park Christmas – The Introduction of Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo.” Through this scene, Parker and Stone depict a truth that many people do not like to admit. As a society, we do generally think of poor people as the dumping grounds for the masses. For underprivileged people, this crude yet powerful scene summarizes their feelings towards the viewpoint of society and the microscope their lives are placed under on a daily basis.
While Swift’s allusions to verbal excrement remained indirect, Parker and Stone took it more literally. In an episode of season six entitled, “Red Hot Catholic Love,” Eric Cartman literally masters the art of eating with his butt and ridding himself of excrement through his mouth. Once the craze catches on, everyone in the small mountain town tries it as no one believed that Cartman could ever learn how to perform this absurd, yet impressive trick. As scripted within the episode:
CARTMAN. Alright, now keep working with me here, it’s getting a little complicated. If you can eat food and crap out your butt, then maybe, if you stuck food in your butt, you crap out your mouth. [long pause] Hm?
KYLE. Cartman, that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said – this week!
CARTMAN. What, that’s not dumb. Think about it: food goes in the mouth, comes out the butt. Food goes in the butt, comes out the mouth. That’s not dumb, that’s genius.
KYLE. It wouldn’t work!
CARTMAN. Have you ever tried it?
KYLE. I don’t need to. It wouldn’t work.
CARTMAN. I bet you twenty buck it’ll work!
KYLE. You’re on, fat boy! (Westwood)
While this is obviously not a feat that will ever happen, the ideas behind it are very much like those of Jonathan Swift’s within Gulliver’s Travels. In mixing a scatological idea such as relieving oneself through your mouth with the satirical notion that what comes out of your mouth essentially came from your butt, this episode of South Park reads or shows very much like a piece of Swift’s work. Upon looking further at the episode, the issues revolving around the idea of eating with your butt add to the satirical value.
Enhancing the absurdity of such a notion, Parker and Stone include a message from the “surgeon general” of South Park, which actually states that eating with your but and relieving yourself with your mouth is a much healthier way to eat. The twist, however, comes at the end of what the surgeon general has to say to the people of South Park. As stated within his late-breaking news release:
And the uh immediate research shows that the act is not only amusing, but in fact much healthier for our bodies than the old way of eating. You see, food entering through the anus has the benefit of being broken down on its way to the stomach rather than afterward. And therefore I believe that interorectogestion would actually put a stop to high cholesterol and most kinds of stomach cancers. And I base that on absolutely nothing. (Westwood)
While what the surgeon general has to say makes sense to the characters of South Park, we as viewers are merely prompted to shake our heads. The fact that the surgeon general’s assertion is “based on nothing” leads the viewer back to the correlation between South Park and the work of Swift. Previously seen within Gulliver’s Travels, the practices of the third chapter in which the scholars attempt to turn human feces back into food spawn from essentially the same notion. While returning food to its original form or eating with your posterior both beg for a logical explanation, there is no sense to be made from them. As we can see through both South Park and Gulliver’s Travels, in the eyes of Swift, Parker, and Stone, the thoughts and ideals of mankind are deeply disturbed. We have the ability to both think and speak, but often times we do not stop to think about what we are saying. Through their mix of satire and scatology, Swift, Parker, and Stone make it exceedingly clear that they are frustrated with mankind and his constant futile ramblings. To illustrate their point, Parker and Stone take things a step further. Since they share in Swift’s feeling that when mankind talks, excrement is essentially produced, they invent a character who pushes the literal boundaries of scatological humor.
Introduced within South Park is a whole new level of scatological character. Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo maintains a role in the show much like that of a human character. He walks, talks, sings, and dances his way throughout numerous episodes. In his original introduction, Mr. Hankey takes the place of the baby Jesus within the children’s school Christmas play. As a result of Kyle and his incorrect handling of the baby Jesus doll chosen for the play, a discussion debating just how religious the play should be ensues. As an alternative to the traditional Christian symbols, Kyle offers up Mr. Hankey as a nondenominational Christmas hero. According to Kyle, who spends the majority of his time on the show defending the fact that he is Jewish, “Mr. Hankey comes out of the toilet every year and gives presents to everybody who has a lot of fiber in their diet” (Westwood)
Believing him to be crazy, Kyle is locked in the South Park mental institution, while the rest of the town continues to fight over the play. Appearing to him several times, Mr. Hankey promises to make everything better. Upon the night of the play, Mr. Hankey shows himself to the crowd, settles their religious differences, and basically saves the day.
While a piece of “poo” was perhaps one of the strangest choices in characters that Parker and Stone could have made, Mr. Hankey, like the rest of the characters, delivers a message within his role in the show. Acting as a nondenominational Christmas symbol, Mr. Hankey is something that everyone has in common. Each person in South Park had the ability to connect with Mr. Hankey, since he was representative of a very natural bodily function. Basic bodily functions are characteristic of something that every person goes through on a daily basis. There is no fighting about whose is better or who performs the action “correctly.” In this manner, Mr. Hankey was the perfect scatological representation of a peaceful Christmas.
While both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park are representative of differing time periods, authors, and in some cases subject matter, they do encompass very similar qualities which beg their comparison. Within the world of literature, Jonathan Swift baffled his contemporaries with his outlandish and courageous accusations. Hidden within the dialogue and actions of Gulliver, Swift utilized his character to project his contempt for his critics, mankind, and himself as well.
Within each of Swift’s “bodily” driven scenes, the “demonic presentation of the excremental nature of humanity” (Brown 612) reveals his disgust for mankind through his sophisticated, yet heinous descriptions of both Gulliver’s actions and their enormous outcomes. In this manner, the “understanding of Swift begins with the recognition that Swift’s anatomy of human nature, in its entirety and at the most profound and profoundly disturbing level, can be called ‘The Excremental Vision’” (Brown 611). This excremental vision, which follows Swift throughout each of the scenes previously examined, clearly details his opinion that man is no better than the excrement that leaves his own body.
In much the same manner, Parker and Stone present their foul-mouthed, yet provocative characters as an outpouring of their own thoughts, ideals, and beliefs. The disgusting, yet comical antics of Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny have captured the attention of adults and children alike. In utilizing these characters to verbalize their own opinions, Parker and Stone have changed the face of satire on television for a whole new generation. Much like Jonathan Swift, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have taken every opportunity within South Park to inconspicuously sling their own verbal excrement.
While the subject matter of both Jonathan Swift and Parker and Stone has raised some critical eyebrows, their choice to correlate scatology with satire has captured the attention of audiences around the world. Whether or not the audience finds scatological humor to be offensive, the message within both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park is greatly enhanced as a result of its use. Also, in mirroring their thoughts and opinions within the dialogue and actions of their characters, Swift, Parker, and Stone have effectively displayed that they not only partake in similar styles of writing, but that they have the same inconspicuous approach to having their message be heard. In the cases of both Gulliver’s Travels and South Park, which are two hugely successful works within their own right, the audience is greatly entertained and educated, all at the same time.
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