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November 22, 2016

From Cartman to Trump: The President of Choice for 'South Park' Audience

What is the connection between the animated series South Park and the millions of men who voted for Trump?

by Mario Rustan, Columnist

I wished I didn’t have to talk about Trump right now because we have all probably read too many articles trying to make sense of what’s happened. But I want to share something that took my breath away. It is a study on a group of his supporters.
This is not The Atlantic’s longform article. Neither is it an in-depth blog post from Medium. It is a Reddit post. And the poster might have voted for Trump, or more likely, did not vote at all. The post doesn’t attribute Trump’s victory to his populism that attracted the white working class, or on sexism and racism against Clinton and Obama’s Democratic Party. Rather, its bold assertion is that millions of men might have supported Trump because they are lazy, selfish, and angry. South Park, an animation series, has taught such selfishness for two decades.
I discovered the post as a screenshot on Twitter in a conversation on how the series would blame both the “alt-right” – the white nationalists – and the progressives for the last election. The original poster’s name had been cropped. So, here are parts of the post dissected along with commentaries.
South Park has always been fundamentally reactionary; [Matt and Trey’s] ideology is apathetic-libertarian; whether you’re on the left or the right, if you’re asking me to change my behavior, you suck.
South Park is one of those edgy adult animation series of the 1990s about four boys living in a snowy Colorado town. An expletive-laden surreal satire, it is still running on its 20th season. I bonded with a late friend over the show and watched it throughout the early and mid-2000s.
South Park’s main competitors, The Simpsons and Family Guy, were created by liberal Democrats. The series’ founders, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, meanwhile, describe themselves as libertarians. Libertarians support free market and personal freedom, and dislike the government and social policy. My oversimplification description of them is “capitalist anarchist”.
My late friend wasn’t a libertarian, but a Christian liberal who often quoted Michael Moore on George W. Bush and American militarism. The creators of South Park, on the other hand, publicly expressed their hatred of both Moore and conservatives – Christian and secular alike.
It isn’t about left versus right; it’s about change versus comfort . . . they think you’re annoying. And they think you’re lame because caring about stuff is lame.
I guess Parker and Stone dislike the phrase “check your privilege.” My late friend cared about stuff (hence our friendship for life), but he loved the aesthetic of the suburban American boy of the early 2000s – pop punk, skateboard, and the longing for sex and relationship with the girl next door. When it became clear that pop punk singers and the cool girls cared about stuff – from Green Day’s anti-Bush albums to Ellen Page’s coming out – the suburban boy felt his comfort zone attacked and his favorite people have become “lame”. 
Caring is for losers, and if you become personally invested in politics you’re part of the problem.

Parker and Stone made a motion picture in 2004 called Team America: World Police. Thought to be a satire against W. Bush, the villains are revealed to be celebrity Democrats like Alec Baldwin and Helen Hunt who defend Kim Jong-il. Critic Roger Ebert said what offended him was the movie’s nihilism, especially during the election year. For the duo, Kim Jong-il is an evil person, but so are celebrities who talk about politics or environment and human rights. The “good person” ignores the plight of North Koreans or the impacts of Bush’s leadership.
It’s a show that teaches its audience to become lazy and self-satisfied.
A typical episode of South Park ends with the boys or a secondary character earnestly highlighting the hypocrisies of both sides of the debate, on ANY issue. For example, it will call upon the “alt right” white nationalists, while also criticizing black journalists and feminists on the other side. It might end with Eric Cartman, the racist and selfish protagonist (a little Trump, no less), and his gang killing both the nationalists and the feminists.
South Park is a place where you never have to have your assumption challenged. It’s a place where you’re always right, …and the people asking you to change your mind should just shut up and leave you alone.
We have seen such cases in Indonesia. People who want their anime and video games to leer on girls’ bodies. People who hate women who are cartoonists, directors, or critics. People who equate trading sexy pictures of Melania Trump as a form of sarcasm.
Recently some left-wing academics in America wrote opinion pieces criticizing minority Americans for their “identity liberalism” that provokes many white Americans to hate them for being Sikh, trans, or biracial. Of course, those academics are heterosexual white men, and some proudly putting themselves as good examples of “assimilated Jew” or “secular Jew”. If only more African-Americans or asexuals would assimilate just like them!
People described in the Reddit post might have voted for Trump, or not voted at all. But over the last year, they would have been active in trolling feminists and visible minorities just to spite them, just as a revenge for the Ghostbusters reboot, or for black heroes in Star Wars and The Avengers. They are angry because women care about the world but not the boys’ world, and Trump is the manifestation of their rage.
They are just a fraction of 61 million Americans who voted for Trump (more than 63 million voted for Clinton, anyway). There are women who voted for Ivanka instead of Donald. There are minorities who believe Clinton is a baby-killer (many Christian Indonesians do), or that a woman is culturally unacceptable to be a leader. But those youths who have put our planet in harm’s way for the next four years terrify me for a reason. They’ve burned the world down just because they believe they can no longer watch TV in peace.    
*Illustration from southpark.cc.com
Read Mario’s take on the surprising pioneer of feminism on TV and follow @mariorustan on Twitter. 

Mario Rustan writes opinion pieces for The Jakarta Post and is working on some other online projects and was featured in Guardian Football and SBS Radio. His dream job is still teaching High School History by day and writing for feminism by night.