South Park is a well-known comedy program on Comedy Central intended for mature audiences. The creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, use dark humor, crude language, and a wide-variety of satire in their show which is based off of the adventures of four fourth grade boys who live in a small Colorado town called South Park.
Stone and Parker take pride in their fearlessness to poke fun at any sort of popular topic whether it is a person, place, organization, religion, etc. They have invited disapproval and sometimes courses of legal action from countless entities including the Church of Scientology, the NCAA, the Roman Catholic Church, Canada, Tom Cruise, Martha Stewart, PETA, and the list goes on.
Episode 09 of season 08 is titled “Something Wall Mart This Way Comes.” The “target” of this episode is not surprisingly the multinational retail giant, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stone and Parker have done multiple episodes about corporate America including taking the pro-corporation stance in Season 02, which is controversial considering their studio is located in the overwhelmingly anti-corporation area of Hollywood, California. This episode, however, shows the giant retailer in a more negative light.
The episode begins with excited anticipation from South Park’s citizens as their new Wall Mart is about to open for business. One character says, “It’s like we’re a real town now.” I find this to be one of the most truthful lines of the episode. I have personally measured a town’s “relativity” by how far away they are from the nearest Wal-Mart. I spent my summer playing baseball in a very small town in upstate New York. The town is literally called Boonville. Their nearest Wal-Mart was about 40 miles away which is the first example I would use when trying to convey the middle-of-nowhere-ness to other people.
Continuing with the episode, the people of South Park cannot stop shopping at Wall Mart because of its incredible bargains. One character boasts about having, “Enough bulk Ramen to last 1,000 winters.” One of the boys, Stan Marsh, asks his father, Randy, how Wall Mart is able to sell things for much less than South Park’s local stores. Randy replies, “It’s simple economics son, I don’t understand it at all.” This symbolizes how the average American consumer really does not understand the ins and outs of the corporations at which they shop every day.
Eventually the main street in South Park becomes a ghost-town. All of the local businesses have been forced to close because they cannot compete with the low prices of Wall Mart. The people of South Park, although hopelessly addicted to shopping at the Wall Mart which is now being portrayed with dark, ominous clouds and flashes of lightning combined with typical evil-sounding music, realize that the store needs to be stopped. They have a town meeting and agree to discontinue shopping at Wall Mart; however they cannot resist the calling of wondrous bargains from the Wall Mart which has seemed to develop its own eerie persona. Follow the link to view the clip from the episode to see how the people of South Park just cannot resist shopping at Wall Mart (could not embed video).
“Well where else was I supposed to get a napkin dispenser at 9:30 at night?” This line perfectly sums up how people think of Wal-Mart as well as how Wal-Mart wants to be thought of by people. After the town burns down the Wall Mart, another one is rebuilt and opened the very next day. The boys are determined to stop the powerful retailer and embark on an adventure to Wall Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas. Meanwhile, Randy quit his job as a geologist to become a store clerk at Wall Mart in order to receive the 10% employee discount.
The boys learn from a disheveled and regretful Wall Mart President that only way the Wall Mart can be stopped is to destroy its heart. Many have attempted this feat but no one has ever been able to restrain themselves from the amazing deals long enough to accomplish the task. Determined more than ever, the boys set out to destroy the Wall Mart in South Park. In their journey to find the heart of Wall Mart, they are ambushed with slashed prices and unbelievable deals. Miraculously, the boys find the location of the heart which is just past a huge sale for plasma screen TVs. In a dramatic unveiling process, it is revealed that the heart of the Wall Mart is simply a mirror. The true heart of the Wall Mart is the consumer. It is desire. The Wall Mart can take many forms, whether it be Target, K-mart, or even Amazon, but it is the consumer who ultimately breaths life into the giant retailer.
The message(s) in this episode could not be clearer. Many people do not support large corporations like Wal-Mart because they force smaller local shops out of business. But Wal-Mart could not have become the super power that it is without the average consumer. If they have grown from one store to become the largest retailer in the world, and people continue to flood the store, then they must be doing something right. After all, the true heart of Wal-Mart is the consumer. Their goal is not to bankrupt small businesses across the country. They simply give the consumer what they want which is an opportunity to consume while also being able to stretch their income. At the end of the episode, Randy says, “The Wall Mart is us. If we like our small-town charm more than the big corporate bullies, we all have to be willing to pay a little bit more.” This is essentially a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand as the town is not suggesting government intervention; rather they suggest letting the free market system work and guide itself.
If you are like me and enjoy comedic satire then I strongly suggest watching this episode of South Park if you have not already. For another take on American capitalism, I suggest “Gnomes” which is season 02 episode 17. In this episode, Stone and Parker defend capitalism when a large coffee chain called Harbucks enters the town and threatens to put the local Tweak Bros. coffee shop out of business. For more on the actual application of South Park lessons, visit this link which is an article written by Paul A. Cantor, an English professor at the University of Virginia, who uses South Park in his lectures.
The clip from the episode can be found here
The featured image can be found here
Here is an actual embedded clip (Jordi)