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Satan Sings!

[whitespace] South Park
The Anti-Peanuts: The 'South Park' kids strike a blow for the First Amendment.

The new 'South Park' film is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind, maybe

By Richard von Busack

IT'S NOT JUST dumbo outrage, it's the spirits of Lenny Bruce and Frank Zappa risen. If South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut had been reasonably funny, it would have functioned well enough, but this feature-length cartoon is more than just an effective TV spinoff. Directors Trey Parker and Matt Stone couldn't have picked a better time to skewer parents' pressure groups than now, during this near-hysteria about the media after Littleton.

Though the word "media" was made famous by the semiotician Marshall McLuhan, the term was appropriated by Spiro Agnew's speech writers because it sounded so foreign and un-American. It was linguistic mud, and it stuck. Today, media means everything from a $100 million feature film to a suggestive Bazooka Joe comic. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a First Amendment-inspired defense of media--swarthy, scowling, unshaven word that it is, cowering in its trench coat, smelling of garlic and Communism.

In a decaying Colorado suburb lives a quartet of profane, badly animated round-headed kids. They're gargoyle versions of the Peanuts gang. The roll call: Kyle (sort of Linus), Stan (kind of Charlie Brown), the obnoxious fat boy Cartman (a mean, gluttonous Snoopy, essentially) and Kenny (definitely Pigpen).

The group worships an arch-stupid Canadian program, The Terence and Phillip Show. Terence and Phillip are performers who warm the cockles of a stinky little boy's heart; all they ever do is sit on a sofa and burst farts at each other. A newly released feature film of Terence and Phillip contains the proverbial "unsuitable language"--ridiculously unsuitable language.

An outraged pressure group called "Moms Against Canada" demands an apology for the obscenities. Conditions worsen. Eventually, Kyle's mom becomes warlord of America and first-strikes Toronto. In a device perhaps borrowed from Robert Coover's satirical novel The Public Burning, Terence and Phillip are sentenced to die in the electric chair at the climax of a USO rally. The kids join an underground movement to free their heroes. If T&P are fried, says the ghost of their dead friend Kenny, Satan will take over the world.

Still, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut has sympathy for the devil, an occasional guest on the show. In an uproariously sincere number, Satan sings of his longings to live on Earth. Mandy Patinkin himself couldn't have drained more sorrow from this cup.

As seen in their 1994 picture, Cannibal! The Musical, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone really honor the form of the classic musical comedy--I mean, the Rodgers and Hammerstein storytelling musical, in which show tunes have different tempos and moods and meanings, not the anemic Webber/Rice/Disney brand, in which each song is the same squirt of audio Glade to perfume shoppers at a mall. Just because a song is titled "Kyle's Mother Is a Big Fat Bitch" doesn't mean it can't be a show-stopper.

Stone and Parker's knee-jerk cynicism is the thinnest disguise since John Malkovich played Dr. Jekyll. Stone has commented, "You could say that South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is about the struggle for basic inalienable freedoms in the face of oppression, but you'd sound like a jerk." Pardon me for sounding like a jerk, because I think Parker and Stone have made a movie that is about just that struggle. Their film is a great timely satire of panicky parents and military adventurism. This film is a brave reminder that America was founded on intellectual liberty, not the hypothetical purity of hypothetical children.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (R; 81 min.), an animated film by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

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From the July 1-7, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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