The answer of course is no. The title to yesterday's Reason TV release - "3 Reasons All Kids Should be FORCED to Watch South Park," was meant to be ironic. Given the many earnest comments and emails I fielded about the inconsistency involved in coercing kids to watch a show espousing libertarian values, I plainly failed at irony.
Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey (a fan of South Park, btw) posted the video and made a more substantive rebuttal to the video. Here's part of that:
Some of the “thinking for yourself” messages come across more as “ridiculing anything that Stone and Parker don’t like,” which isn’t exactly the same thing. I’m also a fan of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit,” even when I sometimes vehemently disagree with their point of view, because they tend to offer a little more respect to competing points of view.
Of course, the material in both shows is raw, and I definitely wouldn’t have kids watching the Penn & Teller show, which is aimed at educating adults, not children. I don’t find Nick entirely convincing on this point, but perhaps more so on an implied point — which is that most of the rest of the programming that kids and teens watch have very different messages aimed at them. My son used to watch The Simpsons, and I found it necessary to deconstruct the multitudes of straw men erected by that series until he grew out of his interest in it. I also am inclined to think that most kids would be more likely to emulate Cartman than to see him as a bête noire.
There are at least three points I'd like to make in response.
First, I recognize that many parents have widely varying comfort levels with the sorts of shows, books, games, and movies to which they expose their kids. Based on an informal sampling of my kids' friends, I'm way out there on one edge of the scale, where I pretty much let my kids watch virtually anything that's on the teevee (limiting the amount of time they watch, or play, etc. is another matter). That's partly because I found that kids pretty well sift out the stuff that is age-inappropriate for them. If I'm certain they're going to have nightmares after watching something, I'll switch the channels (though typically they've already done that). But more important, different households have different rules and that's just how it should be.
Second, I disagree with Ed that South Park only ridicules things its creators don't like. There's simply too much love and obsessive knowledge of detail in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's work for them not to have love for, say, Broadway shows or online games like World of Warcraft. I think that's also true of the way they satirize religion. As Matt Stone told Reason in 2006:
I think we’ve always had religion in the show because it’s just funny. I mean, there’s just a lot of funny stuff. We’ve done stuff that’s really anti-religion in some ways. But it’s such an easy joke to go, “Look how stupid that is,” and then stop right there. Religion’s just much more fascinating than that to us. So from the very beginning, we always thought it was funny just to flip it on its ear and show how screwed up it is, but also how great it is. People couldn’t tell if we were kidding.
I know that one of the things I respond to in South Park is the precisely that these guys are making fun of stuff that they are actually into on some level. This is a different type of fandom than was common a generation or two ago: It blends the sort of maniacal in-depth knowledge only an ardent student of something can have with the sort of caustic attitude that a critical observer has. You see something similar, I think, in The Onion (most of the early creators were totally in love with the sort of small-town paper they were goofing on) and in music mags such as the old Blender (super-snarky toward its idols in a way that Rolling Stone has never managed). ESPN sprung out of the same mind-set too: The Dan Patricks and Keith Olbermans of the world had memorized just as many stats as any jocksniffer from previous generations, but that didn't mean they couldn't be critical of sports and athletes.
My third and final point is an empirical response to Ed's notion that most kids would emulate the loathsome Eric Cartman rather than laugh at him. As it happens, I do know some kids who have repeated various Cartmanisms uncritically. Almost always, they get mocked by their friends for being so witless that they didn't realize Cartman is a jackass. I'm not making the case that South Park in the end is just another crucible of political correctness or or more-subtle mouthpiece for "correct" opinions. But I do think kids are sharper than we often give them credit for. And the fact is that the world they're growing up in is generally more tolerant and less filled with bullies than it used to be. I really do think that shows like South Park are part of the reason.